Using Mustard Oil in Indian Cooking
Mustard oil is made from either pressed mustard seeds or ground seeds and it is a great source of plant based omega-3 (as is rapeseed oil). It has real warming properties and in northern regions of India the oil is not only used in cooking but also as a massage oil, treatment for muscular aches and pains, as a mosquito repellent, a hair conditioner and even as baby oil.
This oil is a little controversial as in the EU it is always labelled as "For External Use Only" this was primarily to get around various import laws and I have done a fair amount of research into it and I haven't come across anything that categorically states it has negative effects.
All natural oils are composed of different fatty acids, the type and amount of which determine the properties of the oil. These fatty acids are often summarised on the packaging as, saturates, monounsaturates and polyunsaturates and are inherently linked to the oils origin.
In its pure form, mustard oil contains a fatty acid called erucic acid (cis-dos-13-enoic acid) at levels between 22% and 50%. EU Directive 80/891/EEC requires the erucic acid content of foods to be no greater than 5%. So because of this EU directive, no pure mustard oil in the EU can be classified as a food. To find out more about these issues have a read here.
Despite the erucic acid legislation, members of the Indian community have used this oil for hundreds of years and will continue to do so without apparent harm. Personally, and many Indian chefs will agree that it's a great oil to use to get the real authentic Indian flavours into your dishes.
Most Indian grocers stock mustard oil but it is only sold as a non-consumable oil for massaging and other purposes.
Mustard oil has a distinctively pungent flavour and is used in particular in Northern Indian cooking. It's natural potency gives dishes a delicious bite and is in particular it's used for cooking vegetable dishes such as okra, beans but it also works really well with fish dishes.
Traditionally when using mustard oil it is heated to smoking point and then left to cool - this is said to rid it of any impurities. Once cooled then you can start to cook with it.
Back to Cooking guides