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Mustard Oil

Does anyone have a view on the use of Mustard oil in Indian cooking. I recently got a bottle because a number of recipes I have call for it, however I know that there is a fair bit of negative publicity (and facts?) surrounding its use in America. Indeed the bottle I have is labelled 'Not fit for human consumption'!!

Now I have read a number of articles both for and against its use, but was hoping to see if anyone else had any experience of using it for cooking? I obviously bought it wlth the intention to use it, and nothing I have read has exactly made me want to rush out home and pour it away but i figured another set of opinions can do no harm.

Now I'm firmly in the camp of believing that a lot of people are way to over sensitive to bugs and bacteria etc and toxins and all that so simple scare stories won't get me to change my mind.

I am still waging the war at home that eggs do not need to be kept in the fridge if they are to used fairly quickly!! (I mean days not weeks) - those little compartments in fridges were only put in for convineince nothing more!


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  1. We buy eggs at the farmer's market and we never put them in the fridge.

    We buy mustard oil and we use it for cooking indian food. I get it at local indian/pakistani markets and its typically marked as not for consumption. Not dead yet. I think the alford/duguid book Mangoes and Curry leaves has a good discussion on mustard oil. I suppose if I were using it by the gallon, I might be concerned but I find you typically use so little of it and as you note, there seems to be a lot of controversy over it.

    When heated it gives off mustard gas. My husband is very sensitive and has to flee the kitchen. doesn't bother me in the least.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jenn

      Just a minor point - lest anyone be concerned, the fumes that mustard oil releases upon heating are unrelated to "mustard gas" - i.e., the deadly chemical warfare agent used in World War One. The term mustard gas refers to the odor (thought also to be like garlic or onions) that some attribute to it, not to any relation with mustard the food.

    2. I used to buy it at Bharat Bazaar and it did not say "Not for Human Consumption"

      But I'm curious. Food rules and labeling rules are notoriously stringent. How does a store get away with selling mustard oil for cooking when it is labeled not for human comsumption. What kind of law suit ensues if something happen?

      I'd call the Health Department and ask frankly.

      Are there two kinds of MO? Very curious.

      2 Replies
      1. re: SilverlakeGirl

        they don't sell it for cooking (wink wink). they sell it, and if you buy it and happen to cook with it, well, that's your problem as it's clearly labeled as "not for cooking." think of it as analagous to off-label use of prescription drugs. doctors often prescribe drugs for uses the FDA hasn't approved. this isn't illegal, although a drug company cannot market a drug for a particular use until the FDA has approved that use.

        1. re: SilverlakeGirl

          My Pakistani grocer very gravely pointed out the 'not for human consumption' label and then cheerfully told me that he cooks with it all the time. He says the oil can be imported legally for cosmetic use. In one quart jars. Heh.

          I have used it for years without apparent ill effect, but I don't know if the ban is about acute or chronic toxicity - or just the squeamishness that seems to affect our government about all things yummy.

        2. The prohibition dates from a decade or so ago when oil from the seeds of Argemone mexicana, which causes dropsy when consumed by humans, was sold as food-grade mustard oil in India and resulted in several deaths. That said, if you buy oil made by a reputable manufacturer and from a store that caters to an Indian clientele, you can be sure that others have used it for cooking with no ill effects.

          1. The label thing is about euricic acid (or its potential to exist in potentially unsafe levels), in Europe as well as the US. The labels predate the argemone business by quite a while. The only real issue is finding a decent brand from a store with decent turnover. Randomly grabbing a bottle will very often get you an oil that wasn't very good before it went rancid 3 months before you brought it home.

            2 Replies
            1. re: MikeG

              Interesting. I'd heard about erucic acid in connection with rape seed oil but not mustard oil until now. And all the Canadian government warnings I've seen or heard of have referred only to Argemone mexicana. However, according to Wikipedia, you're right:

              >>Due to its high content of erucic acid, which is considered noxious, mustard oil is not considered suitable for human consumption in the United States, Canada and the European Union, although mustard oil with a low content of erucic acid is available. In India, mustard oil is generally heated almost to smoking before it is used for cooking; this may be an attempt to reduce the content of noxious substances, and does reduce the strong smell and taste.

              In North India, mustard oil is also used for rub-downs and massages (see ayurveda). To get around the restriction in Western countries, the oil is often sold "for external use only" in stores catering to Indian immigrants.

              In India the restrictions on mustard oil are viewed as an attempt by foreign multi-national corporations to replace mustard oil with canola oil, a variety of rapeseed with a low erucic acid content. But for North Indians, mustard oil is not just a cooking medium but it is very much intricately interwoven with their culture. They have been using it for ages and dispute that there is enough evidence for the toxicity of erucic acid.<<
              - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustard_oil

              Oddly, the Wikipedia article on erucic acid downplays its toxicity and even refers to its potential health benefits:

              >>No negative health effects have ever been documented in man although it is advisable not to give un-weaned babies, foods containing erucic acid for the reasons given above.

              Epidemiological studies suggest that in regions where mustard oil is still used traditionally that mustard oil exhibits some protection against cardiovascular diseases.<<
              - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erucic_acid

              1. re: carswell

                here's the link to the 1999 FDA report with some confusion as to whether it's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) or not:

                The bottle I picked up today at the Caribbean grocer had no nutritional information (or consumption warnings), but from what I've read, it really should be heated to the smoking point before eating, and not used in vinaigrettes:

                I'll try it the next time I make Indian food, as it may be that missing ingredient we've been searching for.

            2. Well if I don't post anymore after today, you wil know why!!

              Got a vegtable curry side dish planned out for tonight that will debut the oil.

              1. Hope you do report back. I passed on a bottle of mustard oil in my Indian grocery because of the warning label. But I once bought a bottle of ibuprofen from a pharmacy in Hong Kong which came with a skull and crossbones and POISON label on it. And live to post about it, so you can't always go by warning labels.

                1. A classic dish of my Calcuttan family was made with a paste of mustard oil, mustard powder and turmeric ( sometimes a little ground ginger too ) rubbed into Hilsa ( I use tilapia in the UK ) whcih is then fried until the spices lose their rawness

                  Add a little water and poach gently so it creates its own jhol ( gravy ) and then, before serving drizzle a little more mustard oil on top.

                  Serve with Lao ( a marrow like squash) cooked gently with kalonji ( nigella seeds )

                  A quintessentially simple Bengali dish


                  1. There is little real controversy over it. It is used and is enormously popular in India and by immigrants in the US I have a bottle and have used it, but I would say that it's not easy to cook with if you have absolutely no experience doing so.

                    AFAIK, in India, it is common to bring your own container to the store and fill up on large quantities of mustard oil from vats at the store. Unscrupulous ditributors had been adding all sorts of cheaper oils to the mix in order to maximize profits, in some cases even adding automotive products. People died.

                    The cotroversy now is that the government in India has limited or completely restricted sales of the beloved mustard oil, and US companies are poised to infiltrate the market with canola oil. Some say government officials were paid off.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Steve

                      Hmm - I better read through this thread - I used mustard oil on Sunday when I cooked from Mangoes & Curry Leaves - quite a few of their recipes call for it.

                      Why is it difficult to cook with - what do I need to know?


                      1. re: MMRuth

                        Oh - and I checked my bottle - bought from Kalyustan's - no mention of unfit for human consumption - even had the nutrition information etc. It's cold pressed, from Australia.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          Simply that it's very strong and can dominate a dish so easily. My bottle of mustard oil is from England and has a warning on it.

                          1. re: Steve

                            Thanks! I was wondering what it could be!

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              MMRuth, I just bought mustard oil from Kalyustan's for a Bengali-style dal panch phoran dish. I was taken aback at the quantity of mustard oil bottles which had 'for external use only' notices. The small bottle I settled on was the only one which explicitly indicated it was appropriate for cooking -- a cold-pressed Australian one, which I now assume was milder than the subcontinent oils; this may have been the same one you got.

                              After getting more info on the Indian mustard oils I will definitely try one of the stronger ones (from a place with recent stock and high turnover).

                      2. It definetly gave off an aroma when I heated the oil up last night, but I have to say it wasn't over powering, just smelt like mustard to be honest!

                        The vegtable curry side dish that contained the oil was really good, so good my left over lunch is missing the dish altogether!

                        1. Mustard oil definitely adds lots of flavor to anything you cook in it. It can also be used like olive oil and drizzled over a dish to finish it. You can add cumin/fenugreek/celery seeds to a few tablespoons of mustard oil, heat it in a pan and pour it over curries or lentil soups for another layer of flavor.

                          1. well i've had a look at wikipedia and they claim there are three types of mustard oil - one pressed from seed, one distilled into an essential oil and one an infusion of mustard in other oils. even if you get the pressed oil (which is the one i guess you use for cooking) I'd be sure that its been prepared in clean places rather than some farmers bucket ie is fit for human consumption. That said, i love the stuff. There is also a bunch of confusion about its health properties and some historic prejudice against it because laboratory rats don't like it.
                            Doesn't bother me one bit. I'm eating dal with a mustard oil termper (tarka) as I type, and boy it rocks. Really pungent - got it from Taj Stores in Brick Lane for those in London.
                            US compadres - sorry can't help with sourcing, although the manufacturer of mine is Pran Agro of Dhaka in case they export.
                            happy sizzling.

                            1. I buy mustard oil at an Indi-Pak grocery store with lots of customers. It's labeled with nutritional information and stamped "Export only" and "For External Use Only". I am experimenting with using it every way I can think of and I love it! I have never heated it to the point of smoking - I think that would harm the flavor I love, and I don't believe that there's any danger. There is NO convincing evidence that it is harmful.

                              1. The Korean cold buckwheat noodle packages always come with little packets of mustard oil. I'm constantly finding myself wishing I had more. Does anyone know if this is similar to the stuff sold in Indian markets?