mysteries of mustard oil......
I am deep into reading "Mangoes and Curry Leaves," the newest Alford-Duguid cookbook. It is a delightful book and very motivating. Lots of the lovely recipes I am considering cooking for the family in the next few weeks seem to require mustard oil. Before I set off to the local Bangledesh grocery, I check the book's glossary to make sure I am buying the right kind of mustard oil.
Imagine my surprise to read that most mustard oil found in my store will say "not for internal consumption" but that its the stuff I'm supposed to buy anyway. Huh?!!!
I go to the store, buy a small bottle along with everything else [the particular brand I bought does say not for internal consumption but also says from Germany and packaged in the UK] and go home to research on the internet.
I find conflicting info and none of it is particularly clear, concise or recent. Apparently although people in India and the rest of the subcontinent have been using and consuming mustard oil for millenium, there are-maybe but not necessarily some potential problems related to health. One contingent argues that mustard oil contains some type of fatty acid that is very bad for you. But another contingent says that its a conspiracy to stop people in the subcontinent from using cheap and locally produced oil. And then there are your typical tales of tainted cooking oil which seem to lend fuel to both fires. Worse yet, most of what I am reading seems to be at least five years old.
I am one of those who avoids letting my family eat anything with high fructose corn syrup. I find myself conflicted. Is mustard oil one of those problems only if you are drinking it by the gallon? Will cooking food with mustard oil in it have a detrimental affect on my family? Or is this really a giant agri business urban legend designed to sell more soybeans? Can I make my own mustard oil by infusing peanut oil or is that [as it seems] a totally different thing? If I buy mustard oil produced in the EU am I safer?
Mustard oil is not allowed to be sold in the US for consumption, but it allowed to be sold as a massage oil. I think sometimes the FDA is a little too cautious since it's sold in most of the world as edible oil! That being said, you can find it at any indian grocery store. It's used for many recipes, and is the staple oil in many achaars (pickles). You can't get the same taste if you use vegetable/canola oil. Just make sure you heat it to smoking.
you have stepped into the world of fact and fallacy about edible oils! - the stuff on the web about canola (rapeseed oil = mustard oil) is particularly poisonous.
I have used the indian mustard oils for years in cooking in small quantities. It is less refined than canola and it is absolutely essential to heat it thoroughly at the commencement of cooking to a high temperature (put on your fan to avoid whiffing the mustard gass it gives off when it gets hot enough). After going through this stage it is sweet and tasty in cooking.
re: jen kalb
That is good to know. I too am enjoying Mangoes and Curry Leaves and have been cooking out of the book for a couple of weeks now. I was wondering about the mustard oil too. The only place I have seen it has the bottles labled not for consumption. I also wondered then what do you do with it?
re: jen kalb
I've been wanting to try recipes with mustard oil and finally bought a small bottle. (my family doesn't use it in their cooking, so i'm not familiar with it) However, it's still sitting untouched in the fridge because i'm a little confused about how to use it. most of the recipes i've seen that call for it have it drizzled on at the end, like a good EVOO. Am i supposed to heat and then cool it before drizzling it on? Or can I drizzle it straight from the bottle? or is it toxic consumed without heating it first?
Jen Kalb, your knowledge of indian food seems immense. can you shed some light on this for me?
I just follow cookbook instructions and survive!
Mustard oil is used in some indian pickles and sprinkled uncooked over dishes but it is too pungent for me it that form. (I wonder whether some Mina's versions of eggplant bharta which are extra mustardy may be garnished this way) Most recipes direct to heat the oil "to smoking" or almost to smoking before adding other ingredients to the pan - you can see vapor rise, turn your head away or you will choke you - at the commencement of cooking, and thats what I recommend. A sweetness and nuttiness comes into the oil (like the mustard seeds themselves) when it is treated this way which is very nice.
Normally Ive used in in veg dishes, like cabbage or eggplant - Bharti Kirchner in her Bengali cookbook "The Healthy Cuisine of India" calls it the top choice for fish and veg dishes, and quotes her aunt who says "no mustard oil, no flavor". Kirchner recommends buying pure mustard oil in an indian store or blended if thats all you can find. My current bottle is a blend.
Punjabis also use this oil, and in The Indian Spice Kitchen, MOnisha Bharadwaj says that claims are made for its good effect on hair, massaged into the scalp.
Try the oil in a cabbage fry with panchphoron - bengali 5 spice mix with Whole black mustard, fennel, kalonji, whole fenugreek and cumin seeds in equal proportions. shred your cabbage and some onion and set aside. Heat up a spoon or two of the mustard oil, heat til smoking (avert your face), then add a small amount of the panchphoron - maybe a rounded 1/2tsp. stir until the seeds change color and start to pop then add the cabbage and onion. Stir fry to coat with oil. then add some chopped green or red fresh chile, salt and a sprinkle of sugar. Stir fry til tender - IMO its better if it doesnt get limp and therefore better not covered if you can avoid it. at the end can mix in some fresh or frozen shredded coconut and some chopped coriander leaf, check seasoning and serve.
that'll get you off the ground with the stuff.