Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Are we too dependent on cooking with oil?

The recent scarcity of palm-based cooking oil in supermarkets had driven Malaysians into a frenzy of panic-buying and hoarding.
Although panic-buying and hoarding may be one of the typical unpleasant characteristic of Malaysians — as was displayed during previous shortages of items like sugar, one can also come to this conclusion: Have Malaysians become so reliant on cooking oil that we cannot imagine being able to prepare our meals without it?
Or perhaps traditional Malaysian meals are prepared in such a way that oil is almost a vital ingredient for every dish?
Dr Tilakavati Karupaiah, a dietitian and senior lecturer at the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, agreed with the second contention.
"Malaysians, be they Malay, Chinese or Indian as a rule cook according to cultural traditions.
"We start cooking with oil as a base to steep our spices as the heating process releases fat-soluble alkaloids which are aromatic compounds," she explained in an e-mail interview to Bernama.
However, she said, the quantity of oil used varied from minimal amount for stir-frying or more for sauteeing masala or "sambal" pastes.
This can be considered unhealthy compared to the western style of cooking which tended to lean more towards broiling, boiling or grilling.
But Dr Karupaiah said the assumption that Western cooking was healthier was not entirely true, since fat does get through in western cooking through the finishing process such as through its accompaniments of cream-based sauces, cheese, salad dressings and even through bakery products.
"In fact, Western diets are arguably higher in fat content as they supply more than 35 per cent of energy than the average Malaysian diet, which supplied about 30 per cent of energy or less," she said.
When asked if there was an increase in diseases related to over­consumption of cooking oil in recent years, Dr Karupaiah said there was currently no data to support the idea as it would be difficult to extrapolate data from a few studies to homes to indicate which household consumed more than the national average of cooking oil.
Advising Malaysians to opt for broiling or grilling versus frying would also not be an easy task, she said.
"How many cooks are prepared or have the skill and equipment to do this? We are talking about mobilising on a public scale."
However, she said, food processing technology and fast foods had impacted both Eastern and Western cultures.
In Malaysia, this also includes all-time favourites such as banana fritters and `roti canai'.
"These are foods available outside the home and asking Malaysians to cut back on these items does not address cutting back on domestic cooking oil use," she said. - Bernama