Everything You Need To Know About Mustard Oil

- Irreplaceable pantry essential and veritable cure-all, or poison unfit for human consumption? The fiery debate over hot and spicy mustard oil rages on with Western cultures insistently remaining in the latter camp, while many Asian cultures, especially those in Bangladesh and the Bengal region of India, steadfastly occupy the first. 

The answer naturally lies somewhere in between. But, before we get to that, a brief education on the oil that divides the world.

Mustard oil can be derived from either the Brassica nigra, Brassica juncea, or Brassica hirta plants; which produce black, brown, and white mustard seeds respectively, according to Bionity. 

The scientific research site explains that there are two types of oil that can come from the seed; a fatty vegetable oil from pressing or a volatile essential oil from grinding and distilling. 

Though the plants come from the same botanical family as rapeseed and are often confused with each other, mustard oil differs substantially from both rapeseed and canola oil (via Clove Garden).

For the epicureans who like to keep a garden going for culinary inspiration and inexpensive provisions, Gardening Know How suggests that growing mustard plants is not at all difficult to do. 

Once your plants are thriving, the gardening experts say to watch for the seed pods to turn brown as your signal that it's time to harvest. 

Of course, the process of turning those harvested seeds into digestible and delicious cooking oil is a bit more involved.

Where mustard oil comes from and how it's processed

According to ABC Machinery, the crude product that comes from a trip through the oil press machine is filtered until it reaches an adequate level of purity. 

There are five steps in the art of mustard oil production, and it all starts with sun-drying and cleaning the seeds. 

ABC Machinery notes that the drying process expels excess water that would impede the extraction process, and the cleaning is a quality control measure to remove dirt and debris that would otherwise foul the oil. 

Before the seeds are run through the press, they're heated to increase the amount of oil they'll produce, which can be as much as a 26% yield after an hour in the machine (via ABC Machinery).

After drying, cleaning, heating, and pressing, the final step is purification. 

Per ABC Machinery, purification requires filtering at a minimum but can include an involved process of refinement for those looking for the highest quality product. 

Oil refinery removes impurities from the crude oil and assures a longer shelf life by making it harder to oxidize.

Henan Kingman Mechanical & Electrical Complete Plant Co. notes that the oils of differently colored mustard seeds produce slightly different products. 

They say from white seeds the end result is a yellow-hued oil, and from black seeds, you'll see a lighter color coupled with a stronger taste.

Why mustard oil is labeled for external use only

The final product from the press is a seed oil that contains a controversial biological makeup including high levels of erucic acid, notes the Boston University Gastronomy Blog. 

According to a study published in the NFS Journal, erucic acid is a long-chain fatty acid capable of harming the cardiovascular system. As such, the study categorizes it as a naturally-occurring toxin. 

This is the real reason mustard oil is banned for cooking purposes in the U.S. and, therefore, labeled for external use only.

The European Food Safety Authority clarifies that, for adults, average consumption levels are nothing to be concerned about. 

However, they claim children under the age of 10 should not consume erucic acid, and, interestingly, the same goes for chickens. 

The case gets a little confusing, with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), adding that the essential oil of mustard, also called volatile mustard oil, is a similar product that is recognized as safe and suitable for use in food as a flavoring agent.

Amidst the confusion in the west, many Asian immigrants continue to consume mustard oil, opting to simply cook with products marketed as massage oils for external use only (via Taste). 

However, all is not lost for American chefs determined to add the mighty mustard seed to their assemblage of always-on-hand cooking oils in the pantry. 

It seems there is at least one edible mustard oil that passes muster with the FDA.

writter by: JENNY LYNCH

S: tastingtable.com

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