Mustard oil has a unique pungent flavour and aroma -- it tingles your throat and gives you a buzz in the nose. This is the essential characteristic of mustard oil and yes, it certainly is something of an acquired taste and makes it pharmacologically a healthy oil.
Many people who aren't accustomed to this aspect find the pungency factor a difficult attribute to handle -- but for those who have grown up with this mouth-watering taste, it's the highlight of the dining experience.
Indeed, for people who have grown up or lived in places like Kashmir, Punjab, Bihar, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, mustard oil is a familiar taste. But in the last decade or so, many non-traditional mustard oil consumers have started using this oil, attracted by a positive buzz circulating across various media and on social media.
The beginning of this trend can be traced to 2004 when a study conducted jointly by the Harvard School of Medicine, Boston; the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi; and St. John's Hospital, Bengaluru, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
This landmark research initiative examined Indian dietary habits and their correlation with heart disease, and found that the use of mustard oil as the primary cooking medium (particularly for deep frying) could reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD) by as much as 71 percent. This made many non-mustard oil consumers sit up and take notice, especially since heart disease was already rampaging through large sections of the population.
The characteristic pungency of mustard oil has also been leveraged for clearing congestion in the respiratory tract and for curing coughs and colds through inhalation and chest massages. Its use is also said to be beneficial for asthma patients.
Dr. Pragya Gupta, Assistant Director of the R&D wing of Puri Oil Mills Limited, the company that manufactures P Mark Mustard Oil, says" "Our brand has always been known for its quality and purity as oil processing is controlled scientifically to retain its valuable bioactive compounds -- and traditional customers know it very well. Just a whiff of the pungency is enough to tell you the oil is high quality, high-pungency mustard oil. Our cold-pressing process is backed by 52 quality checks which ensure that all the natural goodness of AITC (allylisothiocyanate) is intact."
Where does mustard oil derive its pungency from? The answer lies in the admirable constituents that Mother Nature has imbued mustard with. When mustard seeds are crushed through cold-pressing (also called cold compression), an enzyme called myronsinase is released. Mustard also contains a glucosinolate called sinigrin. The combination of myronsinase and sinigrin produces AITC, which is responsible for the characteristic pungency of mustard oil.
Non-traditional mustard oil users sometimes look for a product with lower levels of pungency. Sadly, this is the nutritional equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bathwater! The real value of mustard oil as a healthy cooking oil lies in its pungency, in addition to a good combination of fatty acids, i.e. low in SFA. A significant portion of the multi-faceted health benefits offered by mustard oil is attributable to the pungency factor.
The traditional Indian Kolhu method of oil extraction is known to have been around since 2000 BCE. Since ancient times, the Kolhu -- a wooden receptacle used as a rotary unit -- was turned by an ox or a buffalo yoked to the unit, walking around in circles. Thus, the oil extraction happened at a low temperature, which is essential for keeping AITC intact.
Later, the technology shifted to the use of expellers with metal components. This methodology raises seed temperature to between 80 and 100 degrees Celsius. At such high temperatures, AITC evaporates and the pungency is lost. Along with this, the health benefits of mustard oil are also lost. Recognising this problem, today's more modern/technically advanced expellers use a water-cooled chamber as part of the extraction process to ensure low crushing temperatures.
So what's the big deal about AITC? Well, it's the real deal. AITC is proven to have powerful antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. These attributes make mustard oil a powerful detoxification agent, fighting infections in various parts of your body -- in particular, the colon, the stomach, the intestines and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract. The consumption of mustard oil is especially useful in fighting e.coli and salmonella infections.
According to a report in the Journal of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, AITC has "the properties of a cancer chemo-preventive agent". These properties have proven to be useful in the treatment of colon and colorectal cancer.
Owing to the significant health benefits delivered by AITC, mustard oil is healthy even for external usage. When it is used for massage, it tones the skin, reinvigorates the skin cells and prevents various skin infections -- fungal infections in particular.
A study in the Journal of the College of Physicians found that mustard oil mixed in equal parts with honey was effective in killing dental bacteria. Since ancient times, Indians have always known that a mixture of mustard oil and salt prevents and cures gum infections and diseases.
So, don't shy away from pungency when you buy and use mustard oil. It is the real value... the real health giver... the real gift bestowed upon us by Mother Nature.