Cooking oil plays a vital role in Indian cuisine, enhancing the flavour and texture of dishes. From palm to olive oil, a wide variety of edible oils are commonly used in Indian households.
Survey Results on Cooking Oil Preferences:
A survey conducted in April 2022 (Statista) revealed exciting insights into the cooking oil preferences of Indian households. Out of the various edible oils available, sunflower oil emerged as the most popular choice, with 25% of homes using it for cooking. On the other hand, palm oil lagged, with only 2% of households opting for it.
However, an alarming practice has been observed where many families reusing cooking oil poses significant health risks.
The Concern of Reusing Cooking Oil:
One worrisome trend that has come to light is the frequent reuse of cooking oil in Indian households. While this practice may seem economical, it can harm health. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has warned that reusing cooking oil causes it to lose its nutritional value and undergo undesirable modifications in its sensory, physiochemical, and nutritional properties. The formation of Total Polar Compounds (TPC) during frying can be particularly harmful to one’s health.
The Case of Tamil Nadu and Visakhapatnam:
In Tamil Nadu, the reuse of cooking oil has been prevalent among street food vendors and restaurants. A study conducted by an activist group revealed that approximately 1 in 10 street food sellers in Tamil Nadu reused oil throughout the day and 1 in 5 vendors mixed used oil with fresh oil. Only 5% of those who didn’t reuse oil chose to sell their used cooking oil to the Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO) initiative of FSSAI. Researchers emphasized the need to expand the RUCO initiative to include all food business operators, regardless of size, to combat this unhealthy practice.
Additionally, despite checks at food business outlets in certain areas of Vizag city, it was discovered that several restaurants, including well-known food outlets, were providing subpar food and misbranding the food items in addition to using reused oil above legal levels (TPC level is approximately 40%).
Biodiesel from Used Cooking Oil while reusing cooking oil has detrimental effects; some establishments have adopted environmentally friendly practices. Craft brewery Cerveceria La Tropical in Miami and Restaurant Technologies are among the businesses that collect leftover cooking oil to be recycled and converted into biodiesel. Biodiesel emits significantly lower carbon dioxide than standard diesel, making it an eco-friendly alternative.
Price Volatility and Government Intervention:
In a different instance, customers have faced price volatility in edible oils, leading some households and institutional consumers to switch to cheaper alternatives during price surges. As an illustration, when prices soar of daily used edible oils for their food, many households and institutional consumers such as restaurants and canteens might switch from fortune refined oil to relatively cheaper alternative oil like local oils.
Interestingly, in an exciting move, the government asked businesses to reduce the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of edible oils by Rs. 8-12 per litre as global prices dropped. A meeting presided over by the secretary of food, Sanjeev Chopra, emphasized the importance of immediate price reduction by manufacturers and refiners to ensure the benefits reach consumers.
Moreover, cooking oil is essential in Indian kitchens, but its reuse poses significant health risks. The survey results highlighted the popularity of sunflower oil and the minimal usage of palm oil. To promote healthier cooking practices, awareness regarding the hazards of reusing oil must be raised, and the RUCO initiative should be expanded to all food business operators. Additionally, embracing eco-friendly practices like converting used cooking oil into biodiesel can create a cleaner environment. The government’s intervention in regulating edible oil prices also provides relief to consumers during times of price volatility. Together, these efforts can lead to safer and more sustainable cooking practices in Indian households and the food industry.
Pema Choden Bhutia is an Assistant Professor (Economics) at the Hindustan Institute of Technology and Science, (Deemed to be University), Chennai.