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mustard seed oil


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I am curious about what experience others may have using mustard seed oil.

In Canada, by law mustard seed oil must be sold with the label "for external use only".

I have spoken to members of the East Indian community in Winnipeg (who describe themselves in that way to differentiate themselves from First Canadians who call themselves Indians) and I have been told that they use it with no ill effects.

I realize that this oil has been used for a millenia, but in modern times, has use of it been discouraged in any other communities?



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Raw mustard seed oil has such a strong taste and smell that it tends to be disliked by communities not used to it - and adored by those who are. In India its one of the essential ingredients in Bengali cooking, used more as a flavouring than a cooking medium. Its also why many people from other communities claim not to like Bengali food, much to their loss, in my opinion.

In some Indian traditions mustard oil has a connotation of being earthy and sensual - not in an altogether positive sense. the word used is tamasik, which in ayurveda means inclined to sensual, violent, somewhat wild tendencies. Its the attribute of the god Shiva and in opposition to sattvik, the pure, refined, serene attributes of Vishnu. The sattvik cooking medium is ghee.

Achaya writes (in his Companion to Indian Food: "In the Chandimangala, written in the sixteenth century by Mukundram Chakravarti, the tamasic nature of Lord Shiva is reflected in the fact that his food is cooked not in ghee, which is a luminous sattvika product, but in pungent mustard oil."

Its also worth noting that the flavour and smell are very much reduced when the oil is heated, so it has to be used raw if the flavour is required,


PS: I'm amused to note how careful you are to distinguish your use of the term East Indian! I never meant to sound so dogmatic about it, so I promise not to take off on anyone in the future for using it!

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In Punjab it was very popular, being the most popular cooking medium after Desi Ghee. It was used for cooking deep frying and making achar(pickles). It was invariably heated to smoking point and then cooled before being used, to get rid of some of its very strong smell. Used raw it can have a very overpowering effect like horseradish. I do not know if in Punjab it was used as a flavoring as in bengali cooking ( below is a simple reciepe for bengali bharta that one of my Bangladesi cook prepares sometimes).

It is a wonderful taste ( though aquired, as Vikram correctly mentioned).

The use of the oil has never been discouraged but I guess two things happened

1.Peoples tastes changed a bit with time.

2. There was a major scandal in recent years in India where mustard oil was adultraded, by unscruplous individuals, with rapeseed oil and sometimes a synthetic oil. The motive was simply greed and profit but the resultant concoction was poisionous and numerous people were killed. ( Vikram, can you please, as the local person elaborate on this? thanks) Since then I think mustard oil sale was actually banned for a while in India.

Besides cooking ,mustard oil is also popular for masaging body and hair. So I guess when you see ' for external use only' that is what the manufacturer is purporting, or perhaps he is simply circumventing litigation so cooking is at your own risk.

But if the store carries a reasonable selection of mustard oil you WILL see some that do not have this marking and say gauranteed pure etc. I will look up the name from my bottle and post it for you.

I have to rush off now so the bengali bharta reciepe a liitle later

Bombay Curry Company

3110 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. 703. 836-6363

Delhi Club

Arlington, Virginia

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how long do you imagine a bottle of mustard seed oil can hang around before it loses its ooumph?

Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love at all seasons: That is all there is to distinguish us from the other Animals.


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how long do you imagine a bottle of mustard seed oil can hang around before it loses its ooumph?

How old is your bottle? I have a year old one in my refrigerator. Seems to be fine.

In our home, it was used mostly for seasoning some dishes and always for pickles.

They would bring the oil to smoking point, very carefully drop some drops of water (a very risky thing to do) into the oil, it would splatter and then it is allowed to cool.

The cooled oil is used in cooking. It is believed to reduce the tamasik effects Vikram described. And also makes the flavor less intense.

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Thanks for the information. In Canada, the Government health authorities (Health Canada) and the regulating body (Agriculture Canada) have banned the sale of any mustard oil in Canada, unless it is labeled "for external use only".

I found this warning on the Health Canada website. It was issued 5 years ago, and is still in effect for Canada. Like I said, people in the stores still buy it and use it. It's obvious from the containers that the oil was meant for cooking, despite the label.

I guess the US and UK haven't reacted this way.

Below is the Health Canada warning--FYI.



September 11, 1998


Warning not to use any products containing mustard seed oil/mustard oil

OTTAWA - Health Canada is warning consumers not to use any mustard seed oils/mustard oils because they may be contaminated with argemone oil, a toxic oil which can cause severe illness and sometimes death when consumed or absorbed through the skin. These oils are not used in prepared mustards made in Canada and these products are therefore not of concern.

This advice follows a joint September 4 health hazard alert from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada about potential argemone oil contamination in mustard oil/mustard seed oil products used as foods. In addition to these food items, Health Canada inspectors have found mustard seed oils/mustard oils with labels stating "not for internal consumption," "for external use only" and other similar directives. These products might be massaged into the skin or hair, used for cooking or consumed. None of these products should be used.


Note from moderator -- edited for article copyright

Edited by Monica Bhide (log)
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I just talked to someone from Agriculture Canada, who supplied some history about the Canadian warnings on mustard oil.

It seems that there is a weed, which is almost indistinguishable from the mustard seed plant, which in some areas has contaminated the crops. Oil from this plant may contain the toxic substance.


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  • 2 weeks later...

I love mustard oil, but I've found that some brands are really pungent and obviously mustard tasting (which I like ) and then others are bland.

Which sort is used in Bengali cooking?

How sad; a house full of condiments and no food.

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The pungent kind of course. Try it, for example, in 'tel muri' which is a popular Calcutta snack. Just mix puffed rice with finely chopped onion and a few split roasted chickpeas (or you could substitute peanuts, I guess), some chopped coriander leaves and green chillies, salt and a little raw mustard oil as seasoning, and eat it quickly before it goes soft. The oil really serves as the flavouring here,


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As others have mentioned, Bengalis (which I am one) probably have the unique distinction of using Mustard oil as a cooking oil as well as a condiment.

In bengali,

Shorshe = Mustard

Shorsher Tel = Mustard oil

Shorshe Baata = Mustard paste

A lot of Bengali dishes traditionally are cooked with mustard oil. Although, in recent years, for some reason this tradition is somehow dying. Rising prices of mustard oil combined with negative publicity/perception about health effects of mustard oil may have something to do with this trend. Unfortunate, in my opinion..

I remember when I used to live in Kolkata, we would go to the Ghaani, where you could buy freshly pressed (literally freshly pressed right in front of your eyes) mustard oil.

Mustard oil is an acquired taste. So is mustard paste (Shorshe baata ) which bengalis also use as an ingredient in cooking.

I always use mustard oil when I am cooking fish stews (Maachher Jhol), bengali style. You deep fry this fish and then prepare the stew with this fried fish. I will sometimes also use mustard oil when doing goat-meat (called "Mutton" by bengalis. Not the same thing as what Brits call "Mutton") stews.

Other traditional dishes with mustard paste are "Sorsche Illish" (Hilsa fish with mustard paste), "sorshe potol" (Potol is a kind of veggie, I think its called "parwal" in Hindi).

It is very common to eat Jhaal Muri from roadside vendors. Jhaal Muri literrally means hot (as in spicy hot) puffed rice, as is made with puffed rice, mustard oil, onions, green chilli peppers, cucumbers and other condiments...

When you deep fry fish (especially "Illish" aka Hilsa), in mustard oil, you can also eat simple freshly prepared rice with just the left over oil and some salt. Yum.

Here is simple recipe with pomfret (usually called "pompano" overe here in the US of A), banana leaves and mustard paste and mustard oil. I am writing this from memory as I usually don't measure my ingredients, so please do feel free to experiment with the amounts.


1) Two medium sized pomfret fish, cut into half each.

2) 1/2 cup mustard seeds. You can experiment with the dark brown or the yellow seeds or use a combination.

3) 1.5 cups of water

4) 1/2 tsp sugar

5) 2 tsp salt. Please adjust this

6) 8-16 green chiles, slit lengthwise in half. (please adjust according to your heat tolerance!)

7) 2 tablespoons of good quality mustard oil (sadly, good quality mustard oil is difficult to find in the USA)

8) Banana leaves. If you can't find banana leaves, substitute aluminium foil. Or perhaps you can use some other leaves (squash leaves would be a good substitute).

Prepping the banana leaves:

The plan is to use the banana leaves as a wrapper, so cut them into about 12inch x 12inch squares. If you warm the leaves up by holding them on top of your stove set to medium heat, they become more pliable and are easier to work with.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add the mustard seeds, half of the water, salt, sugar, mustard oil, into a electric blender/mixer/grinder. Let steep for 5-10 minutes. Then start grinder on highest setting and run for about 5 minutes. If the mixture gets too thick for the grinder, add some water. Continue this process until the mustard seeds are all finely ground and the whole thing appears as a uniform paste, with flakes of mustard seeds. The total time taken may be upto 10-15 minutes. The paste should be little bit more runny than say Dijon mustard.

Place the banana leaf squares on the counter. Make a few deep long slashes on the fish so this marinade can go in. Place each piece of fish on this banana leaf square, then pour in some of the mustard paste. Place a few of the green chilli peppers on top. Wrap the banana leaf up in a small square, and you can make a small tight package. Either close the ends with tooth picks or use strips of the same banana leaves to tie them up.

Place in middle of oven. Check after 20-30 minutes, depending on size of your fish.

Serve with rice. Take the leaf wrappers off before eating!

This dish is traditionally made with Illish fish, which is not that readily available in the USA. Also, traditionally, bengalis don't use ovens, so this is often made by placing the banana leaf wrappers on top of a hot skillet. When prepared this way, the leaves will blacken a bit, thereby imparting even more flavor in the fish.

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Dear Bong,

Thanks, that sounds unbelievably good. Something I definitely want to try.

But may I ask: how do you determine if mustard oil is good?

The one I have on hand is KTC ("For massage only") produce of the UK. Cannot imagine it's exceptional, but did you ever hear of it? I bought it after reading someone (Madhur?) suggest mustard oil to finish dishes: a drop added at the end to bring all the flavors together. I always sorta wondered about the 'for massage only' bit but not too terribly much and was glad to read here that fears are unfounded. Or at least mostly unfounded.


Edited by lissome (log)

Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love at all seasons: That is all there is to distinguish us from the other Animals.


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But may I ask: how do you determine if mustard oil is good?

Good mustard oil is pungent. Strong pungent. One decent brand is the "Engine" brand. No idea if its available in the UK. In the USA, it is extremely hard to find good quality mustard oil. If smelling an opened bottle of mustard oil does not bring tears (from the pungency) to your eyes, it is probably not good. Another rule of thumb you can perhaps use -- good mustard oil is usually sold in metal containers (like a tin can), not in bottles.

The one I have on hand is KTC ("For massage only") produce of the UK. Cannot imagine it's exceptional, but did you ever hear of it? I bought it after reading someone (Madhur?) suggest mustard oil to finish dishes: a drop added at the end to bring all the flavors together. I always sorta wondered about the 'for massage only' bit but not too terribly much and was glad to read here that fears are unfounded. Or at least mostly unfounded

All mustard oil in the USA says "for massage use only". Has to do with some FDA regulation -- FDA has deemed mustard oil to be unfit for human consumption, and hence all mustard oil sold in this country has to say "for massage use only". I suspect it's the same in the UK.

Yes you can of course use few drops of mustard oil to finish dishes, especially stews (aka curries) Mustard oil has many uses. Bengalis use mustard oil in many ways:

- as a cooking oil

- as a condiment to use with other food.

- as baby oil.

- as a skin moisturizer

Quite similar to the way southern Italians would use olive oil.

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  • 1 year later...

I was led to this thread through another thread, and figured I'd best post my question here.

I, too, recently bought a bottle of mustard seed oil only to get home and be surprised by the words "for massage only" on the label.

So, say I cook with it. What symptoms should I watch out for in case what I have turns out to be the bad kind?

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  • 6 months later...


i am new to indian food, both eating and cooking it.

i bought a bottle of mustard oil (it does say "external use only" on it), and i'm wondering...could i heat it all at once to the point of smoking, and then re-bottle it (maybe storing in tghe fridge, since it may have degraded a bit from the high heat)? my reason is that i have poor ventilation at home, but good ventilation at work, so i would like to get it done there, to use at will at home. thoughts?

"Laughter is brightest where food is best."


Author of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook ,The I Love Trader Joe's Party Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook

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