It’s fun to watch little babies try their first foods, isn’t it? The way they open their little mouths and the fun little expressions that come with it! After the initial stage of plain cereals and purees, it becomes time to move on to stage 2, with more complex dishes. This is when you will actually start cooking for your little one, as well as try out various finger foods that the family is eating. Now once you’ve fired up your stove and put on a pan, you reach out for the oil bottle. But wait, you’re cooking for a very special person now, so how do you know which is the best cooking oil for babies?
That’s a very common question and a very valid one too! There are a variety of oils available to us today, and each one has a different chemical composition and flavor. In order to choose the best one for your baby, we first need to understand the different kinds of oils.
Filtered oils are obtained by traditional cold pressing methods. The resultant oil is then filtered to remove any leftover particles – there is no further processing. It is called ‘cold’ pressed since the pressing is done at a lower temperature. The first oil extracted is referred to as ‘virgin’ oil.
Since there is basically no processing involved, filtered oils retain most of their vitamins and minerals as well as their original flavors. They also have a denser appearance. Due to this, companies that manufacture filtered oils are bound to use fresh raw materials, or else the oil will show a significant difference in taste.
The oils used in traditional Indian cuisine are filtered oils. Filtered oils in India are generally extracted from coconuts as well as from nuts and seeds like groundnut, mustard or sesame.
Refined oils are oils that are subject to chemical processing at high temperatures to get rid of inedible substances or other particles. However, the high heat causes a major loss of nutrients, along with flavor. The result is an oil that is almost clear and with no particular flavor.
In some cases, the extreme heat may even create toxic substances in the oil. Since the processing destroys all flavors, manufacturing companies can use raw materials of any grade or quality. Multiple refining steps lowers the nutritional quality of the oil, destroying all essential amino acids.
Refined oils in India are mostly vegetable based, like vegetable oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, rice bran oil or canola oil. The are relatively new additions to the Indian market and aren’t used in traditional cuisine.
Common Cooking Oils used in India
- Made from groundnuts/peanuts
- Available in both filtered and refined versions
- Has a high smoking point; good for frying
- Rich in heart healthy MUFA
- Cold pressed varieties are not suitable for those with a peanut allergy
- Extracted from the flesh of mature coconuts
- Has a long shelf life
- Virgin version is extracted from fresh coconuts
- Has antifungal and antiviral properties
- Popular in North and East India
- Has a pungent taste
- Rich in MUFA and PUFA
- Suitable for all kinds of cooking
- Extracted from Sesame seeds
- Used a lot in South India
- Has a nutty flavor
- Rich in Vitamin K
- Made from the seeds of the safflower plant
- Mostly flavorless and colorless
- Used in cooking as well as salad dressings
- Rich in MUFAs and PUFAs
- Extracted from the seeds of sunflowers
- Is mild in taste and pale yellow
- Has prominent amounts of Vitamin E
- Suitable for all kinds of cooking
- Extracted by crushing olives
- Available in refined and filtered versions
- Popular in Mediterranean countries
- Ideal for use in salads or sauteing
Rice Bran Oil
- Extracted from rice bran
- Popular in Asian countries
- Stable at high temperatures
- Has cholesterol-lowering properties
- Extracted from canola flowers
- Made from almost 100% genetically modified plants
- Uses hexane solvent during processing
- Low in saturated fat
Besides the oils mentioned above, Indian households also use other fats for cooking. Here is a look at the most common kinds.
Ghee is probably the most popular fat other than oil used in Indian homes, thanks to its unique flavor and high smoking point. There are mixed reactions to the use of ghee especially when it comes to weight loss, but the truth is that ghee is actually among the healthiest options to use for cooking, especially for kids. Ghee has antifungal and antiviral properties and promotes lubrication of joints. It also has a high content of fat-soluble Vitamins A, D and E along with essential amino acids. It encourages digestion, improves skin and promotes cognitive development.
Butter is not used for cooking as much as a spread in most Indian homes, but the increasing experimental nature of Indian cooks has brought this to the forefront. Butter contains more milk solids than ghee and tastes different too. The relatively low smoking point of butter also makes it better suited to the breakfast table than in Indian cooking. The higher concentration of all nutrients in ghee makes it a better choice for overall health.
Vanaspati is a mixture of hydrogenated vegetable oils converted to a solid form and often used as a substitute for ghee. Vanaspati is high in trans fats and are used in commercial bakery products. It is best to stay away from this altogether since it is associated with a wide range of health problems.
The Best Cooking Oil for Babies
So now that we have got all the information, it’s time to answer the question – which is the best cooking oil for babies?
The short answer is – any filtered or cold pressed oil, preferably the virgin version. You can choose between cold pressed sesame oil, cold pressed mustard oil, cold pressed coconut oil or cold pressed groundnut oil – depends upon your location and your taste. Some dishes taste better in certain oils – for example, Kerala banana chips just won’t be the same without coconut oil! That said, just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean that you can use filtered oils liberally. Use as little as possible, around a teaspoon a day for little babies. Avoid deep fried food for babies, and opt for healthier cooking options.
Although many people suggest mixing oils for maximum benefits, it’s recommended to avoid doing this. For one, different oils have different heating temperatures, and mixing will also affect the wholesome flavor of the individual oils.
So there you have your answer to the best cooking oil for babies – use what your grandmother used when she fed you! Our traditional diets have several hidden benefits, and the sooner we realize it, the better it is for our family’s health!