Facts about mustard

Mustard is one of our most ancient spices.

More than 4,000 years ago, mustard seeds were used in Greece and Egypt for flavor and as a medicine. Mustard is a part of the cabbage family.

White mustard (Brassica alba or Brassica hirta) is a beige or straw-colored round, hard seed. Its light outer skin is removed before sale. With its milder flavor and good preservative qualities, white mustard is most commonly used in ballpark mustard and in pickling.

Black mustard (Brassica nigra) varies in color from dark brown to black, is smaller and much more pungent than the white. Brown mustard (Brassica juncea) is similar in size to the black variety and varies in color, from light to dark brown. It is more pungent than the white, but less than the black.

The brown cultivar is more pungent, and is used in the popular Dijon mustard; the milder American or English mustards are often made more colorful by the addition of turmeric, a yellow dye. The most pungent mustard taste is obtained from freshly ground seeds, but numerous other gustatory components are added to commercial condiments, including various spices, herbs and alcohol.

The leaves may be used in salads, and the seeds are either used whole or ground into a powder. Mustard seed is used in pickling spices for vegetables and meats. Dry mustard is used in egg and cheese dishes, salad dressings and meats.

Mustard is one of our most ancient spices. The modern era for mustard seed began in 1720 when a Mrs. Clements of Durham, England, found a way to mill the heart of the seed into fine flour. This became the standard method of processing the seed for use as a spice, both in cooking and in prepared mustards. Americans have become, by far, the largest consumers of mustard seed.


Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 1, February/March 2007.

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