Which oil is best when making a curry?
Most curries being with the heating of a cooking fat. Traditionally, Indians used ghee, which is clarifed butter. It was considered to give a superior flavour to food and be more nutritious. However, because it is very high in cholesterol, other oils are now more widely used.
In Western India, groundnut oil is most popular. Groundnut oil is largely made up of unsaturated fat (both poly and mono) and contains absolutely no cholesterol, making this a healthy choice. It also contains antioxidants, and can reduce inflammation if enough of it is consumed. It's high smoking point also makes it a good option for frying foods, common in Indian and Chinese cooking.
In some parts of South India, sesame oil is a popular choice. Unlike Groundnut oil, which has a neutral flavour, sesame oil, with it's distinctive nutty taste, boosts the flavour of your dish and goes especially well with spices, so a great choice for cooking Indian curry. Be careful that you don't overheat the oil though, as it has a low smoking point compared with other oils used in curry making.
In Kashmir and Bengal, mustard oil is most commonly used. The oil is made from pressing the seeds of a mustard plant, to produce a spicy oil. However, this oil is not widely used in the West as it is said that it can contain a fatty acid that is harmful to your health. However, no ill effects have been reported by Eastern countries that use it widely.
Sunflower Oil is also a popular oil for use in curry cooking. The oil is extracted from pressed sunflower seeds and has a high smoke point, therefore making it a good choice for Indian cooking, which often involves cooking the meat at a high temperature at the beginning of cooking.
Vegetable Oil is used to describe a number of oils usually made from corn, palm, canola, soybean, and sunflower oils. Often heavily processed, they lack in both flavour and nutrients. The use of palm oil has brought much attention in recent years for the destruction of land that often goes hand in hand with it's production.
Olive Oil is widely used in the West but not used in India. It has a low smoke point making it tricky to use properly when frying onions and spices. It is also more expensive that most other types of oils so keep it for your dressings and marinades and use an alternative for homemade curry making.
Butter is not considered to be a good choice when making a curry, as the high heat required to fry the onions and spices burns the butter, turning it brown and giving an unpleasant taste to the final dish.
Coconut oil is widely used in India but not only in cooking! It has been used for centuries for an elixir for hair and skin. However, it is a great option for cooking south Indian dishes, as it adds such flavour to the dish. The oil is extracted from the kernel of mature coconuts and is high in healthy saturated fats.
Which oil do you use in your curry recipes? We would love to hear!