Monday, September 24, 2007

Mustard oil and extra virgin olive oil: Two cousins, poles apart

I learned about olive oil as a cooking medium many years ago, during my graduate school days, when I learned to cook pasta. I bought regular (or light) olive oil then, for I couldn’t afford extra virgin (which results from the virgin, or first, press of tree-ripened olives).

I fell in love with extra virgin olive oil later, when I made just enough money as a professional to indulge in it once in a while. I learned to make salad dressings, like vinaigrette.

Until a few years ago, olive oil was little-known in India as a cooking medium. In Calcutta, for instance, people thought olive oil is for body massage.

In my family, olive oil was a novelty when I started cooking with it. For Bengali folks used to the strong aroma and taste of mustard oil, olive oil was something exotic and untried; so, they weren’t sure if they would like it. I introduced them to the oil that is so prized in the Western world and the Mediterranean region.

Later, I thought of a commonality between mustard oil and extra virgin olive oil: both are strong-flavored. So, I experimented to see how big -- or small -- the difference is. I used "kachhi ghani" mustard oil, the most strongly flavored oil (extracted in small mills and sold unbranded), in a Greek salad instead of extra virgin when I made the dressing. The salad had cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, feta cheese (the only affordable brand I could find), lettuce and olives.

After having made the good-looking salad, I tasted it, and, man, was the flavor strong! I had my family taste it, and they all felt the flavor was too strong. Uncooked mustard oil is truly overpowering. Mustard oil is spicy, while extra virgin olive oil is fruity.

In the fight for supremacy, mustard oil comes up tops. It just doesn’t jibe with red wine vinegar, though. Olive oil is olive oil.

Dear reader, do you use extra virgin olive oil? What do you think about other strongly flavored oils, like coconut and sesame oils, used as a cooking medium?


Raaga said...

Have not been able to eat stuff cooked in mustard oil... hve tried several times, but the smell is overpowering.

have not bought extra virgin olive oil yet... not that I remember at least :-)

I use coconut and sesame oil in certain dishes, but wouldn't deep fry my pooris in either :-)

shammi said...

Like Raaga, I wouldnt use coconut or sesame oil to deep-fry anything... but I use coconut oil to flavour certain recipes, usually those from Kerala that use plantains. Sesame oil I normally serve with idli-podi use it or while making dosas or vattha kuzhambu. Olive oil is for salads or for Mediterranean dishes, as far as I'm concerned. I recently got some mustard oil but havent tried cooking with it... yet. I'll have to get back to you on that one! :)

sra said...

Hi, I've seen branded mustard oil in the store say Kachi Ghani on the label, so what does that mean?

bee said...

i use mustard oil for some kashmiri dishes and posto, extra virgin olive oil for italian and greek (even for cooking), an sesame oil for indian pickles and dosas. for regularuse it's peanut oil. coconu oil once in a while for kerala dishes.

i don't think these other oils are necessary. it just makes me feel that i am being authentic to the cuisine. and haak or posto does not taste the same without mustard oil, just as erisheri does not taste the same without coconut oil.

Suganya said...

I think each cuisine needs one particular oil for that authentic feel. Most of tamilian dishes are made with sesame oil. I love coconut oil, since Kerala is a neighbouring state. But I cannot stand mustard oil. It is too strong for me.

As you said, Olive oil is only for massage, few yrs ago. I remember applying to my hair before bath. Now I cook with them :)

zlamushka said...

I love experimenting with oils. I ´pickle´them myself. I always make tiny bottles and put various spice and herb combinations to them o flavor it real nice.
I for the first time bought mustard oil and cannot find a way to cook with it. I am scared, everybody says it is way too strong... so it is sitting there, patiently.

My most favorite oil though are CARROT or EXTRA VIRGIN... Cant cook without those

Mandira said...

I use shorsher tel for bengali cooking, and extra virgin olive oil for most of my other cooking (not for frying). Use sesame oil for chinese and thai recipes. I've come to appreciate the taste they give to the recipe. I'm hosting JFI:Banana this month. Hope you will enter with a bengali recipe :)

Angshuman said...

Hi sra:

About "kachhi ghani," I think it means extracted in a small mill -- it could be in one's neighborhood -- and unprocessed. The flavor is generally intense in this oil. Now, a branded oil produced on a mass scale this way could be called "kachhi ghani," I guess. In the Bengali language, it's called "ghanir tel."


P.S. If somebody has some other insight, please feel free to pitch in! In the meantime, I will double-check.

Kumudha said...

I sometimes use extr-virgin olive oil for pasta. In karnataka, peanut oil is used for cooking.

Jennifer Ghoshray; said...

Dear Angshuman bhai,
Namaskar! Belated Pujo greetings.

I love sarsha tel! did I say, love it!! yes, the smell to me is divine. I use though olive as well. Those are the only two I use.

I just found your blog. I promise to try some of your recipes!!

do you have a great recipe for chili maach?? I have one, but always looking for more!

Aami ferangi, kintu aamar ridayo bangla may!!

Pora deca habe,

Pankaj said...

Good news then for all the Extra Virgin olive Oil lovers (like myself!!) Dhara have launched their imported extra virgin oil called Daroliva in delhi and mumbai. Not long before it will be available in Calcutta.... and the best part is that it is Spanish Olive Oil hence better quality and flavour...

kalpu said...

Hi ,which type of olive oil can i use for making indian curry?

Angshuman said...

Hi Kalpu:

Sorry for the late response. I had overlooked your comment.

To answer your question, I am not sure, in the first place, if you should use olive oil for Indian cooking. Because of the strong flavors of Indian cooking -- think spices -- the aroma of olive oil will drown. So, the use would be a wastage unless you use it primarily for health reasons -- olive oil has zero cholesterol.

KC's Kingdom! said...

Angshuman - Indian cooking is mostly about getting the tadka right. Is it absolutely healthy to make curries and lentil dishes using Olive Oil (Virgin)? Yes, I am asking if it suits the Indian way of cooking?

I have mostly read about Olive oil being the most effective from a health perspective if only used for salads and dressings.


cristian said...

Hi there! I heard about mustard oil but I never had the chance to use it and I don't acsually know for sure at that is it used.Olive Wood Bethlehem

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Pradhan said...

I find mustard oil is much more healthy than olive oil. Oil from yellow mustard seeds is far superior.
Olive oil is imported, costly and highly advertised, good for those who think costlier the better.

Pradhan said...

I find mustard oil is much more healthy than olive oil. Oil from yellow mustard seeds is far superior.
Olive oil is imported, costly and highly advertised, good for those who think costlier the better.

Anonymous said...

How so, and can you make this yellow mustard seed oil

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