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Preserving Traditions: The Culinary Science of Pickling with Mustard Oil

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Explore the fascinating science behind pickling with mustard oil, as it preserves and ferments foods, creating a delightful fusion of flavors.


It’s the pickling season and we cannot wait to enhance our meal with achars like Aam, nimbu, and mirchi. However, did you know that pickling is also a global phenomenon? From the fiery kimchi of Korea and classic American dill spears to the sauerkraut of Europe, pickles hold a special place worldwide.

So what is pickling exactly? Pickling, an ancient preservation technique used by cultures worldwide, not only extends the shelf life of fruits and vegetables but also imparts a unique tang and depth of flavor to the food. This process involves immersing food in an acidic solution like vinegar or brine, breaking down enzymes and bacteria responsible for spoilage. The resulting inhospitable environment for harmful microorganisms ensures the long-term preservation of a diverse array of pickled foods, including vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, meats, fish, dairy, and eggs.


Pickling likely originated in ancient Mesopotamia around 2400 BCE. There is archaeological evidence of cucumbers being pickled in the Tigris Valley in 2030 BCE.

In its early days, pickling served as a way to preserve food for consumption during out-of-season periods and long journeys, particularly at sea. Sailors relied on pickled staples like salt pork and salt beef before the advent of steam engines.

While pickling was initially developed for its preserving properties, it has evolved into a culinary art. People nowadays make and enjoy pickles for the delightful flavors they impart to various dishes.

Role of Mustard Oil in Pickling

Mustard oil has been an integral part of pickling traditions for centuries. Originating from the Indian subcontinent, it has been an integral part of the region’s culinary traditions. Ancient Ayurvedic texts mention the use of mustard oil for its medicinal properties, and its popularity as a cooking medium and preservative soon followed.

Mustard Oil contains high levels of natural compounds, including allyl isothiocyanate, which gives it powerful antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. The viscous oil forms a protective coating, sealing off access to oxygen and preventing spoilage. The antimicrobial properties of mustard oil help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria during the fermentation process, allowing for a safe and extended shelf life for pickled foods.

The Fermentation Process and Mustard Oil

Fermentation is a crucial step in the pickling process that imparts unique flavors and textures to the food. During fermentation, naturally occurring bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, convert sugars in the vegetables into lactic acid, lowering the pH level of the solution. This increase in acidity further aids in preservation while contributing to the distinct tangy taste of pickled foods.

Mustard oil not only acts as a natural preservative but also enhances the fermentation process. The oil provides a favorable environment for beneficial probiotic bacteria to thrive, leading to the production of lactic acid and other organic acids. These acids give the pickles their characteristic sour taste, while the probiotics offer various health benefits, aiding digestion and promoting gut health.


The science of pickling with mustard oil goes beyond mere preservation; it’s an art that combines traditional knowledge and natural elements to create a feast of flavors. The antimicrobial properties of mustard oil safeguard pickles from spoilage, while its role in fermentation adds depth and complexity to the taste. So, the next time you savor a tangy, homemade pickle, remember the science and craftsmanship that goes into transforming simple vegetables into culinary delights that stand the test of time. Let mustard oil and pickling traditions enrich your dining experience and keep the culinary heritage alive for generations to come.

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