Riding On Health

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Olive Oil Imports Have Seen A Sharp Rise In The Past Two Years, Indicating A Shift In Indian Kitchen Habits, Says Vinaya Gopaal

 

Popular choice A campaign is under way to encourage Indians to switch to olive oil
Popular choice A campaign is under way to encourage Indians to switch to olive oil
Photo: Naveesh Tejpal
Location Courtesy: Godrej Nature’s Basket

DELHI’S HIGH profile chef Marut Sikka feels the best way to get his finicky clients addicted to red meat is by simply telling them it’s cooked in olive oil. “I would then get many to pick up the mutton dishes,” laughs Sikka, adding: “Being a Mediterranean ingredient, olive oil is best served cold. When used in Indian cuisine, it is like any other low-fat oil.”

Once considered exotic — featuring only in cookery shows on entertainment television — olive oil is fast emerging as an essential ingredient in Indian recipes and being stocked in departmental stores across the country.

Last year one of India’s top chefs, Hemant Oberoi of the Taj Hotels, startled many when he soaked chicken meatballs in olive oil before grilling them in charcoal fire. When the conservationists protested, Oberoi laughed, saying: “It will work with every Indian recipe.” As indeed it did. There was thus no surprise when this month the Consortium of Guarantee of Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil — an Italian organisation — launched OLiveitup, a three-year campaign financed by the European Union in India.

“This year, our aim is to generate more awareness in removing doubts over the suitability of olive oil in Indian cooking,” says Sumit Saran, director of agribusiness consultancy SCS Group, the Gurgaonbased partner in the OLiveitup campaign.

The promotional activities seem to be paying off. According to data from the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, edible virgin olive oil imports have spiralled nearly 480 percent in two years — from 127 tonnes in 2006 to about 610 tonnes in 2008.

Out of the total imports, around 80 percent is consumed by individual consumers, who pay anything up to Rs 550 for a 500 ml of imported oil. In contrast, a litre of sunflower oil brands costs a little under Rs 150. And India’s cash-rich middle class is picking up the tab without fuss.

Taking note of changing public tastes, snacks manufacturers like Haldiram Bhujiawala and Bittoo Tikki Wala have started making an assortment of products using olive oil, and chefs like Aditya Bal are increasingly dabbling with the medium. Says Bal, “I make Indian kebabs in olive oil. One needs to experiment.”

Consumption of olive oil could exceed 42,000 tonnes by 2012

The Madrid-based International Olive Council — an intergovernmental forum to promote use of olive oil globally — launched a campaign in 2007 to encourage Indian consumers to switch over to it. “A successful campaign got off the ground in India in 2007,” the Council says on its website, adding that it was now looking at other new markets such as South Korea to promote the oil, obtained from the traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin.

Barring the price, there are no downsides here. And the Indian Olive Association — which is promoting the oil as a healthy cooking medium that helps in fighting coronary heart diseases, lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of breast cancer and diabetes — says consumption is expected to top 42,000 tonnes by 2012, growing at a rate of 75 percent a year. Notes association president VN Dalmia: “In India oil is used as a cooking medium, not as a flavouring agent. It does not play a taste-creating role. Indians are now moving towards olive oil primarily because it’s healthy.

Writer’s Email: vinaya.gopaal@fwtehelka.com

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