In a previous post, we looked at the different kinds of mustard seeds and how they are used in Indian cooking. In writing that post, I realized there was a ban on mustard oil in the US, something I didn’t realize before. I had a bottle of mustard oil in my kitchen that I occasionally used for cooking. A friend noticed the label on the bottle that said “not for human consumption” and wondered aloud if I should be using it. As an Indian, there was no question for me that mustard oil could be used for cooking but realized that not everyone may agree.
Citing toxicity of erucic acid that is found in mustard oil, the US, Canada and the EU have banned its sale for consumption. Many stores get around this by selling mustard oil that is labeled for use as massage oil. So is mustard oil safe to cook with? This question has been asked multiple times on the popular foodie forum Chowhound.
For me, it is enough to know that mustard oil has been used in Indian cooking for centuries. Though erucic acid was shown to be toxic in rats, it was subsequently shown that rats were also susceptible to other oils whether or not they contained erucic acid. Canola oil derived from rapeseed which is another member of the Brassica family, also contains erucic acid although in smaller quantities and no one has banned this oil. Perhaps the Canola oil manufacturers saw a chance to sell more of their oil in India, a country with a huge market for cooking oil? Do I smell a rat?
While I cannot conclusively tell you that it is OK to use mustard oil, I would advise the following if you do decide to use it in cooking:
- Buy good quality mustard oil that has been produced by cold-pressing. Certain mustard oils coming from New Zealand and Australia are said to be of high quality and don’t have the ‘not for consumption’ label on them. Now that my mustard oil has run out, I’ve been on the lookout for cold-pressed mustard oil in the Seattle area and will update this blog once I find a source.
- Avoid using mustard essential oil that is produced through a process of distillation. This oil contains 92% or more allyl isothiocyanate which can irritate the skin and other membranes.
- Use it in small quantities or mix it with other oils. I’ll often combine 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil with one tablespoon of mustard oil if a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of oil.
Mustard oil does have a pronounced taste. I find that for me, this is a reason to moderate its usage. Many recipes from Bengal, a state in eastern India where mustard oil is used extensively, say to heat the oil till it just starts burning. This helps remove the most pungent elements from the oil resulting in a smoother taste.
Do you use mustard oil? How do you use it? What are your thoughts on the mustard oil controversy?
Here are some links to more discussion and information on mustard oil