In Eastern and North Eastern India, it is hard to imagine life without a bottle of mustard oil at home. It is believed to have miraculous properties, and therefore is used as a remedy to treat cold, boost immunity, encourage hair growth, provide nourishment to skin (especially in case of babies who are massaged with mustard oil during winters and made to sunbathe for a dose of Vitamin D and also to strengthen the bones), oral health, so on and so forth.
Mustard oil (sarson ka tel) is extracted from mustard seeds (black, brown and white), and is reddish brown or amber in colour. It has been commonly used in North and East India since ancient times, and comes with a bevy of health benefits.
"Cooking oils form an integral part of Indian lifestyle. However, one is confronted with an array of well marketed edible oils asserting host of health claims. In Indian cooking conditions, which mostly involve deep frying, our age-old oils like ghee, coconut oil and mustard oil score better than refined and other oils in overall health benefits," said Dr. SC Manchanda, Department of Cardiology, Ganga Ram Hospital.
Mustard Oil - the Benefits
1. Good Source of MUFA
"Mustard oil is highly recommended for the reason that it is full of monounsaturated fatty acids. Our body needs oil in the ratio of 3:1 - three parts of polyunsaturated fatty acids and one part of saturated fatty acids. Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) come under polyunsaturated. Mustard oil is full of MUFA which is very essential for our health. It's good for the heart, lightens skin, helps in hair growth, prevents premature graying of hair, etc," says Dr. Anju Sood.
2. Promotes Heart Health
According to a study done by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, including mustard oil in your regular diet could prove to be beneficial to your heart health. Being a rich source of MUFA, it lowers bad cholesterol in the body, thus keeping a check on blood fat levels and helping in circulation. The results also stated that the use of mustard oil, which is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, was associated with a lower IHD risk (Ischemic Heart Disease) than with the use of sunflower oil.
3. Treats Cracked Heels and Brittle Nails
Bharti Taneja, Aesthetician, Cosmetologist and Founder-director of ALPS Beauty Academy and Group, says, "Cracked heels is a bothersome problem during monsoon and winter. You can use waste candles to say good bye to cracked heels. Just create a mixture by heating the candle wax with equal amount of mustard oil so that it becomes a thick mixture. Fill your cracked heels with this mixture and sleep with cotton socks to make your heels smoother."
Dr. Deepali Bhardwaj, a Delhi-based Dermatologist says, "Mustard oil can be applied on the nails. It's better than coconut or almond oil in terms of benefits. It has the power to lubricate the nail bed and be easily absorbed to bring about nourishment."
4. Protects Against Infection
Mustard oil has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Its external as well as internal usage is said to help in multiple ways to fight against infections, including digestive tract infections.
5. Helps Blood Circulation
According to Ayurveda, using mustard oil for body massage improves blood circulation, skin texture and releases muscular tension. It also activates the sweat glands and hence helps in throwing out toxins from the body. As such, it acts as a natural cleanser.
6. Good for Skin
Mustard oil is loaded with vitamin E, an essential nutrient for the skin. Therefore, when applied on the skin, it is said to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and acts as a sunscreen. Traditionally, in India, babies are often massaged with mustard oil. However, recent studies have stated that mustard oil massage should be done with limited quantities. Too much of it could prove to be harmful and cause irritation. Dr. Anshul Bhatnagar, a Delhi-based nutritionist, says, "Mustard oil has many topical uses and is good in various ways. However, one with oily skin should avoid massaging it on the face and it should also be avoided for body massages for those who have sensitive skin."
It is also said to help in removing tan and dark spots when used along with other ingredients to make face masks. Further, one can also massage the skin with equal quantities of mustard oil and coconut oil to improve skin tone.
7. Relief from Cough and Cold
Mustard oil has been an age-old ingredient for the treatment of cough and cold. "This is because of its heating property that helps in clearing congestion from the respiratory tract. Mustard oil steam treatment is often recommended as a home remedy, and you can also rub about a teaspoon of it on your chest before sleeping to let it work its magic," says Saumya Reddy, a Bangalore-based nutritionist. It is perhaps the very pungency that helps in clearing sinuses, much like wasabi. Another home remedy is to make a mixture of about one tablespoon warm mustard oil and two to three cloves of garlic and rub it on your feet.
8. Promotes Hair Growth
If you thought coconut oil was the only oil used for hair massage in India, travel to the North or Eastern India and you will find almost every household swearing by the incredible property of mustard oil for hair growth. It is again an age-old practice followed till today. "Mustard oil contains beta-carotene which is excellent for hair growth when massaged into the scalp. It activates blood circulation, and its anti-bacterial properties prevent scalp infections," says Priya Singh, a Delhi-based beauty expert.
Dermatologist Dr. Deepali Bhardwaj says, "Mustard oil is an essential oil, which is good for the skin and hair. As a Dermatologist, I am against oiling the scalp, but mustard oil or mustard seed paste mixed with mustard oil when applied on the scalp and left overnight can help in controlling hair fall."
There are some ingredients that can never be replaced in the Indian kitchen. Not only are they essential in creating various regional delicacies, their uses are manifold and extend beyond the confines of the kitchen. One such example is mustard oil. While it does take some "getting used to" to familiarise yourself with the pungency, get past it and you will soon learn to appreciate its unique flavour. It is addictive.