Purpose: The consumer-based study was conducted among the population of Kolkata metropolis to assess the impact of corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices on the purchase intention of selected cooking oil brands. Design/methodology/approach: Data were collected from a questionnaire based survey on 322 respondents residing in Kolkata metropolis. Reliability of the scales was ascertained by Cronbach’s alpha values. Kendall's W test was used for rank analysis. Pearson’s correlation was examined to correlate the cognitive criteria. Factor analysis was used to sort out influential cognitive criteria which were compared between genders by the Kruskal–Wallis H test. The involvement of CSR components in enhancing the brand equity was analysed by multiple linear regression. Findings: The brands vouching for the cause of health and nutritional value of the society attained significant loyalty and generate considerable brand association. The regression model predicts a socially accepted cooking oil brand to be one which addresses health, transparency and ethics in unison. Research limitations/implications: The study was restricted within the resident population of Kolkata metropolis which ratifies the CSR perception of a confined mass. Practical implications: The study delineates the plausible avenue of CSR investments to touch the cognitive centre of the consumers’ mind. Social implications: The consumers expect to embrace a healthy yet reasonably priced cooking oil brand which imparts a notion to address multiple social causes. Originality/value: The study identifies the strategic CSR attributes which might influence the mind of the consumers while they select cooking oil brands for household use. © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited.