Not much longer than a hundred years ago most people fried or cooked their food in animal or butter fat. It is only in the last century that people started using vegetable oils for cooking on a large scale. In the old days oil was largely extracted from oil seed like cottonseed, sunflower, peanuts or coconuts. In the Mediterranean area olive oil was in use even in Biblical times. However all this was difficult and expensive. Most people especially in our part of the world used desi ghee extracted from butter and milk. This had its benefits, like the fat content, but also caused elevated cholesterol levels. It is also expensive – about seven times the price of the best vegetable oils.

So the old “kohlu” which was a mechanical press used for extracting oil from seeds was gradually replaced by mechanical expeller presses. These did the same job, of pressing the oil out of the seed, but they applied a lot more pressure. This way they extracted more oil out of the seed. In the late 20th century the mechanical expellers were replaced by the solvent extraction process. This was far more efficient, less labour intensive, and managed to extract a lot more oil from the seed. At the same time it introduced many chemicals in the process of producing vegetable oils.

The solvent extraction process starts with crushing the seed into pulp. The pulp is then put on a moving belt inside a large vessel. From the ceiling of the vessel hexane, a petroleum product is showered onto the pulp. The hexane dissolves the oil in the pulp and then falls to the bottom of the vessel. From here the slurry is piped to another vessel where it is heated. The hexane, being petroleum, evaporates quickly. It is collected, cooled down so that it liquefies, and can be used again.

The remaining oil is then taken to a series of vessels where it is treated with acids, alkalis and other chemicals to neutralize any remaining hexane and to remove the free fatty acids, the rancidity and the odour. The raw oil is then bleached with chlorine, to cut the dark colour and make it look more attractive. It is then filtered through a cloth or mechanical filter to remove solid particles. The last step is the induction of a preservative to extend the shelf life of the product to two years.

Naturelle on the other hand does not go through any of these severe and harmful processes. It is different from the other oils on the market because of the way it is refined. It is a vegetable oil in its natural form, without refining by chemicals, without bleach and without preservatives. The oil is never allowed to go through the solvent extraction process so it is free from the harmful effects of hexane. It is obtained from the choice, fresh oil seed, sunflower and canola. The seeds are gently pressed to bring out the “oil of the first press.” Even in raw form the oil is quite acceptable. It is in fact the best quality of the old “kohlu oil” which has always been used for human consumption. However to comply with all the modern standards of food safety and purity we put it through further refining. This is a very modern and highly sophisticated process where all foreign matter, any free fatty acids, rancidity and moisture are evaporated through high temperature and vacuum. This is done in very large food grade stainless steel showers especially imported for this purpose. The oil is then put through very fine micron filters to remove any suspended matter and then checked and bottled.

The fact that no bleach is used ensures that all the carotenes present in nature are preserved in the oil. It is for this reason that our oil is golden in colour – yet it is a pure and clear liquid. If you put a bottle of Naturelle oil in sunlight for eight to ten hours you can observe that the oil begins to bleach naturally. This is a clear test of our purity. The sparkle in Naturelle is an indication of its purity.

The other distinguishing factor in Naturelle is the absence of any chemical preservatives. For this reason we are indicating the shelf life of the oil to six months only. Preservatives are not good for the human body – and over a period of time the buildup of preservatives inside the body can damage our digestive system. If for example, you stop eating fresh fruit and vegetables and rely on tinned foods only the body begins to bloat and there is a loss of energy. Yet we are ingesting preservatives through our cooking medium on a daily basis.

The concept of Naturelle is to get as close to a purely organic cooking oil as feasible. We cannot guarantee that the sunflower and canola seed is organic as this is beyond our control. The seed is grown in Pakistan and is imported from all over the world. The farmers may be using some form of fertilisers. This we cannot control. However the harmful effects of the fertilisers are minimal as the plant ingests it in the open field. The seed is formed through the natural interaction of the sun, wind and soil. We choose only fresh and healthy seed. Our effort is also to use as much sunflower seed as possible. Sunflower has not been genetically modified and therefore is better for health. However it does tend to cloud at low temperatures and so we go for a blend of canola seed as well as sunflower.

We endeavor to bring to your kitchen as pure and organic cooking oil that is practically possible. It is nature’s bounty with all its nourishment and vigour –and without any chemical, petroleum or preservatives.

The writer is chairman of Punjab Oil Mills.