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Should you buy that bottle of avocado oil?

Avocado oil is racing up the popularity chart as the preferred oil to cook. How good is it?

Avocado oil is simply oil pressed from the pulp, after discarding the seed. (Istockphoto)

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If hashtags are any indication, avocado oil is having a moment. For the creamy, magical fruit which used to dominate toasts and tacos and turn guacamole into a luscious dip is just as impressive as an oil to cook with. The green oil has over 20,000 mentions on Instagram and is trending on Pinterest, with tons of ideas for using it in recipes.

So what exactly is avocado oil and is it time to replace your regular oil with this new, green entrant?

Avocado oil is simply oil pressed from the pulp, after discarding the seed; it takes 15-20 avocados to make 250ml. The oil comes in two types: virgin and refined. The oil made from the first pressing, referred to as “extra-virgin”, is bright green and has a rich, nutty flavour. Refined oil is made by filtering the virgin oil to remove particles of pulp and other impurities. This process also removes the green colour, along with much of the flavour; it becomes light yellow.

It is expensive, though, which may be the biggest deterrent. Given that most of the avocado oil in the market is imported, it won’t come as a surprise that the price ranges from 2,500-4,000 a litre.

While research on avocado oil is still in the nascent stage, in terms of health benefits it is close to olive oil, with one significant difference. Refined avocado oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil (about 270 degrees Celsius), which makes it one of the most efficient oils for sautéing, roasting, searing, grilling and drizzling. Coconut oil has a similar smoke point.

Also read | How the alchemy of fats and spices creates cooking magic

HOW DOES IT COMPARE?

“Avocado oil is healthier than other seed or vegetable oils as it has monounsaturated fatty acids , which are responsible for many health benefits.” But it’s not the best in every use scenario. “Humans need both saturated and unsaturated fats to function optimally. And one can get both the fats from coconut oil, ghee or butter. If you are looking for a healthy oil to cook with, then coconut oil, butter and ghee, which we have been using for centuries, have far more benefits than avocado oil. Coconut oil is inherently anti-viral and antibacterial. But if you find the flavour of coconut oil too overpowering, then use ghee or butter, which are both high in saturated fats, the kind of fats our cells really need,” explains functional nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan, CEO and founder of iThrive, a health and wellness startup.

Avocado oil also contains lutein and vitamin E, but, according to Pradhan, the quantities are minuscule. “You will get more lutein and vitamin E from eggs. Why would you want to spend so much on a fad?” asks Pradhan.

The Taste Test

While its steep price may well be a big deterrent for most, one of the advantages of avocado oil is the neutral taste. Unlike strongly flavoured oils, it’s light. “Avocado oil tastes slightly earthy, somewhat grassy. I prefer the cold-pressed version over the refined one as it’s rich and mild in flavour. It tastes wonderful when drizzled over salads or topped over bread, in dips and smoothies. Where this oil really adds value are the Indian dishes. Leafy veggies like saag, when cooked in avocado oil, taste fabulous. Even a mutton rogan josh, fish curry and anda bhurji taste fantastic when cooked in avocado oil. Just don’t let the oil smoke as it tends to mess with the flavour,” says Urvika Kanoi, chef and owner of Café Duco in Bandra, Mumbai.

Another chef who loves cooking Indian dishes in avocado oil is Karishma Sakhrani, a MasterChef India 4 finalist and culinary and operations director at Acme Hospitality, a restaurant consulting firm. “Avocado oil is a great option for Indian cooking considering we tend to use high-heat cooking methods for most dishes. I use it for a tadka (tempering), to make a crunchy kurkure bhindi or fry aloo tuk (Sindhi spiced potato snack) and tikkis. The neutral flavour works really well for Indian dishes which are masala-heavy,” says Sakhrani.

Chef and restaurant consultant Mitesh Rangras, who recently picked up a bottle (imported from South Africa) from Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, tried to use it for a variety of dishes, from aglio olio style pasta to salad dressing and even stir-fries. Rangras is impressed with the oil’s versatility. “It’s a great-tasting oil and lends itself beautifully to dishes. The raw oil especially has a lot of character and flavour.”

What concerns him, though, is authenticity. “There are multiple reports about adulteration of avocado oil in countries like the UK and US. Mislabelling is rampant and heavily incentivised by the high prices that such premium products command. I am not sure how well we will be able to regulate that here.” His advice is to source the oil from countries that traditionally have huge avocado plantations, like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and South Africa.

Avocado oil also works well for baking as the mild flavour doesn’t overwhelm the finished product. Self-taught chef, baker and F&B consultant Ayushi Gupta-Mehra has been using it in her toddler’s diet and for baked goodies such as almond flour fondants. “The mild buttery taste does not overwhelm the rich chocolatiness of the fondant the way a coconut or olive oil would. The subtle creamy flavour adds to the deliciousness. You can substitute melted butter with avocado oil for baking. Just swap it 1:1 with the millilitre quantity of melted butter. Not only is this a great vegan substitution, it also brings a mix of nutrients to your final bake,” says Gupta-Mehra, who also uses it to make hot oil noodle recipes.

The truth remains, however, that avocado oil is not easy on the pocket. Can you afford the investment in health, high smoke point and flavour?

“The prices will get more realistic as volumes expand and we start producing it domestically,” hopes Rangras. Until then, most of us may have to continue eating it off our toast!

How to use avocado oil

Use it instead of olive oil in your favourite salad dressing.

Use it to make mayonnaise.

Drizzle it over fish before baking or roasting.

Mix it up with sea salt or red pepper flakes for a simple dip.

Drizzle it over hummus and serve with crudités.

Add a swirl over hot or cold soups, such as gazpacho.

Sprinkle a teaspoon over root vegetables and roast for 40 minutes at 400 degrees Celsius.

Nivedita Jayaram Pawar is a Mumbai-based food writer.

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