Mustard oil and seeds

Mustard oil can mean either the pressed oil used for cooking, or a pungent essential oil also known as volatile oil of mustard. The essential oil results from grinding mustard seed, mixing the grounds with water, and isolating the resulting volatile oil by distillation. It can also be produced by dry distillation of the seed. Pressed mustard oil is used as cooking oil in some cultures, but sale is restricted in some countries due to high levels of erucic acid. Varieties of mustard seed also exist that are low in erucic acid.

Pressed oil

Ox-powered mill grinding mustard seed for oil

Oil makes up about 30% of mustard seeds. It can be produced from black mustard (Brassica nigra), brown mustard (B. juncea), and white mustard (B. alba).

Culinary use

Having a distinctive pungent taste, the use of the oil is a feature of predominantly Punjabi Assamese, Bengali and North Indian cooking,[1][2] as well as Bangladeshi cuisine.[3] It is sometimes used as a substitute for ghee.[4]

Chemical composition

Its pungent flavor is due to allyl isothiocyanate, a phytochemical of plants in the mustard family, Brassicaceae (for example, cabbage, horseradish or wasabi).

Mustard oil has about 60% monounsaturated fatty acids (42% erucic acid and 12% oleic acid); it has about 21% polyunsaturated fats (6% the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid and 15% the omega-6 linoleic acid), and it has about 12% saturated fats.[5]

Health effects of Erucic acid

Main article: Erucic acid § Health Effects

Mustard oil can have upto 44% erucic acid. The potential for erucic acid to produce toxic effects in the human heart, leading to increased incidence of heart disease, has been the subject of much speculation but has not been associated with any observed heart damage in humans.[6]

Animal studies in 1970s found heart damage in rats that lead to governments worldwide moving away from oils with high levels of erucic acid,[7] but the symptoms in rats caused by a diet with high levels of erucic acid have not been observed in pigs, primates, or any other animals.[8]


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits the import or sale of expressed mustard oil in the U.S. for use in cooking due to its high erucic acid content. By contrast, the FDA has classified essential mustard oil, which has a much lower erucic acid content, as generally recognized as safe, and allows its use in food.[9][10] Expressed mustard oil is permitted in the U.S. as a massage oil, with a required "for external use only" label.[3]

Nutritional information

According to the USDA,[11] 100 grams of mustard oil contains 884 calories of food energy, and is 100% fat. The fat composition is 11% saturated fat, 59% monounsaturated fat, and 21% polyunsaturated fat.[12]

Essential oil

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The pungency of the condiment mustard results when ground mustard seeds are mixed with water, vinegar, or other liquid (or even when chewed). Under these conditions, a chemical reaction between the enzyme myrosinase and a glucosinolate known as sinigrin from the seeds of black mustard (Brassica nigra) or brown Indian mustard (Brassica juncea) produces allyl isothiocyanate. By distillation one can produce a very sharp-tasting essential oil, sometimes called volatile oil of mustard, containing more than 92% allyl isothiocyanate. The pungency of allyl isothiocyanate is due to the activation of the TRPA1 ion channel in sensory neurons. White mustard (Brassica hirta) does not yield allyl isothiocyanate, but the milder 4-Hydroxybenzyl isothiocyanate degraded from sinalbin rather than sinigrin.[13]

Allyl isothiocyanate serves the plant as a defense against herbivores. Since it is harmful to the plant itself, it is stored in the harmless form of a glucosinolate, separate from the enzyme myrosinase. Once the herbivore chews the plant, the noxious allyl isothiocyanate is produced. Allyl isothiocyanate is also responsible for the pungent taste of horseradish and wasabi. It can be produced synthetically, sometimes known as synthetic mustard oil.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Krishnendu Ray, The Migrant's Table: Meals and Memories in Bengali-American Households (Temple University Press, 2004), p. 27: "Wide use of mustard brings Bengali food close to the North Indian paradigm"
  2. ^ Pete Wells, Masalawala & Sons, Where the Food Is Bengali and the Mustard Oil Flow Archived 27 January 2023 at the Wayback Machine, New York Times (January 24, 2023): "The volatile, sinus-awakening aroma of mustard oil is one of the signatures of Bengali cooking. ... Many Bengali dishes are unthinkable without it."
  3. ^ a b Indrani Sen, American Chefs Discover Mustard Oil Archived 8 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine, New York Times (November 2, 2011): "It is also used as a massage oil, the only use for which it is legally approved in the United States."
  4. ^ The Cook's Book of Ingredients (DK Publishing: 1st American ed., 2010), p. 513.
  5. ^ "FDA FoodDataCentral Oil, mustard". Archived from the original on 16 January 2021. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  6. ^ Food Standards Australia New Zealand (June 2003) Erucic acid in food: A Toxicological Review and Risk Assessment Archived 23 November 2018 at the Wayback Machine Technical report series No. 21; Page 17-18; ISBN 0-642-34526-0, ISSN 1448-3017
  7. ^ Amy McInnis, 21 May 2004 The Transformation of Rapeseed Into Canola: A Cinderella Story Archived 11 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Grice, H. & Heggtveit, H. (1983). The Relevance to Humans of Myocardial Lesions Induced in Rats by Marine and Rapeseed Oils. In High and Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed Oils. Elsevier. p. 560.
  9. ^ FDA Import Alert 26-04: Detention Without Physical Examination of Expressed Mustard Oil Archived 18 January 2017 at the Wayback Machine, FDA (November 18, 2016).
  10. ^ Mustard and Mustard Oil Safety Archived 27 January 2023 at the Wayback Machine, National Capital Poison Center] (last accessed January 26, 2023).
  11. ^ "Welcome to the USDA Food Composition Database". Archived from the original on 15 January 2023. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  12. ^ "(Retrieved 2017-12-11)". Archived from the original on 16 January 2021. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  13. ^ "Mustard". A Guide to Medicinal and Aromatic Plants. Center for New Crops and Plant Products, Purdue University. Archived from the original on 15 January 2009. Retrieved 3 January 2009.
  14. ^ "Mustard Oil, Synthetic". JT Baker. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2010.