According to the current food standard protocols, in India blended oil formulations shall not contain more than two individual oils. That too the proportion has to be such that the individual oils used must not be less than 20%. Nature of the individual oils used must be declared on the label. In contrast the same statute book allows a number of oils in the manufacture of vanaspati type of products. How such a dichotomy has crept into the PFA is not clear and probably this must have been thought of in the mistaken belief that it could be easier for the chemists to detect willful adulteration by unscrupulous traders. Industry however seems to have ignored the provision for marketing blended oils because such blends are difficult to be promoted in India where there are strong loyalties to pure oils of different types in different regions. But use of more than two oils in evolving a single cooking medium may be attractive and it is time for clearing such innovative oil blends based on technology and nutrition.
The blended oil concept has been given a respectability by the recent development of a couple of products in India based on scientific investigations and nutritional considerations. These recipes make use of oils such as rice bran oil, groundnut oil and other vegetable oils and proportion of the individual components is determined by their triglyceride profiles and nutritional chemicals present such as oryzanol, tocopherols, tocotrienols and phytosterols. As all these oils have good thermal stability, the blends also inherit this important quality. Recipe development is relatively simple once the chemical composition of each oil is known, with optimal fatty acid ratio of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids being arrived at by using computer soft ware programs commonly used by the animal feed industry. What is needed more importantly is the process that can make use of relatively cheap oils like palm oil, soybean oil and palm kernel oil. The critical requirement is to keep the blended oil in liquid condition at temperatures of 4C-10C, normally encountered during winter in most parts of northern India. The process for making blended formulations, developed by one of the R & D Labs under CSIR, is unfortunately patented denying access to large number of small scale oil millers and depriving the country of the nutritional benefits that would have protected millions of malnourished population. Even if the recipes are published, house wives can make their own blends at home for daily use.
Palm oil is going to be the most important vegetable oil in India for years to come as it is relatively cheaper and any efforts to popularize blended oils will have to be mounted around this particular oil. But as it is solid at normal room temperatures, user convenience is minimal compared to liquid oils like peanut oil, mustard oil, sesame oil etc. This is where food technologists have to play a role in lowering the melting point through use of high end technology involving physical chemistry. Further, blends of more than two oils must be permitted so that the nutritional quality of different oil components will supplement each other offering a wide variety of products to the consumer. Added to this is the bonanza of natural flavor concentrates characteristic of each of the vegetable oil now available to give distinct personality to each of the blends evolved. With modern electronic instruments available to chemists, precise analysis is a matter of routine and does not pose any major problem to the enforcement agencies. Powerful brand images, to be created for multi oil blends by edible oil industry, will make them acceptable to the Indian public, especially if the cost is attractive.