Mustard seeds – will they pop without oil?


(excuse the watermark in the stock photo, I’m not paying for it but I wanted it for the post :))

On the Fast Metabolism diet – there are two phases that do not allow fats of any kind – Phase 1 & 2. However most Indian cooking calls for a tiny bit of oil for the process called tempering or tadka. It involves heating about a tablespoon of oil, and when just about to smoke adding spices such as mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal and fenugreek seeds. The mustard seeds in particular has to pop (splutter in oil). From what I hear from most Indians, including my mom, they have to pop. If not, it’s considered uncooked and you won’t have a good digestion. I don’t know if there is any scientific evidence to this.

Anyway, I wanted to give toasting the mustard seeds without oil a try. I heated a small pan. Then added a small amount of mustard seeds. I waited to see what happens. There was no audible popping. But after a few minutes, on close inspection, I saw that the seeds have a small crack in them. Like the outer skin had a tear. (you maybe able to see it in the picture above) I tasted it, and it was just fine. So I think I maybe able to toast these spices for all my curries.

Also, I found this discussion interesting. An excerpt:

Indian recipes seem to always call for oil.

Non Indian recipes seem to always call for dry (or don’t toast at all- yuk).

In my personal experience (mostly mustard, cumin, fenugreek, coriander)- dry toasting calls for more of my attention. I have to have an appropriate temperature, agitate the seeds, and watch for the telltale aroma to know when they are done. If I don’t pay enough attention to any of those then they will scorch and be horrible.

With oil I have more leeway. The seeds don’t need to be agitated as much after they are coated with oil and they pop audibly when they are done. It may be my imagination but the oil itself seems to distribute the flavor of the seeds better as well.

I have scorched dry toasted seeds on occasion when I was distracted. I have never had oil toasted spices not turn out perfectly.

answered Sep 27 ’12 at 19:29


i don’t think it’s your imagine. since the essential oils of the plant are fat soluble it makes since that the normal convection of the heating oil would help to circulate the flavor more evenly. plus you get the added bonus of some of that flavor being imparted so you can use your oil as a base for a sauce. hm…i think i might make a fenugreek voloute which i get home tonight. – wootscootinboogie Sep 27 ’12 at 20:03

Oil also makes it a lot faster. The heat transfer is more efficient than it is with hot air, and it’s more uniform, so you can quickly, evenly cook the spices. – Jefromi♦ Dec 29 ’13 at 1:35


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