Srinagar: Food blogger and writer Sudeshna Sengupta remembers how her grandfather and even her father would test Mustard Oil before buying it. She writes that they would take a few drops of the oil on the palm of their hand and would then check the pungency of the oil by smelling it.
Good quality cold-pressed mustard oil (known as Kachchi Ghani mustard oil) has an unmistakeable pungency that is warm, aromatic and appetizing. Good quality mustard oil generates smoke while heating, which indicates the sign of pure mustard oil.
Consumers using it from decades will instantly recognize this technique. Across generations it has been a tried and tested way of checking the quality of mustard oil. Now-a-days this is no longer possible because the oil comes sealed in tamperproof packs. Nevertheless, after you open the pack you can still use your nose to carry out this age-old test.
At this point there are some questions that are bound to pop up: What is pungency and smoke fumes in mustard oil? Why is it important in mustard oil? Why is it essential to use cold-pressing techniques while extracting mustard oil from mustard seeds?
When mustard oil is extracted by crushing mustard seeds using a cold-pressing manufacturing process, an enzyme called myronsinase is released. Mustard seeds also contain a glucosinolate called sinigrin. The myronsinase and sinigrin produces allylisothiocyanate (or AITC) which is responsible for the characteristic pungency of Mustard Oil. Now this AITC is one of nature’s most wonderful gifts. AITC is proven to have powerful antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties, which make mustard oil a powerful detoxifier. Because of AITC, mustard oil is highly effective in battling infections in various parts of your body – especially the colon, the stomach, the intestines and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
This little chemistry lesson underlines one important fact: No pungency means no AITC, which in turn means no health benefits.
Decades of medical and scientific research has consistently highlighted the enormous health benefits offered by AITC. A report published in the Journal of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research states that AITC has powerful anti-carcinogenic properties that are extremely useful in the treatment of colon and colorectal cancer.
If the mustard oil that you are buying has low pungency or no pungency and generates less smoke fumes while heating, you are, sadly, sacrificing the wide-ranging array of health benefits that mustard oil has to offer. Worse still, it could also mean that you are being cheated.
There are many dubious practices that are used to manufacture low pungency or low smoke mustard oil. The most common among these is to mix cheaper refined oil (or oils) with mustard oil. The pungency drops – and the oil is no longer 100 percent natural because the refining process involves chemicals, some of which are extremely detrimental to your health.
Another malpractice is to pass off Pakki Ghani mustard oil as Kachchi Ghani mustard oil. Pakki Ghani refers to the use of expellers for oil extraction. The process involves heating as a result of which most of the nutrients and the AITC are lost. In such cases, pungency and smoke can be used as an effective test; if the pungency and smoke fumes generated while heating is low, it could mean that the oil is expeller oil instead of cold-pressed oil.
However, be warned – even with the pungency intact, it is nevertheless possible that you are still being cheated. These days there are companies manufacturing artificial pungency which is synthetically created using chemicals – so beware. The only solution is to be careful about the brand that you choose to buy.
The bottom-line is this: don’t sacrifice pungency when you turn to mustard oil for its health benefits. Pungency is, in fact, your assurance that all the health benefits of mustard oil are intact.