Living the Good Life…

My food blog & cookbook in progress

Mustard oil

Depending on which part of the country you hail from as well as your sensitivity to pungent aromas and flavors,  your reaction to this ingredient can vary wildly. The raw oil extracted from mustard seeds is so strong and pungent that I think most people assume it’s noxious. Maybe because it reminds them of the genuinely noxious nitrogen mustard gas. In fact, the mustard oil that I’ve seen sold in bottles in Indian grocery stores in America are always marked with caveats such as “for external use only” or better still “for massage only.” Apparently this is the only way the oil may be imported outside India. At least that’s what one of the shopkeepers – who I’ll leave nameless and location-less lest he/she gets into trouble with random authorities — assured me.

For the record, I’ve used various brands bearing the label in my kitchen through the years with no untoward incidents. Well, except for the fact that Adam, once he read the label refused to ever eat anything prepared with it again. (If I’ve told this story before sorry for the repetition) The rest of the roomies couldn’t care less, knowledge was moot. They continued to scarf down the mustard shrimp and bhel topped with the a few drops of the raw oil with as much  gusto as before we discovered the label. I suggest you follow their example. Else you’ll miss out on a great gustatory sensation – not unlike a wasabi kick at a sushi restaurant.

Mustard oil is used mostly in the northern and eastern regions of India. They are a staple of pickles all over, but as far as I know only the people of Bengal, Himachal Pradesh (the state encompassing the lower Himalayas- Simla, Kulu-Manali to name a few locations) and Kashmir actually cook with it.* Bengalis cook a variety of fish and may even use it for other preparations, including daal. They also use it raw on their version of bhel called jhall mudhi to give it a real kick. One Himachali dish I particularly like is whole potatoes sauteed in this oil seasoned with salt and anaar dana (dried pomegranate seeds) powder.


*So I’m wrong–Panjabis use mustard oil for cooking as well, especially for cooking meat (a newly discovered Ranvir Brar on Youtube waxes rhapsodic about it; and so do folks in Bihar and Orissa, i.e. parts contiguous with Bengal.

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