For the Love of Mustard!
The History and Uses of This Amazing Plant
Mustard is believed to be the very first condiment that humans ever put on food. Stretching back to ancient Egypt, mustard seeds were found in the tombs of many pharaohs. Romans would grind the spicy seeds into a spreadable paste that went with many meals. French monks would mix the ground seeds with a ‘must’ such as unfermented wine, inspiring the word mustard. Which stems from the Latin mustum ardens, roughly translating to ‘burning wine.’ King Louis XI refused to travel without mustard, keeping a pot with him at all times to ensure he would never have to face a meal without it.
Being a delicious condiment isn’t the only role mustard has played throughout history. The application of mustard as medicine reaches far back into many regions across the world. In ancient Rome, physicians praised mustard for its pain reliving properties, frequently applying it to quell muscle discomfort and toothaches. It has been said that Pythagoras endorsed a cure for scorpion bites that consisted of a poultice fashioned from mustard seeds.
The mustard plant is a versatile cruciferous vegetable that belongs to the Brassica family, which includes wasabi, broccoli, and cabbage. The yellow variety is native to temperate parts of Europe, primarily the Mediterranean. It became a very popular crop in North America when supplies from Europe were interrupted during World War II. California and Montana being the major production areas up until the early 1950s, wherein production in the upper Midwest and Canada began to progress. North Dakota now produces the largest share of mustard in the United States, while several Canadian providences cumulatively grow one of the largest shares of the world’s mustard.
There are also brown and black mustard seeds, or Indian varieties of mustard that are of Himalayan origin. The brown most often pressed and used as a vegetable oil in the regions of northern India, Pakistan, southern Russia, Kazakhstan, and China. While the black variety is the most pungent and is popular in Asian cooking as well as for use in pickling recipes.
Mustard is most commonly used as a dry spice in soups, sauces, mayonnaises, and dressings. By mixing the seeds with water and vinegar, or another musty type liquid, it is made into the popular condiment of prepared mustard. The seeds are also commonly pressed in order to make mustard oil. The edible leaves of the plant referred to as mustard greens are utilized in salads or other dishes that benefit from spicy greens. The French are currently the world’s largest consumers of mustard, consuming around one and a half pounds of mustard per person each year.
Mustard in current times has been acclaimed for both its internal and external capabilities, ranging from clearing sinuses to restoring fatigued muscles. It has stimulating properties when applied to the skin that can bring healing to the afflicted areas. Massaging mustard oil into the skin has warming properties, causing many to exploit this practice during the cold winter months. Mustard baths are popular in traditional English therapeutics as well as in Ayurvedic medicine, known primarily for their pain relieving, detoxifying, and moisturizing properties. Some say they can even alleviate insomnia, sinus pressure, fevers, and seizures. Mustard baths can easily be made at home utilizing Epsom salt, mustard powder, baking powder, and your favorite essential oils. Check out this homemade mustard bath recipe on Mountain Rose Herbs that can used as a guideline in creating your own idyllic soak.
The consumption of mustard is believed to have just as many benefits if not more than when used externally. It lessons symptoms of psoriasis and provides relief to contact dermatitis, being that it is anti-inflammatory and stimulates the activities of enzymes. It improves cardiovascular health as it is rich in antioxidants such as kaempferol, carotenoids, and isorhamnetin which aid in preventing damage and disease to the heart. It can also provide relief to respiratory disorders as it acts as a powerful decongestant expectorant, clearing mucus in the air passage. Mustard has also been commended for protecting against bacterial and fungal infections, lowering cholesterol, relieving menopausal symptoms, and assisting in the management of diabetes.
Mustard is one of the worlds most beloved condiments and is widely used in nearly every type of cuisine. When preparing the condiment, the seeds are cracked and ground, and can be whole or bruised depending on the type of mustard being made. From there they are mixed with such things as water, wine, vinegar, spices, and even fruit, to accomplish a zesty final product. Depending on how it is prepared the taste of prepared mustard can range from spicy, tangy, or even sweet.
American Yellow Mustard
The most commonly used mustard in America, deriving its bright yellow color from finely ground yellow mustard seeds and turmeric. This mustard is on the bottom of the heat scale, delivering less spice but still having a clean sharp mustard flavor. It is most often paired with hamburgers and hotdogs, as well as mixed into marinades and barbeque sauces.
A wonderful merging of honey and mustard, usually consisting of a one-to-one ratio. The result is a mustard that retains its complex notes but has its spicy edge softened by the honey. It is extremely popular as a salad dressing, in sandwiches, and as a dipping sauce.
Spicy Brown Mustard
Prepared with brown mustard seeds and soaked in less vinegar, this mustard has significantly more bite. It has a courser texture than yellow mustard as the bran is left on the seeds and it undergoes different grinding techniques. Spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, or ginger are sometimes added to give the mustard earthy undertones. This mustard pairs well with other robustly flavored items making it a favorite at delis.
This classic French mustard has been popular since the 1850s and has a sharp and complex flavor. Most commonly made with white wine and utilizing the spicier brown and black mustard seeds, it is processed into a smooth texture. It has a very pungent and tangy flavor, making it excellent for potatoes, sauces, dressings, and wide variety of cooking applications.
Whole Grain Mustard
Also known as granary or ‘old style’ in some regions, this mustard has a thick texture and a unique taste profile. This blend incorporates mustard seeds from different plants, leaving them partially ground, for a rich mouthful. This mustard is often a go to on cheese and fruit platters, as well in sauces to add nice flavor and a bit of texture.
Chinese Hot Mustard
A very hot variety of mustard that is known to clear the sinuses when consumed. The heat is magnified as brown seeds are used and they do not mix them with any vinegars or hot waters, instead adding just a little cold water as not to temper the mustard. It pairs amazingly with stir-fried vegetables and egg rolls, as well as alongside sweet duck sauce.
Another type of hot mustard, similar to American Yellow, but with a spicier and thicker profile. A mix of yellow and brown seeds, it best purchased in its powdered form for the freshest flavor. It is excellent for adding full flavor heat to cooking, sandwiches and roasts.
There are actually a wide variety of German mustards ranging from course to fine and sweet to spicy. Different regions of Germany offer distinct mustards such as those found in Düsseldorf, often boasting a medium hot spiciness that is a step up from Dijon. In southern Germany the mustards found will commonly be sweeter, containing the additions of brown sugar or applesauce. German mustards are consistently paired with grilled sausages and soft pretzels.
First gaining popularity in the 14th century, it is made by preserving large chunks of fruit within the mustard. Quince, apple, and cherry mustards, often taking on a jam like appearance, are among the more traditional varieties of fruit mustard. It is a very versatile condiment that is fabulous as a glaze or for simply spreading on breads.
Make Your Own
Preparing mustard at home can result in incredibly tasty outcomes and is a very simple task. Check out this delicious country mustard recipe on Honest Food that will have you reaping the benefits of this wonderful plant in no time.
About the author
M.R. Cameo generally writes horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and nonfiction, yet enjoys dabbling in different genres. She is currently doing freelance work as a writer, ghostwriter, copywriter, editor, and proofreader for various publications.