I want to get 1 thing first out of the way. My blog is not meant to shame any company or products, but just to nudge people in the right direction. All the companies listed below employ people and provide livelihood to their employees and families and I respect that.
However, you can choose your health with your wallet. This post is meant to encourage all of you, my lovely readers, to start turning over your snack packets and reading those labels.
The products and their oils
Let’s first look at all the oils used (in no particular order) before discussing the worst product/oil I found in the market.
Oil #1: Vegetable Oil
Let’s start looking at the products one by one:
Shall we start with the famous Haldirams? What oil do they use to fry their products?
Oil used: Vegetable oil (Cotton seed, corn and Palm Olein)
Would that be just for the one product above? Let’s look at another product from Haldirams.
Same here – Vegetable oil, it is.
What does vegetable oil mean? Are there any vegetables involved?? Not, really… Time magazine, in a report on oils, states that: “Vegetable oil is guaranteed to be highly processed. It’s called ‘vegetable’ so that the manufacturers can substitute whatever commodity oil they want—soy, corn, cottonseed, canola—without having to print a new label.”
Here’s Adarsh brand using vegetable oil…
If you find any type of vegetable oils that says “expeller-pressed”, that is preferred because it is a mechanical way of pressing and extracting the oil (as our ancestors have been doing all along). Mass-market oils generally are extracted with solvents such as hexane. These oils then undergo harsh treatment to remove the solvent.
After this, the refining process happens, which include dewaxing, degumming, neutralization of the free fatty acids, bleaching, and steam deodorization.
I am sympathetic to the manufacturer’s predicament. They could use unrefined oils, but unrefined oils have shorter shelf life and have higher probability to burn when you expose them to high temperatures.
However, the food industry can make strides in the right direction when pushed (e.g. going organic, preservative-free, etc). It will be great to find Namkeen products that use oils that are not RBD. RBD is an acronym, which stands for Refined, Bleached and Deodorized (E.g. Specialty unrefined or cold-pressed canola, soy, sunflower or safflower oil)
Oil #2: Palm Oil, Palm Olein oil
Palmolein seems to be a very popular choice for a lot of Indian Namkeens. This is not surprising, given India is #1 importer of Palm oil in the world (based on 2019 data)!! You will see this oil being repeatedly used in majority of the fried products.
Here’s Deep ribbon pakoda:
The oil used is Palm Olein oil.
Let’s look at Deep plantain chips:
Starting to see a trend here…Palmolien oil again.
But, wait…are you wondering why they keep using the word Palm Olein oil instead of just palm oil?
Well, I am glad you asked. You see Palm oil which is kind of solid at room temperature (33-39 C), well maybe not in Chennai, but you know in most places that is not blazing hot. That becomes a problem if they have to melt it every time they have to use it.
However, the chemical plant does it for you using a process called “Fractionation.” Just like the word suggests, they fraction the oil into 2 parts:
- Palm stearin (more solid-like)
- Palm olein (the liquid parts).
So, the palm olein refers to the oil that is liquid, clear and neutral and easy to fry our snacks in. The Palm stearin is sold to making more solid-based products (like margarine, shortening etc) or sold to cosmetic industries.
Let’s look at some more brands packets:
Now, let’s look at Amma’s kitchen:
This one uses Palm oil (which is less processed than Palm Olein oil, I suppose)
Ok, not only are they using refined Palmolein oil; they are also exposing their product to light in the stores and further rancidity by using transparent plastic packets. Folks, being able to see your chips or mixture is NOT a good thing. You see, they were fried a few months ago (or more), shipped and set out in shelves. All the aging and the exposure to light will breakdown the fats and you will be eating very oxidized food. Not good!!
Now, if you have a next door aunty who fried snacks fresh in front of your eyes and packaged it in clear plastic, then no worries. But, a product sitting for months on supermarket shelves? – Please no!!
Oil #3: Coconut Oil
This is my favorite company (no connections/ no sponsorship, etc, just honest opinion). They usually have very clean ingredients in most of their products. Check out their jaggery, for example. One of the few companies that offer jaggery without salt and sodium metabisulphite.
However, even they use Refined coconut oil only.
Oil #4: Peanut oil
Here’s Chettinad brand….They use refined peanut oil.
Grand Sweets and Snacks
The Chennai famous Grand Sweets and Snacks uses Peanut Oil. However, it does not say refined, which is impressive and probably understandable considering its cost :).
However, they are packaged in transparent packing which is not good for a brand of its standing. But, I heard that the company takes no responsibility for the overseas shipped products and it has apparently a strict few-days-only shelf life standards in its local stores.
Worst Oil of ALL
All the other oils can be made better. But, hydrogenated oils that should be avoided at all costs in your product. Hydrogenated vegetable oils‘ trans fats have been shown to harm heart health.
3 problems with this product:
- They use hydrogenated oil to mix the flour. Granted they use corn oil to fry the product. But hydrogenated oils, even at low levels must be avoided completely.
- Transparent packaging, that exposes the product to rancidity
- Preservative (Pottasium Sorbate). Really?? Why does a fried snack need a preservative? The moisture content is low, why must preservatives which are not good for our gut health be added to this product?
These are the reasons why this product is, in my opinion (until the formulation is changed)- the worst fried snack in the market currently.
Which oil is nutritionally better? Definitely avoid trans fats. That has been proven to have disastrous health consequence.
But other than that, ranking the remaining oils is a bit difficult. Vegetable oil was heralded as a champion in the 70’s, now everyone looks down on it. Palm oil is looked down as a cheap oil in India, but the Palm fruit oil (in its original red form without all the chemical, harsh processing) is a part of native African culture. Peanut oil and coconut oils can withstand a lot of heat, but refined versions have undergone a lot of chemical processing as well.
So, do your own research. However, in my opinion, the less processed the oil, the better.
Just 3 main conclusions from this post:
- Do NOT base your namkeen selections on price, discount sales or brand popularity. Start turning the packages around and decide for yourselves based on the content of the product. Remember: over time, repeatedly eating these products accumulates these oils in significant quantity inside our body. Look for freshness of product and less processed oils.
- Fried items have very little moisture in them. So they do not need additional preservatives to keep them shelf-stable. If any company is adding preservatives (like pottasium sorbate), AVOID them completely.
- Do NOT buy fried items exposed to light in transparent see-through packaging. The ones which block out light completely are much better for you.
What oils do your favorite namkeens use? Turn the packet over and post the name of the oils used in the comments section below. No judgments, I promise. Just an intellectual curiosity…
Thank you for some good insights there. Indian fried snacks are an evil that we cannot avoid because they are sooo good. At least we have some pointers to pick the lesser of the evils, thanks to you 🙂
Thank you for this article. I knew about Palm oil and hydrogenated oils but not about the other. I have never tried Anand snacks. Any chance it is available online? I tried Amazon but it shows Anand Sweets instead.
Hi Sanjay, sorry I get them at my local grocery store and I thought it was widely available. I have used their jaggery, sesame balls and chips so far.
Dear Swetha. Thank you for this excellent article. Would just like some more info. Waiting to hear from you. My queries:
I ive in Besant Nagar, Chennai. Where can I find the Anand products?
Local bakeries and chips- namkeen units — are they safer to shop at?
What oil would you suggest for frying at home?
Can you talk about Sri Krishna Sweets and their products? They are always packed in opaque packaging.
Thank you for your feedback. I’ll try to answer your questions:
1. I am not sure where in Besant Nagar you can find Anand. Anand is just an example, you can look for any products that have good quality ingredients.
2. Ask your local bakery, which oil they use to fry. But, yes, freshly made is always a good idea as long as they use good quality ingredients.
3. I am yet to write about oils, however oils that can withstand high heat for frying without breaking down include: coconut oil and peanut oil.
4. Please check the labels on Sri Krishna Sweets. I remember they were a really good brand from my days in Coimbatore. But, it is always good to check. Opaque packing is good.
As usual Excellent article, now you have made us to stay away from ALL THE NAMKEEN products as no brand seems to use good oils as far as my region is concerned !
Continue your good work.
Thank you Shazi!! 🙏
Thankyou for your valuable insights. Can you please throw some light on baby cereals like cerelac, Nestum, etc. These are widely used by mom’s in India. I wanted to know how safe are the products and the ingredients used in them.
Hi Harshita, I can do a cursory ingredient list review, but baby food is far more complex with often factors like digestability, baby’s health condition etc taken into account.
I will add it to my list, but even if I cover it, it will be only a sub-sectional viewpoint.
I was just wondering about palm oil when I started gulping down my fried plantain chips. Your VERY USEFUL post makes me want to definitely start making my own chips. Maybe with olive oil?
Yes, olive oil is a great choice!
I’m hooked to your articles. They are so easy explained and informative. Thanks!!
Thanks Amit! So nice of you!
I am so glad I stumbled onto your blog / twitter. You have answers for many of my food related questions I have had for a long time.