Mustard seeds, highly valued for their oil content, can be traced to different areas of Europe and Asia with the white variety originating in the eastern Mediterranean regions, the brown from the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, and the black from the Middle East. Mustard seeds are mentioned in ancient Sanskrit writings dating back about 5,000 years ago. They are also mentioned in the New Testament in which the kingdom of Heaven is compared to a grain of mustard seed.
While mustard seeds were used for their culinary properties in ancient Greece, it seems that it was the ancient Romans who invented a paste from the ground seeds, which was probably the ancestor of our modern day mustard condiment. The physicians of both civilizations, including the father of medicine Hippocrates, used mustard seed medicinally. At one time, mustard was believed to have strong aphrodisiac powers and was included in love potions to stimulate passion.
Mustard seed is one of the most popular spices traded in the world today. Since it grows well in temperate climates, the areas that produce the greatest amount of mustard seeds currently include Hungary, Great Britain, India, Canada, and the United States.
Although mustard is commonly thought of as a condiment ordinarily used at back yard barbeques and ball games, it also has many health benefits and unique healing properties, which can partly be attributed to their home among the Brassica foods. Brassica foods consist of about 40 Old World species including cabbages, mustards, and rapes that are found in the cruciferous plant family.
The isothiocyanate properties in mustard seed and other Brassicas have been studied for their anti-cancer effects, particularly in the studies of the gastrointestinal tract and colorectal cancer. In animal studies, the intake of isothiocyanates has been shown to inhibit growth of existing cancer cells and to offer protection against the formation of such cells.
Mustard seeds are also known to be a very good source of selenium, a nutrient that has been shown to help reduce the severity of asthma and decrease some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The seeds are also considered to be a good source of magnesium, which has proven to be effective in reducing the severity of asthma, to lower high blood pressure, and to restore normal sleep patterns in women having difficulty with the symptoms of menopause. It is also thought to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, and to prevent heart attack in patients suffering from diabetic heart disease.
Mustard seeds are also considered to be an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as a good source of iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, magnesium, protein, niacin and dietary fiber. Mustard plasters and poultices have been continually used since ancient times to cure chest congestion, bronchitis, and pneumonia, and also to relieve arthritis, rheumatism, and muscle soreness. At one time surgeons disinfected their hands with Mustard paste,
Although there are many varieties of mustard plants, three principal types are used to make mustard seeds: White mustard (Brassica alba), black mustard (Brassica nigra), and brown mustard (Brassica juncea). White mustard seeds are actually yellow in color and are the most mild. They are used to make American-style yellow mustard. Black mustard seeds have a sharp taste, and Brown mustard, which has a pungent, acrid taste is the type used to make Dijon mustard. Mustard seeds are sold either whole or as a ground powder.
How to Select and Store
Just as with other dried spices, organically grown mustard seeds or powder are preferred, since they are not irradiated. Both powder and seeds are best kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark, dry place. Although there are specialty dried mustards now available, you can prepare your own flavored mustard powders by adding chili, peppercorn, mint, chive, etc.
Intensely hot and spicy mustard oil, derived from pressing mustard seeds, can be found in specialty shops and Indian and in Oriental markets. The golden colored oil is quite aromatic. Even the smallest of bottles will last a long time. It should definitely be stored in the refrigerator, otherwise it is likely to become rancid. Prepared mustard and mustard oil should both be refrigerated. Even though prepared mustard will not spoil, it tends to lose its flavor with age, so unless you use a lot of mustard it would seem practical to buy small jars.
Certain foods, such as mustard seeds, contain naturally occurring substances that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Cooking may tend to neutralize the goitrogenic compounds, but according to research it is not clear how much risk is involved for persons with pre-existing and untreated thyroid problems in the consumption of mustard seeds.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
Dredge chicken breast in prepared mustard and whole mustard seeds and bake.
Add some Dijon mustard to your favorite vinaigrette dressing.
Make a delicious cold millet salad by combining the cooked and cooled grain with chopped scallions, baked tofu cubes, garden peas and mustard seeds. Dress with lemon juice and olive oil.
Marinate salmon fillets in a combination of Dijon mustard and white wine.
Combine prepared mustard with honey and the seasonings of your choice to make a pungently sweet dipping sauce.