Personal Chef,  Travel

Mustard Oil and Frequency Illusions


It’s been four days since I got home from my Italian adventure and I still haven’t adjusted back into a normal sleeping pattern. I woke up entirely too late for an appointment this morning, but I did get my morning reading/scrolling in. I came across this article about mustard oil. It brought me back to a dish I enjoyed while in Italy. So, not all was lost this morning. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

I spent four nights in Verona, Italy for a food and wine writing workshop with Dianne Jacob and Demet Guzey. The highlight of this portion of my trip was a tortelli making session followed by a multiple course lunch at Enoteca Della Valpolicella. After a brief tour of the tiny kitchen and some fun rolling pasta and folding tortelli, ten of us sat down for lunch.


A golf ball of fresh ricotta resting on a thin layer of sliced apples arrives as our first course. A little taste of the ricotta on its own and I need to know more about it. It’s from a small nearby dairy. I internally start scheming ways that I can transport fresh cheese home in my luggage when the conversation moves on to the apples. They say its mostarda and that mustard oil is used. The pungent bite cuts through the creaminess of the cheese. I question whether nose-burning, eye-watering flavors like horseradish, wasabi, and now I’ve learned, mustard oil, fit into an existing flavor category. Not savory, not sour, not even spicy. These powerful roots and seeds might just need a category all their own.


As I learned from this morning’s reading, mustard oil is not labeled for consumption here in the states, but that doesn’t scare away the thousands of South Asian Americans that find it essential to so many of their dishes. The bottle that you can purchase through Amazon or your local Asian market appears to be the same exact one that is sold overseas. Just without the “external use only” label.

It is used as a cooking oil in Northern and Eastern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In Northern Italy, they even use the essential oil version, which is highly concentrated and not available for sale at all here in the states. In hind sight, I believe that to be the version used in the mostarda in Verona and look at me! I’m alive and well.

So, I’m sold. The memory of that ricotta dish mixed with coming across an article about mustard oil created a frequency illusion. I just bought a bottle. First on my list is something pickled. Second are tomato khatta and potato-and-egg bhorta, both Bangladeshi dishes mentioned in the article by Vidya Balachander.

I’ll be making these only for myself of course, not my clients. I’ll wait for someone to put an urgent call into the FDA saying it’s time to free the mustard oil from its “external use only” label. Then I’ll be able to make my clients dishes with all the mustard oil they want.

Also, next trip to Italy: I need at least one full month there. Then I need at least one-week recovery when I get back before diving into things that require me to be a fully functioning awake adult.



Jillian believes her passion for cooking stems from the fact that she was born and raised in Southern California. The best climate conditions for growing the finest produce all year around and the diverse mix of cuisines have always been an inspiration to her. Her love and ability to make people happy by way of delicious food began at an early age and still grows today. She is the proud Chef and Owner of Jillian Fae Chef Services, a personal chef business specializing in private dinner parties, customized menus, and weekly meal preparation.


  • diannejacob

    Yes exactly! I’ve seen mustard oil in Indian stores forever. So you’re going to use it in Indian dishes. Will you try it with an Italian cheese and apple? That appetizer was breathtaking.

    • jillianfae

      Hi Dianne, I’d like to use it for pickling too so some cheese to pair is definitely possible! I’ll just have to get my hands on the “strong stuff” mustard oil they use in Northern Italy.

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