Oils labelled as cold pressed oils have started appearing in supermarkets, kirana stores, exclusive oil shops all around us. They are being sold in both packaged and loose forms. In Tamil, it is called Sekku Ennai; or pronounced as Chekku Ennai by people of southern Tamil Nadu. The manufacturers are both domestic as well as foreign. This blog explores the benefits, applicability and history & future of these oils in the market.
The oils popular in South India were and are groundnut, coconut, sesame oils. Coconuts are replaced by mustards in North India. So, the local oilseeds popular in North India are mustard, groundnut, sesame.
More oil crops such as sunflower, safflower, soybeans, rice bran and palm (not the native palm, more on oil palms later in the blog) are now being utilized to manufacture oils domestically in large scales post independence and more so, post the 1990s’ liberalization. These are usually refined oils, which indicates a chemical separation of components to remove impurities and/or hydrogenation. These crops other than rice bran are not native to the country. Most of them have appeared in India since European colonization in the country.
How are oils manufactured
India has had a long history of making oils from locally grown and wildly available oilseeds. They were and still are sun-dried and milled in a Sekku/Chekku driven by bulls in certain places. These are now dwindling in number because of the arrival of more-powerful, more-efficient and low-waste electric mills over the last one century. The first electric mills to enter the market produce hot-pressed oils i.e. the motor runs at a high speed. After realising the benefits and re-discovering the demand for cold pressed oils, several players, big and small, have entered the market.
Hot-pressed oil is not a terminology used in popular parlance. I have made up the word just for the sake of this blog.
Palm oil is now the dominant oil, for edible as well as non-edible purposes, in the world because of its versatility and it’s land productivity. But more importantly it has caused massive destruction of rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia. They are not even native to South East Asia. They are native to Africa; but in the last one century, they have been naturalized in the tropical regions of the world. The role and importance of the rainforests in a changing climate cannot be underscored sufficiently. The following link hs summarized the issue well :
High temperatures destroy important nutrients in oil. Pressing it in slow mills helps maintain a temperature of the oil little above room. Whereas, a conventional mill generates so much heat so much that you can’t touch the output container comfortably when it’s freshly milled. The erstwhile bull driven mills have been replaced with motorized cold pressed mills now.
Side note : The throughput of a cold pressed mill is lesser when compared with that of a hot pressed mill, owing to the lower speed obviously. So the infrastructure cost is a little higher for cold pressed oils when you compare the two mills.
Most of the oil usage in Indian cooking is for either shallow frying for tadka, veggies etc. or for deep frying of snacks such as papads, pakodas, vadais etc. The oil is subjected to high temperatures in the kadai when deep fried. The whole purpose of using a cold pressed oil gets defeated if it is heated to such high temperatures. The best use of cold pressed oil is to use it raw like how it is used with milagai podi, or on salads, or on foods directly like how ghee or butter is used. Shallow frying with cold pressed oil is still okay. Deep frying expensive cold pressed oil is pointless. The following link has summarized the aspects of replacement of native oils with non-native oils well :
What do we do here at Vivasayee’s Farm?
We have 40 adult and 40 young ones coconut trees. We harvest a crop every 3 months. These are a mix different ages and different native as well as hybrid species; mostly native though. Their harvest has increased after we stopped tilling, adding a lot of organic-matter and soil-health-boosters such as coconut leaves, palm leaves, Jeevamrutham, composted cow dung, fresh cow dung, peanut meal, salt. Nitrogen fixers such as mexican sunflower, glyricidia, mimosa, wild indigo grow on their own or are grown with some effort under the coconut trees. A coastal climate is a more ideal climate for coconut trees; but year around irrigation helps provide a good soil climate for coconut trees. So, it is best suited for river banks and lower altitude regions in the country. We provided drip irrigation 2.5 years back and now, we have year-around water for the coconut trees. The condition of the trees when with the previous owner was very precarious. Several trees were ignored and were not provided the required water and nutrition. The years 2015-17 had seen drought like conditions across Tamil Nadu. They took some time to come back to producing coconuts. Some are still not yet producing fruit.
Coconuts are not technically nuts. They are drupes.#funfact
If you want to visualize how the process is conducted step by step from harvest to oil to packaging, Volunteer with us, March 15th onwards. Here is the link to the invite : https://vivasayeeslife.com/volunteer-with-us/
Conclusion and Way Ahead
Cold pressed oils are Here to stay, for sure. They were always here and they will always be here. Especially, now, climate change needs the soon-to-be world’s populous country to up its game in fighting this global challenge. A growing country needs to increase it’s oilseed contribution to local diets. We cant keep increasing our dependence on foreign produce to fill local stomachs. We need to phase out foreign rainforest-destroying oilseeds from our diets as soon as possible. It is a matter of the most urgent importance and need. If #VocalForLocal needs a jump start in any industry, it is going be Food, Diets and Agriculture. There is no doubt about it!
The land productivity per hectare for local oilseeds is very poor compared to global figures. More research needs to be funded which boosts yields by implementing best practices, improving soil health and selection rather than hybridization of best among the gene pool. It is the one of the few way local oilseeds can become more competitive w.r.t. prices. More importantly, we need to reduce our oil consumption if we want to sustain any hope of saving the remaining rainforests in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. We need to think like a global citizen while acting locally.
It is obvious, I am not a huge fan of the farm laws. It takes very little action and provides little incentives of going local in agriculture; whereas just a few months back we were talking about VocalForLocal in Manufacturing. Don’t you people think, it is about time we, as consumers, start going extremely local in our dietary choices ? That’s the only way we can boost demand and ensure supply builds up. This will in turn help farmers look to sell produce crops suited to local climatic conditions, instead of choosing cash crops which result in monocultures, soil degradation, excessive pesticide and fertilizer use.
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