Traditional oil manufacturing: Ghani on a comeback trail

India imports nearly 70% of its annual consumption of edible oil. At present, the average consumption of edible oils in India is roughly 23 million tons and the consumption is expected to hit a figure of 34 million tons by 2030.

The global cold-pressed oil market size was valued at $24.62 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.3% to reach $36.40 billion by 2026. After revival, the market for edible oils manufactured by traditional methods in India is today roughly around 10% of the overall consumption. Of this 10%, approximately 3-4% is being currently serviced.

Thanks to the trend of consumers becoming more and more health-conscious, the market for oils manufactured by traditional methods is only growing bigger and bigger. This is a largely untapped and unpenetrated market that offers immense scope for the industry. At present, cold pressed oils have a substantial market potential mainly in south India, but awareness can be created to facilitate market expansion in the northern, western, and eastern markets of India.

Agricultural practices are closely related to our health as most of the foods that we get are sourced from farms. Edible cooking oils are an integral part of Indian food eating habits – native seeds like mustard, groundnut, sesame, and coconut are cultivated for their oil. Cooking oils are used for preparing processed foods, for frying and salad dressing.

Indian choices of edible cooking oils are region-specific. Gujarat prefers groundnut oil; south India is used to coconut oil, sesame oil and groundnut oil. Rajasthan prefers sesame oil and mustard oil is preferred in eastern and northern regions of India.

Palm oil, soya bean oil, sunflower and safflower oils have been introduced in India in the last two decades. These oils are extracted using chemical refining methods and are marketed as oils that are good for health due to their polyunsaturated fatty acid content. These oils are fortified with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.

History of “Ghani”
A ‘Ghani’ uses bulls to power a wooden machine, which is similar to a mortar and pestle. The Ghani extraction procedure is 4,000 years old and was invented by the Harappan civilization. Cold pressed mustard and sesame oils were quite common then. In Sanskrit literature of about 500 BC there is a specific reference to an oil-press. Juices were extracted from vegetable materials as early as 1500 BC using either a mortar and pestle or a grinding stone working on a flat stone. Ghani operation has been noted in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, which had cultural ties with India.

Traditional Ghani technology
Oil expressed from oilseeds is held in a scooped circular pit in the center of a mortar made of stone or wood. A stout, upright pestle which descends from a top curved or angled piece, in which the pestle rests in a scooped-out hollow, permits the pestle to rotate.

The bottom of the lower angled piece is attached to a load-beam; one end of the load-beam rides around the outside of the barrel, while the other is yoked to the animal. The load-beam is weighted down with either heavy stones or even the seated operator. As the animal moves in a circular ambit, the pestle rotates, exerting lateral pressure on the upper chest of the pit, first pulverizing the oilseed and then crushing out its oil.

Larger Ghanis have a capacity of 35 to 40 kg while smaller ones have a capacity between 8 to 15 kg. Rape and mustard seeds need more water during crushing than sesame and copra rather less. An oil-rich seed such as sesame seed or groundnut yields about 5 per cent less oil in a Ghani than in a modern expeller, mainly because of insufficient pressure.

In the future, power-driven devices are certain to displace traditional Ghanis worked by animal traction. There may still be room for powered Ghanis in India and perhaps even in other developing countries with limited local supplies of raw materials for oilseed extraction, and there may be a place for batteries of power Ghanis to multiply oil output from a common shaft in factory operations.

Oils obtained through Ghani have a unique flavor with high nutritive value and good storage quality. Cold pressed oils have a unique taste and colour and are high in Vitamin E.

However, Ghani operations suffer from limited capacity, higher running costs and low commercial value of the Ghani oil cake.

Benefits of traditional methods
Traditional extraction of oils using cold pressing is suited for small scale production and uses non-hazardous low-impact technologies. These oils are nutritious, high in natural flavours and generally last longer. In traditional methods, natural plant sterols and other antioxidants are retained in the oil.

While refined oils can be produced on a large scale, the daily output of a small chekku (ghani) can be considered miniscule. Aggressive marketing campaigns for refined cooking oils had obliterated the presence of edible vegetable oils that were extracted using traditional methods.

The modern methods of oil extraction involve supplying heat at various stages right from crushing the nuts to the final extraction. Experts claim that the heat used during industrial procedures often causes nutrients to be removed from the oil.

To sum up
Consumers are making more informed choices today. The oils made using traditional methods are becoming popular due to their health benefits and a number of small and medium scale enterprises have jumped onto the bandwagon. This is essentially a niche market targeted at the urban middle class who are more health-conscious and are willing to pay a premium for edible cooking oils that are of good quality and are high in nutrient value. The growth of cold pressed oils market will be at the expense of the market for refined oils but the impact would not be huge as it caters to a niche consumer segment. Refined oils will still be needed in processed foods and will continue to be consumed by restaurants and hotels.

The market for cold pressed oils exists mainly in south India (Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in particular). Hyderabad is also opening up to the prospects of consuming cold pressed oils. However, in the northern and western parts of India, refined oils continue to dominate. A greater level of consumer awareness about cold pressed oils and an efficient distribution mechanism will enable further growth of traditional oil manufacturing industry.