There is an open secret about refined oils that many of us still don’t know about. It is the process oilseeds undergo to acquire the state of odourless, colourless ‘refinedom’. To begin with all sorts of seeds are used in refined oils - good, bad and even spoilt. When you do a quick internet search of the refining process of cooking oil the results throw up words like extraction, neutralizing, bleaching, deodorising etc. Intuitively, you know there is something wrong when they are neutralising, bleaching and deodourising your cooking oil. Dig a little deeper and your doubts are confirmed.
Bathed in petroleum solvent
While the term extraction seems harmless, seed pulp is bathed in hexane, a petroleum based solvent to do pull out the maximum amount of oil possible. (Is that a safe thing to do, is a logical question that comes into our minds. Is there anything like food grade petroleum? Don’t we all make sure to pick up food grade plastic for lunch boxes or water bottles?) Very high temperatures are used in the refining process causing the molecules to become unstable, more prone to oxidation and creation of free radicals (the root cause of host of diseases including cancer, Alzehmeir, Parkinson).
Along the way the oilseeds are stripped of all the natural fatty goodness - vitamin E and minerals and antioxidants.
Neutralising is done to remove any impurities in the oil by adding caustic soda and soda ash (Don’t we shun the cooking soda to soften the dal because it will kill all the nutrients). It is then distilled to get rid of the chemical solvents, and bleached to remove the unappealing colour. (The only thing we associated bleach with was sanitation and laundry.) The oil is then deodourised to get rid of ‘unusual’ or chemical smells. (I thought only bathrooms need deodourising.) They also add some preservatives to improve shelf life.
That's a complete cocktail of chemicals that the oilseeds have been processed with. The refining process leaves behind a trail of chemicals which get into our body and cause untold damage to the internal organs.
A Dash of GMO
Like with every new invention or new product, there must have been many sceptics who would have questioned these modern ideas of refining oil when the process was invented in the early 1900s. But it must been fairly easy to silence these voices, given that there was no internet, social media and 24x7 television channels back then. It was possible for the heavyweight oil processing manufacturers to obfuscate the public with attractive advertising till a couple of decades back. Gullible consumers can be made to feel like fools who have not kept in step with the advances of science and technology. But the stand of the so called naysayers seems to have been vindicated by recent research reports and respected medical journals. Among these are reports in the Indian Heart Journal (IHJ), the official peer reviewed open access journal of Cardiological Society of India (CSI) on cooking oils (2016) and the Journal for Preventive Cardiology which also recommends unrefined oils for the presence of bioactive compounds flavours and Vit E content.
All this only adds momentum to the ‘ditch-the-processed-food movement’ and substantiates the fact that our ancestors always knew better and enjoyed better health as were consuming oil extracted by the bullock driven mill.
This article first appeared on Daana.in