Showing posts with label alpha-linoleic acid. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alpha-linoleic acid. Show all posts

Feb 29, 2016

Ingredients: Mustard Oil

Mustard growing wild in the neighbors' winter wheat.

Mustard oil is traditionally used in many of the cuisines of South Asia.  It's distinctive pungent flavor is easily recognizable in the spicy pickles called "achaari" that are popular throughout the Indian subcontinent. Mustard oil is also used for deep frying pakoras and as a general cooking oil in many Desi cuisines. 

Bibi's infrequently used bottle of mustard oil.
Mustard oil is produced by grinding the seeds of the black mustard plant (Brassica nigra), the brown mustard plant (Brassica juncea), or the white mustard plant (Brassica hirta). Mustard oil's pungent flavor is due to the presence of allyl isothiocyanate, all plants in the Brassicaceae family such as horseradish, wasabi, cabbage, and turnips share this potent organosulfur compound's flavor. Along with it's sharp, nutty aspects there's really no way to describe the flavor of raw mustard oil without comparing it to the nose watering and rather caustic notes of wasabi and horseradish.

Brassica hirta or white mustard
The very same mustard that blooms throughout my native California in February  & March
Mustard oil has high levels of alpha-linolenic and erucic acids. While alpha-linoleic acid is one of the two essential fatty acids necessary for health, erucic acid is toxic in high doses. Studies done on rats in the 1970's demonstrated the cardiotoxic effects and perhaps some carcenogenic potential with high erucic acid intake. However, it has since been found that rats digest vegetable oils differently than humans. There have never been any documented reports of harm to humans due to high erucic acid via dietary intake. Mustard oil is not allowed to be imported or sold in the United States for use in cooking due to it's high erucic acid content.

Mustard seeds being ground for oil in India.
In order to reduce mustard oil's pungent flavor many cultures of South Asia heat the oil to smoking point in large quantities to "crack" it. I've seen this done in my Kashmiri relatives' homes. Not only does it terrify me to have a huge pot of smoking oil over a gas flame, the smoke produced is highly irritating to the eyes and airways. When I wish to reduce the pungent flavor of mustard oil I just dilute it with ghee or some other cooking oil. For pickles or achaari the pungent flavor of mustard oil is essential so there's no need to crack it. The use of mustard oil has significantly decreased in South Asia as other vegetable oils have become cheaper and more widely available.

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