Coconut is one of the most loved and essential components of the Indian cuisine. In spite of its popularity and each of its components being of immense use for a variety of purposes, the use of coconut oil in food remains confined only to certain parts of South India and Bengal.
The benefits of coconut oil however are several and nutritionists often recommend it as a healthier alternative to the oils consumed on a more regular basis. According to food expert and professional artist Barun Mukherjee, “The flavour of coconut oil is unique and can often be a great addition to certain non-vegetarian dishes. It is however important to keep in mind that the amount of time a dish is cooked in coconut oil determines the flavour of the dish. If the food is overcooked or the oil is overheated, it could often lead to a pungent taste that makes it almost inedible. The delicate flavours therefore have to be handled quite delicately. I am also seeing that the uptake of coconut oil as a cooking oil is gradually increasing among Indian consumers in western India. This could however be the result of the influx of the people from the intermingling between the cultures.”
In spite of its benefits and growing popularity, there remains a strong bias against the oil as a cooking ingredient as several people find the taste of the food or the snack cooked in coconut oil almost inedible. The reason can be attributed to the extensive use of the oil as hair oil.
According to Dr V H Potty, food technologist and chairman of Diversified Food Technologies (India), Mysore, “While those consuming this oil for ages traditionally are convinced about its virtues, more and more people are switching to coconut oil, especially after technologies emerged to manufacture odourless oil. The typical flavour of coconut oil is well liked by those who swear by it but new customers find it difficult to stomach it easily. It cannot be ruled out that one day coconut oil may become as precious as olive oil and unless its cultivation is augmented, serious shortages may develop in supply in the coming years.”
With South Indian fried snack shops opening across the country, more and more consumers across the country are getting a taste of food items cooked in coconut oil. Though there are people who dislike it, many are finding the flavour unique and worth a try in other food products.
Another factor that has restricted the use of coconut oil in foods is the lack of availability. Not many stores sell the edible version of the oil and the only source of procuring the same seems to be through the unorganised market, where there are questions regarding its authenticity and safety.
An increase in the uptake of coconut oil as an edible oil would also provide an opportunity for the coconut oil manufacturers to diversify their portfolio and tap the market that is still at a nascent stage.