It was the condiment, not the plant, that was originally called mustard. The condiment got its name because it was made by grinding the seeds of what was once called the senvy plant into a paste and mixing it with must (an unfermented wine). Mustard is one of the oldest spices and one of the most widely used. The Chinese were using it thousands of years ago and the ancient Greeks considered it an everyday spice. The first medical mention of it is in the Hippocratic writings, where it was used for general muscular relief. The Romans used it as a condiment and pickling spice. King Louis XI would travel with his own royal mustard pot, in case his hosts didn’t serve it. Today, world consumption of mustard tops 400 million pounds.

Spice Description

The Brassica genus includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips and radishes. The mustard family also includes plants grown for their leaves, like arugula, a number of Oriental greens, as well as mustard greens. Three related species are grown for their seeds:

White Mustard (Brassica alba or Brassica hirta) is a round hard seed, beige or straw coloured. Its light outer skin is removed before sale. With its milder flavour and good preservative qualities, this is the one that is most commonly used in ballpark mustard and in pickling.

Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) is a round hard seed, varying in colour from dark brown to black, smaller and much more pungent than the white.

Brown Mustard (Brassica juncea) is similar in size to the black variety and vary in colour from light to dark brown. It is more pungent than the white, less than the black.

Bouquet: The seed itself has no aroma.
Flavour: Sharp and fiery.
Hotness Scale: 3-8

Preparation and Storage

Whole seeds are included in most pickling spices. Seeds can also be toasted whole and used in some dishes. Powdered mustard is usually made from white mustard seed and is often called mustard flour. When dry, it is as bland as cornstarch — mixed with cool water its pungency emerges after a glucoside and an enzyme have a chance to combine in a chemical reaction (about ten minutes). Don’t use hot water as it will kill the enzyme and using vinegar will stop the reaction so that its full flavour will not develop. Once the essential oils have formed, then other ingredients can be added to enhance the taste: grape juice, lemon or lime juice, vinegar, beer, cider or wine, salt, herbs, etc.

Culinary Uses

Whole white mustard seed is used in pickling spice and in spice mixtures for cooking meats and seafood. It adds piquancy to Sauerkraut and is sometimes used in marinades. In India, whole seeds are fried in ghee until the seed pops, producing a milder nutty flavour that is useful as a garnish or seasoning for other Indian dishes.

The brown seed is also pounded with other spices in the preparation of curry powders and pastes. Mustard oil is made from B. juncea, providing a piquant oil widely used in India in the same way as ghee. Powdered mustard acts as an emulsifier in the preparation of mayonnaise and salad dressings.

Powdered mustard is also useful for flavouring barbecue sauces, baked beans, many meat dishes, deviled eggs, beets and succotash. There are many ready-made mustards from mild and sweet to sharp and strong. They can be smooth or coarse and flavoured with a wide variety of herbs, spices and liquids.

Types of Mustard

American ballpark-style mustard is made from the white seeds and blended with sugar and vinegar and coloured with turmeric.

Bordeaux mustard is made from black seeds blended with unfermented wine. The seeds are not husked, producing a strong, aromatic, dark brown mustard often flavoured with tarragon.

Dijon mustard is made from the husked black seeds blended with wine, salt and spices. It is pale yellow and varies from mild to very hot. This is the mustard generally used in classic French mustard sauces, salad dressings and mayonnaise.

English mustard is hot, made from white seeds and is sometimes mixed with wheat flour for bulk and turmeric for colour.

German mustard is usually a smooth blend of vinegar and black mustard, varying in strength. Weisswurstsenf is a course grained, pale, mild mustard made to accompany veal sausages like Bratwurst.

Meaux mustard is the partly crushed, partly ground black seed mixed with vinegar, producing a crunchy, hot mustard that perks up bland foods.

Health Benefits of Mustard

Historically, mustard has always held an important place in medicine. The ancient Greeks believed it had been created by Asclepious, the god of healing, as a gift to mankind. Although the volatile oil of mustard is a powerful irritant capable of blistering skin, in dilution as a liniment or poultice it soothes, creating a warm sensation. Mustard plasters are still used today as counter-irritants.

Over the years mustard has been prescribed for scorpion stings and snake bites, epilepsy, toothache, bruises, stiff neck, rheumatism, colic and respiratory troubles. It is a strong emetic (used to induce vomiting) and rubefacient (an irritant) that draws the blood to the surface of the skin to warm and comfort stiff muscles. It is useful in bath water or as a foot bath, as “It helpeth the Sciatica, or ache in the hip or huckle bone” .(Gerard, 1579).

Plant Description and Cultivation

An erect herbaceous annual. The white variety (B. alba) is hardy, growing to 80 cm (30 in), with hairy stems and lobed leaves. The bright yellow flowers yield hairy fruit pods, 2.5 – 5 cm (1-2 in) long, each containing about six seeds. Black mustard (B. nigra) is a larger plant than the white, reaching to 1 m (39 in). Some varieties reach double this height. The flowers are smaller, as are the fruit pods at 2 cm (3/4 in) long. The pods are smooth and bulging, containing about a dozen seeds. Because of its height black mustard does not lend itself well to mechanical harvesting and since the seed is readily shed when ripe, there is too much waste for most commercial growers. As a result it has almost completely been replaced by the brown variety. Brown mustard (B. juncea) is similar to black mustard in size. It is the rai of India. The leaves are ovate and the pods are 3 -5 cm (1-1/4 to 2 in) long. Mustard pods must be harvested before they burst, that is when they are nearly fully developed but not ripe.

Other Names

White Yellow Mustard (US)

French: moutarde blanche
German: Senf, Weisser Senf
Italian: senape biancha
Spanish: mostaza silvestre

Black Brown mustard (UK), Grocer’s mustard

French: moutarde noire
German: Schwarzer Senf
Italian: senape nera
Spanish: mostaza negra
Chinese: Banarsi rai, rai, kurva teil (oil)
Indian: Banarsi rai, rai, kurva teil (oil)
Japanese: karashi
Malay: diji savi Singhalese: abba

Brown Indian Mustard

French: moutarde de Chine
German: Indischer Senf
Italian: senape Indiana
Spanish: mostaza India
Indian: kimcea, Phari rai, rai

Scientific Name

Brassica alba, B. juncea, B. nigra syn: Sinapsis alba
Fam: Cruciferae

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