Chennai: Cold-pressed oil, called 'chekku maram ennai' in Tamil, is slowly gaining popularity as more people are choosing it for cooking.
However, people need to be made aware of the goodness of this oil to promote it, say people in the industry. Tamilnadu Parambariya Siddha Vaidhyar Sangam spokesperson
C Selvam says, "Oil derived from cold pressing (chekku maram), is very good for health, as it contains nutrients. When it is used for cooking, it adds value to food items and even improves digestion and overall health. Since no chemicals or preservatives are used, the same oil can be used for at least 2-3 times for cooking other foods. Due to the natural extraction process, it gives out the original smell of the seed or vegetable used."
Refined oil or those extracted from other processes have fewer health benefits, compared to cold-pressed oil. Selvam says, "Though refined oil looks clean and the food cooked can be delicious, when it comes to nutrition, it contains less value. Since chemicals and preservatives are added, they have an effect on the food cooked. So, this will surely influence digestion. It is also claimed that they can slow down the digestive process."
Elaborating on 'chekku maram' oil extraction, naturopath Dr M N Rajendran says, "We have been using cold pressing or thousands of years. Every village had 5-6 cold-pressing facility ('chekku maram'). It is one of the traditional methods of extracting oil from seeds, vegetables and fruits."
Explaining the process, he said the raw material (seeds) is typically ground into a paste, and this is pressed with a heavy stone mill or wooden block, which is turned by bulls, until it expels the oil.
"Since no artificial materials are added, it is totally safe and the nutrients are kept in tact," he pointed out.
Rajendran, who is also owner of Annai Organic Foods, says, "Cold-pressed oil is a perfect form of organic food, unlike refined oil. Other forms of extraction are totally mechanical and produce excess heat. The seeds are crushed and the pulp is heated under pressure. As a result, almost all the oil is extracted. In some processes, the oil is heated up to 230 degrees. Heating in such high temperatures greatly alters the properties of the molecules of the oil in unfavourable ways, thereby stripping it of its nutritious value."
Though there is a lot of awareness regarding cold-pressed oil, it is the price that puts off people as it is higher than refined oil. The main reason is that refined oil is produced on a large scale.
The output from a commercial oil mill runs into tonnes, as opposed to a 'chekku' which is very small. For example, a 'chekku' produces around 20-30 litres of oil a day, compared to 20-100 tonnes from an oil mill.
Arya Balaji, who owns a 'chekku' in the city, says that the business is labour-intensive and quite tough. He says, "Since the facility works in a slow manner, a person is employed to push the oil paste back into the mortar. Every person is paid around Rs 1,000 per day. This gets added to the price of the oil. But when we compare the nutritious value and other qualities, 'chekku' oil stands apart."
He said now, instead of a bull, they use a machine where the speed of the wooden block is controlled.
Balaji, who is also an IT professional, says, 'I have been studying about cold-pressing and seeds for more than four years. I visited several cold-pressing units across the State. We don't take seeds from customers, instead we get seeds from the best place and these are original.'