Asma Khan, a famous Indian cook, discovered the versatility of mustard oil during her childhood in Kolkata. Is your skin dry? Faint knees? What, the flu? All it would take is a drop of the oil to fix them.
But her favourite way to use it is in the kitchen, where it is drizzled over started pora, a savoury mashed eggplant dish, or where garam masala is toasted before being combined with rice and goat to create tehari.
“You feel it coming through your nose,” Ms. Khan, proprietor of the London Indian eatery Darjeeling Express, said. A portion of it is really acrid. There’s a softer aspect to it, too. All of it can be traced back to the mustard oil. I would compare it to a living oil.
Mustard oil, extracted from the seeds of the mustard plant, is a staple in several regions of India and the subcontinent, and it plays a vital role in Bengali cuisine in particular. However, it is not as well-known in the Western world.
The European Food Safety Authority advises limiting one’s intake of undiluted mustard oil because of the high concentration of erucic acid it contains; this acid has been linked to fat accumulation in the heart in animal studies.
Mustard oil is what gives Ms. Khan and many other South Asian chefs their signature flavour, they say.
Ex-owner of Masalawala, an Indian restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Satyen Mazumdar, claims that mustard oil is what gives Bengali food its distinctive flavour. Masalawala & Sons is an eastern Indian restaurant operated by Mr. Mazumdar’s son, Roni, and chef Chintan Pandya, and located in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Mustard oil is used extensively throughout the menu at Masalawala & Sons, enlivening dishes like the bhetki paturi (fish cooked in a banana leaf) and the kosha mangsho (luscious morsels of braised lamb scented with spicy spices).
Mustard is a plant native to India that produces more than simply an aromatic oil. The peppery leaves are an essential component in saag paneer, while the seeds provide an earthy flavour to meals like lemon rice.
In one of the most iconic moments from the Bollywood film “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” Kajol runs across a field of mustard as she reaches her sweetheart, portrayed by Shah Rukh Khan.
There is a nascent movement in the United States to alter the F.D.A.’s attitude on mustard oil. In a research released last year, a team of nutrition experts discussed the possible health advantages of ingesting mustard oil.
Two Harvard University researchers, Pia Sörensen and Davide Bray, are looking at ways to lower the erucic acid levels in mustard oil. According to Dr. Sörensen, it is important to do studies on people, as opposed to rats, to determine the safety of mustard oil for human consumption. However, the results of such research sometimes take a long time to come in.
Mustard oil, according to Roni Mazumdar of Masalawala & Sons, is similar to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer that is stigmatised in the United States despite being used in many common foods (such as ranch dressing and mapo tofu). Mr. Mazumdar has said that, “we are going to create that same cultural context all over with mustard oil,” similar to how chefs have educated diners on why MSG is okay to ingest. We’re heading in the same direction.