What is mustard oil?
Mustard oil is made from pressing the seeds of a mustard plant to produce a spicy oil. Mustard oil is popular in Eastern cooking, although some American chefs have begun experimenting with the oil, which has a heat and distinctive flavor to it.
Real mustard oil, however, is actually banned for cooking uses by the FDA. This is because it contains an ingredient called erucic acid that has been shown to cause heart problems. Erucic acid is a fatty acid that it is not well metabolized. It’s considered a contaminant.
Although the oil hasn't actually been tested in humans, the FDA still does not allow it to be sold for food purposes legally in the United States.
However, the FDA does allow a different type of oil, called mustard essential oil, to be sold for cooking. Mustard essential oil is made from steam distillation of mustard seeds. It’s considered safe for use in cooking by the FDA.
Mustard oil and mustard essential oils are completely different types of oil, although they are both derived from mustard seeds. Both mustard oil and mustard essential oil are safe to be used as massage oil. In fact, mustard oil is used extensively in countries such as India without reported negative reactions or harmful side effects.
How to use mustard oil
There are dangers of using real mustard oil as a dietary supplement or for cooking. It should not be used in anything that will be consumed. However, you can use it as a massage oil.
Mustard essential oil is available for purchase at any health food store or online. To use a mustard essential oil, dilute it with lighter oils. Then, apply it to affected areas on the body. It also acts as a mosquito repellant. For this use, apply the diluted oil on your pulse points. The oil can even help make your hair healthier and shinier.
Used appropriately, mustard oil and mustard essential oil have several health benefits.
Helps fight off harmful bacteria
Mustard essential oil has been found to be a powerful antibacterial agent. One study found that mustard essential oil effectively killed off common and harmful bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, staph, listeria, and even a certain type of yeast. It can also be used as an antifungal.
According to the ISJR, mustard essential oil has great anti-inflammatory properties. Historically, mustard oil has been used to:
- treat arthritis
- soothe aches and pains
- decrease inflammation from chest conditions such as bronchitis and pneumonia
Relieves body pain
One interesting study looked at using mustard oil to relieve widespread and chronic body pain in mice. The researchers found that mustard oil works against certain pain receptors in the body. That means it can block some pain signals. More research needs to be done before we can say that mustard oil works the same way in humans, but it's a hopeful idea as a simple way to treat widespread pain.
Mustard essential oil can help lower body temperature by stimulating sweat glands. This makes it useful for reducing fever.
Risks and warnings
Pure, unregulated mustard oil can be pretty dangerous stuff. For example, one study found that mixing unadulterated mustard oil with argemone oil, a combination sometimes found in Indian food, can destroy red blood cells in the body. Any mustard oil that is contaminated with argemone oil is considered dangerous to humans.
When using mustard essential oil, you’ll also want to watch for allergies. Test a small amount of the essential oil on the skin away from your face or lungs. Wait 24 hours to see if you have a reaction before applying a larger amount. As with any essential oils, you should not use mustard essential oil on infants.
The bottom line
You can find both mustard oil and mustard essential oil in exotic food retailers or through online vendors. Research questions the safety of mustard oil for cooking, and it might be best avoided, especially for young children or pregnant women. In fact, the FDA prohibits selling the oil for this purpose.
Using a mustard essential oil on your skin, however, is safe. It may provide health benefits such as pain relief and infection prevention.