The American Myth

The American Myth

Indian cuisine is hugely popular all over the world – and for those who want authentic Indian food, the ingredients need to be authentic too. Almost every supermarket in Europe, the USA and other countries has an Indian section stocked with spices, condiments, herbs and, of course, Mustard Oil.

However, many Indian food lovers and chefs in America are surprised to find that the Mustard Oil bottles are marked “For External Use Only”. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration of the US Government has banned the use of Mustard Oil as a foodstuff. This naturally raises some concerns (among Americans) as to its safety and suitability for health and nutrition.

There is no need for any confusion. Any perception of Mustard Oil being unsafe or unhealthy is a myth – and do you know who supports this strongly? American scientists! Yes, the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, says that there is absolutely no evidence of mustard oil being harmful for human beings.

In the past decade or so, a lot of scientific and medical research has shown that Mustard Oil has some truly unique health benefits, especially for the heart and other cardiovascular organs. This has altered the opinions of many Americans with regard to Mustard Oil.

When Indian chef Manish Tyagi travelled to the US and started working in San Francisco he was delighted to discover that authentic Indian Mustard Oil was easily available in the Bay Area. And many of his new American friends told him that they loved Indian food, especially the flavour and aroma of Indian Mustard Oil; and they had no apprehensions whatsoever about its safety.

So that’s another American myth that stands busted!

International Chefs talking about Mustard Oil


Chef Ken Oringer had never thought of trying Mustard Oil as an ingredient for any of his recipes till the well-known actor and food writer Madhur Jaffrey visited his restaurant in Boston. He worked with Jaffrey on a few recipes and found – to his delight – that no single ingredient could add as much flavour to a dish as mustard oil. And he soon discovered that many of his American customers too loved the unique taste of this typically Indian cooking oil.

Another American chef, Michael Hodgkins, uses Mustard Oil as his preferred seasoning for everything from salad dressings to fried items. It’s his favourite ingredient even when he’s not making Asian dishes. “It doesn’t coat your mouth”, he says; “You taste it – and then it’s gone!”

Chef Alex Raij has something to say about the heating sensation that mustard oil typically creates. She points out that mustard oil has a delectable heat that does not linger; it’s a flavour that hits the tongue differently and creates a completely different culinary experience.

Laurence Edelman is another American chef who fell in love with Mustard Oil’s “silky heat”. When he discovered this enticing ingredient from exotic India, he initially used it sparingly. But now he uses it quite liberally. He says: “Mustard oil has a clang – once you get a taste of it, all of a sudden everything is lacking mustard oil.”

The very idea of American chefs using mustard oil is strange because in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of mustard oil as a foodstuff. The packs must be labelled ‘For External Use Only’. There is no basis for this. In fact, scientists at the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health say that there is absolutely no evidence of mustard oil being harmful for human beings.

Here’s a funny twist in the tale: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, another American chef, says that he specifically looks for the ‘External Use Only’ label when he goes shopping for Mustard Oil. He says it signals that it’s the “real stuff”.