Where’s the Ghee? India’s Olive-Oil Plan May Not Win Over Local Consumers

The South Asian nation will start commercial olive-oil production. Apart from offering an innovative program for farmers, the government-supported project also has the grander design of countering India's diseases of affluence

  • Share
  • Read Later
Kuni Takahashi / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Olive oil and almond oil are displayed for sale at a grocery store in Mumbai on May 7, 2013

Correction appended: Aug. 19, 2013

The Indian and Mediterranean diets may not seem easy bedfellows, but there has been a certain convergence in recent years. Wine production has already taken off in India; 65 vineyards currently export to 22 countries around the world. European cheeses such as mascarpone, mozzarella and ricotta are being produced outside New Delhi. And now the home of pungent curries is trying its hand at that other great Continental staple — olive oil. Next month, the South Asian nation better known for cooking in clarified butter, or ghee, will start commercial olive-oil production across 180 hectares of land in the arid western province of Rajasthan. It’s a commercial venture, but those in charge say Indians should also take the health benefits of olive oil to heart.

Twenty-five farmers, all previously unfamiliar with olive cultivation, have so far planted more than 80,000 trees. The government has subsidized 75% of the cost of each olive sapling, provided free consultancy and a 90% subsidy on drip-irrigation equipment to bring farmers in the area on board. The first harvest, from one of seven initial groves, is expected in October and should reach a modest 30 metric tons. A second grove is also showing signs of fruiting this year. But this is just the beginning. When others see “a real commercial yield, then I’m sure there will be a boom of farmers,” says Gideon Peleg, technical manager and consultant for Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Ltd. (ROCL), one of the companies involved. With potential yields of $6,000 to $7,000 per hectare, the attraction for farmers is clear, even if olives take some getting used to. Olive cultivation in India “must be adapted — it is not something that automatically can be copied, it is not something that’s written somewhere,” Peleg tells TIME.

(PHOTOS: Gandhi and His Spinning Wheel, 1946)

As well as being an innovative program for the region’s farmers — perennially hampered by droughts and substandard irrigation — the project has the grander design of countering India’s diseases of affluence. By 2015, current trends suggest that a third of Indians will be overweight. The World Heath Organization estimates over the next seven years the economic impact of premature deaths due to heart disease, diabetes and metabolic disorders nationally will be a staggering $237 billion. But these deaths, it says, could be reduced by 80% through the adoption of a better diet. Almost 10% of the Indian population suffers from heart disease, the highest rate in the world. “The situation is already a national emergency,” says V.N. Dalmia, president of the Indian Olive Association.

Getting Indians to switch to olive oil will be no easy feat. It currently makes up a nanoscopic 12,000 tons of India’s 17 million ton cooking-oil market — but demand is growing. Imports rose 66% over the last year, according to Dalmia, whose company is also the nation’s largest importer of olive oil. The prototypical Indian olive-oil consumer earns $10,000 or more a year in a country where per capita income is just $1,530. But even for these relatively well-off buyers, price matters. And since a drought hit Spain last year, olive-oil costs have soared. “If you are competing as a cooking oil, the only way you are ever going to compete is on price,” says olive-oil consultant and advocate Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne.

And then there is that other great barometer of demand: taste. Indians are renowned for their fiery gastronomic tradition and palates accustomed to ghee. “You can’t take an Indian dish, which is made with a normal oil, [and instead use] olive oil and expect it to taste the same,” renowned Indian food critic Vir Sanghvi tells TIME. Cooking with expensive oil while having to devise elaborate ways to hide its taste may be an obstacle too far, he adds. “Indians don’t seem to have created a palate that appreciates the finer qualities of olive oil.”

Market factors aside, observers say, commercial success of the ROCL project hinges on more than just pressing oil. “My experience in the olive-oil industry leads me to believe that making olive oil is not easy, but it’s not that hard compared to selling it at a profit,” says Devarenne. “That really is where the hard work comes in.”

Dalmia too, while “enthused” about the initiative, is skeptical about the state government’s nonexistent packaging, marketing, distribution and sales plan. It looks like some oil needs to be poured on troubled waters, even before the first harvest is in.

PHOTOS: Homai Vyarawalla: India’s First Female Photojournalist

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Gideon Peleg’s employer. It is Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Ltd., not Rajasthan Oil.

18 comments
AnuragSharma
AnuragSharma

Olive pomace is garbage.............do not use it..........It has many detrimental effects on your health

Indian1234
Indian1234

Mustard Oil is naturally cold pressed and not refined, Coconut oil and Ground nut oil are not refined. naturally cold pressed oil retain the nutritive value and offers the maximum benefits. 

sanjeevtuli
sanjeevtuli

Almost all the cooking oils offered in India are refined.  I want to use good fat in my domestic cooking.  Some of the comments here are superficial & generalistic.  There can be no sensible answer to prejudice and superstition.  We should consider only scientific facts.

The Times of India last year reported on a study conducted in India over several years by Diabetes Foundation (India) and Fortis comparing the results of using olive oil and canola oil with refined vegetable oils, which demonstrated significant reductions in triglycerides, cholesterol and waist circumference.

Such facts are enough for me and my family. The ridiculous stuff being repeatedly posted here seems to be based on nothing but sweeping rhetoric and irrational opinion that is not based on science or fact.

Indian1234
Indian1234

Olive Oil in its virgin form delivers significant health benefits only when it is combined with a Mediterranean diet (lots of meat, lots of red wine), in a Mediterranean climate (dry coastal weather) with a Mediterranean lifestyle (high on outdoor activity, walking along hilly roads, climbing steep inclines and breathing sea air). Take the oil away from all this and bring it into a Tropical country like India, and the benefits rapidly shrink to insignificance. Worse still, to suit the Indian consumer's pocket, go ahead and offer a refined version of the oil and... Poof! The health benefits vanish!

Vijay1
Vijay1

Indians suffer from lifestyle diseases due to consuming the wrong kind of fat.  Mono-unsaturated fat (MUFA) is the best kind of fat which reduces cholesterol and prevents heart disease.  Saturated fat (SAF) is the bad fat which causes blockages in arteries and heart attacks.  Olive oil is 80% MUFA and 10% SAF. 

Coconut oil is 7% MUFA and 89% SAF, Ghee is 28% MUFA and 68% SAF.  Groundnut oil is not bad.  I rate it best after Olive Oil, then Canola and Rice Bran Oil.  Fat content is widely available on the net.  All commonly used Indian oils are refined and processed and that does not change the fat content.

Believe me, I have researched this subject and talked to many dietitians for the sake of my family.  I like to be clear.

Mustard is not advisable as it contains 47% erucic acid which causes triglycerides and lesions in the heart and increases risk of lung cancer.  Mustard oil is banned for edible use in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.  An ICMR study in India stated that the rate of deaths from heart attacks in the east was highest due to high consumption of mustard oil.  These are facts and can be checked by anyone. 

I don’t suffer from xenophobia.  Anyway, soon, olive oil from Rajasthan and later from Gujarat, Punjab and other states will be available.  So even fans of local produce will not be able to object.

Indian1234
Indian1234

Neutral is taste means that it is not naturally processed hence it may look attractive and color less but it looses lots of natural nutrient. Any oil that is not naturally processed looses most of the nutrient....Olive oil is good for them, not for our food until and unless it is raw or semi cooked.  Imported oils companies are pushing their product as it is making difference in economy in their countries, that is why this all hog wash which is created by them.Pay multiple times in spite of getting less or same nutritive value ...don't do on any individual comments, they are can be manipulated...just check WHO guidelines for edible oils.

For a country like India only , only indigenous oils work better as they are natural, suiting best with Indian cuisines & conditions and healthy. .....but if you want neutral then even some Indian companies manufacture neutral / refined indigenous form of oils....it baffles me that being Indian we do not value our own natural, healthy and nutritious oil...like mustard for north & east Indians and groundnut and coconut for others.

Ramesh16
Ramesh16

Both Olive Oil and Olive Pomace Oil work outstandingly for frying.  A quick search reveals that Olive Oil’s smoking point is 220oC and Olive Pomace Oil’s is 238oC.  Both are neutral in taste.

It seems that Vir Sanghvi is referring to Extra Virgin Oil which, yes, is unsuitable for Indian cooking.

Sukhmani
Sukhmani

Mr Vir Sanghvi's comment about having to devise ways to subdue the taste of olive oil is difficult to understand. The two types of olive oil that form the majority of olive oil sold in india - olive oil and olive pomace oil - have no taste and work REALLY well with Indian cooking. 

In fact we use pomace oil for all the time for my family (in Dehi) loves them.. And no one can even tell.  We even use pickles (achaar) made in basic olive oil and it's SO good. And I am not an MNC. i am a healthy, fit and very active Indian who has also seen the difference in the metabolism and weight of my parents since we switched to cooking in olive pomace oil. This variety has no taste and we cook all our basic sabzi and parantha in it. Everything tastes the same as saffola or something, and paranthas taste better. It's quite affordable too! (We use Leonardo products, so am commenting based on their pomace oil)

Perhaps Mr Sanghvi is aware only of Extra Virgin Olive Oil - the expensive type - but that is unsuitable for cooking anyway, and is usually consumed with salads etc.

Trust me, try cooking indian khana with pomace olive oil, but do check the quantities needed for everyday dishes with the brand you use..


Indian1234
Indian1234

why  use olive or any other imported oil when we have our very own indigenous oil such. they all are natural processed and best suited for Indian cuisine. and cost some where near Rs 100 per liter. These all MNC's love making fools bombarding with advertisement and Indian's are been trapped into the rosey picture portrayed by them. 

Sindhu
Sindhu

Olive Pomace Oil has no taste and is ideal for Indian cooking.  It is very healthy also. These so-called experts know nothing and confuse everyone.  I am using it since couple of years now.

Sindhu

RaoM
RaoM

Olive oil does not make a great cooking oil. For cooking, oil has to be fried, when instantaneously the flavor falls off the cliff for olive oil. For other oils and fats, including ghee, it's the opposite. The flavors enhance by various degrees with ghee taking the cake. Olive oil works best when poured over salads or added to sandwiches, raw. There is hardly any room in the Indian cuisine for consuming oils in their raw forms. It will be a long drawn out cultural and palate adjustment for Indian connoisseurs. After trying for nearly twenty years of blending olive oil into Indian cuisine, we just settled for use as salad dressing only.

In spite of olive oil's touted health benefits, a quick search reveals that canola oil also has 2 per cent saturated fat content with much better cooking tastes. And Saffola oil, not well known in the western cuisines, in fact has the least saturated fat content of all- 1%. It is made from Safflower seeds, a crop grown in dry and droughty areas of India and other sub-tropical climates.    

MonicaCMesa
MonicaCMesa

How to earn 300 us dollar per day its unbelievable but its work Hope to see you around here more often.== >w­w­w.B­a­r­2­9.ℂ­o­m

PoonamAbbi
PoonamAbbi

@Vijay1 another step towards destroying the native Indian agriculture & flora using the tactic honed to perfection by the whites to fake their superiority...the scare tactics, the manufactured & conjured up scientific research & atrocity literature...all whites work in cohoot...the church, the scientists, the academecians...all the scoundrels & scalavags of the same species...criminals...are favored by the likes of you are stupid enough to fall for all the lies as long as it is told by a white skinned person from the west,

PoonamAbbi
PoonamAbbi

@Ramesh16 you guys really fall for any crap as long as a white person says it...right?

PoonamAbbi
PoonamAbbi

@Sukhmani I too have tasted the olive oil...& it is really an insult to any sense of taste to use it for Indian cuisine, the only purpose it serves is to destroy the health of the Indian population & the Indian economy...Thanx but no thanx...My family uses Desi ghee, mustard oil & coconut oil & occasionally sesame oil or peanut oil even in America...& has kept away the doctor for the past 25 years...you leave your own diet & switch to the white man's diet, you get the white man's diseases too...yes, the diabetes & cancer & Hi BP have been on the rise...& fast ...in India...but have you followed the timeline? that has gone up in direct proportion to use of western & western style foods & life-style & leaving the Indian lifestyle...


PoonamAbbi
PoonamAbbi

@Indian1234 and the people enamored by the white skin & English language follow them to their death just like the rats following the Pied pPper of Hamelin...

DawnRobinsonShepard
DawnRobinsonShepard

@Sindhu olive pumace is really a garbage olive oil and has zero health benefits compared to extra virgin