Family Brassicaceae (Cruciferae)
THROUGH THE AGES
The English word mustard comes from the Latin mustum ardens, which translates to "burning must". The earlier Latin genus was Sinapis. "Mustard" is known as chiehi in certain dialects of Chinese, rai in India, mostaza in Spain, sanape in Italy, senf in Germany, moutarde in France, mosterd in Holland, and biji sawi in Malaysia. Mustard was discovered so long ago that no one can be sure of the exact date. The use of mustard seeds as food as been recorded as far back as the Han Dynasty in China (206 B.C), and records document the cultivation of the mustard plants in China as early as 5000 B.C., and mustard seeds have been found in tombs of the great pyramids in Egypt. The Romans may have made the first prepared mustards by combining fermented grape juice (must) with mustard seeds to form a spreadable paste. The mustards we make today come from the seeds of three species of plants from the Cruciferae family: black mustard (Brassica nigra), brown mustard (Brassica juncea), and yellow mustard (Sinapis alba). The culinary relatives of mustard in the Cruciferae family include brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, turnips, and watercress.
Black mustard originated in the Middle East and the temperate zones of Asia, but it is now grown primarily in southern Italy, India, and Ethiopia. Because the plant grows to such a large size, it can be unruly and problematic for farmers. Black mustard seeds must be harvested by hand, and for this reason, it is the least popular type of mustard for commercial growers.
Brown mustard is native to India, but it is now grown widely in parts of China, England, northern Europe, and Canada. The plant is smaller and easier to control than the black mustard plants and is favored by most mustard growers worldwide. Yellow mustard is native to the Mediterranean, but it is also grown with great success in England, the United States, and Canada. The plants that produce yellow and brown seeds are neat and tidy, and the seeds are easily harvested by machine.
Mustard seeds were first utilized in ancient cuisines to camouflage the rank flavors of stale meat and to add zest to a bland and boring diet. Records show that mustard was used for culinary purposes around 1500 B.C. in parts of Asia, and communities in India and Sumeria used mustard seed and mustard oil as early as 3000 B.C. The basic diet of this time consisted of barley, wheat, and a variety of meats, which were flavored with sesame oil and often seasoned with mustard seeds. Ancient Greeks treated mustard with the greatest respect and regarded it as a fundamental cooking ingredient as well as a magical drug. The Greeks enjoyed the pungent green leaves as a pot herb and salad. It was the Romans, however, who turned mustard seeds into a versatile paste by combining it with grape must, vinegar, oil, and honey. They used it to flavor and complement meats and vegetables and for pickling a wide range of fresh foods. The magical seeds were considered a preservative as well as an indispensable flavoring agent, and they were also used as a cure-all for many physical ailments.
It is believed the Romans introduced mustard seeds to the French in the 10th century A.D. The French prepared their mustard condiments by soaking the seeds, then grinding them and straining out the hulls. The monks of St. Germain des Pres in Paris began producing mustard according to their own recipes. By the 13th century, Dijon was recognized as a center for mustard making, and during the 1400s, laws were introduced to regulate and standardize production. By the middle of the 17th century, the mustard makers of Dijon, in Burgundy, organized a guild, requiring each mustard maker to keep only one shop in town so there would be no doubt as to the origin of any bad mustard. In 1937, Dijon mustard gained its own Appellation Contollee d'Origine, meaning "controlled name of origin", and today, Dijon is considered the mustard capital of the world.
Although mustard grew wild in England, it wasn't until the arrival of the Romans in the 10th century that mustard making became popular. In England during the Middle Ages, mustards were used to cover the pungent flavors of meat and smoked fish, and by the 13th century, authorized mustard makers produced large quantities of the condiment for sale to the public. In 1410, the average European household used 84 pints of mustard annually. The English ground the mustard seeds coarsely with flour and sometimes a little cinnamon, moistening the oily paste, and formed it into balls, which were then dried. The cook would reconstitute a mustard ball by mixing it with a liquid, usually vinegar.
American Indians once dried mustard seed and used them as a flavoring agent for their foods and also ate the tender young shoots and flowers of the plant. But it was Irish, English, German, and Scandinavian immigrants who introduced the pastes to early American settlers. The arrival of mustard was advertised in 1735 in the South Carolina Gazette: "Just imported from London by John Watson ...mustard seed". Mustard was used in sausage recipes, baked beans, sauces, soups, and stews, and was served with roasted meats and smoked fish.
The use of mustard for medicinal purposes dates back to ancient Greeks and Romans, who mixed it with vinegar to make a paste suitable for rubbing onto the skin. They also took the seeds internally to help treat a variety of physical maladies. In the 1st century A.D., the Roman writer Pliny noted mustard "has so pungent a flavor that it burns like fire," and listed 40 remedies based on mustard.
It was the British herbalists of the 16th and 17th centuries, however, who exploited the medicinal uses of mustard to the fullest. John Gerard, in his Herbal of 1597, stated that "the seede of Mustarde pounded with vinegar is an excellent sauce, good to be eaten with any grosse meates, either fish or flesh, because it doth help digestion, warmeth the stomache and provoketh appetite". English herbalist John Parkinson suggested the seeds as a treatment for epileptic seizures. Mustard was also given to those with bad circulation, heart and lung problems, fevers, or the flu. It was often applied as a plaster, usually to the chest area, where difficult breathing was most evident. Mustard was also given to those with toothaches, sore throats, neck and back pain, and rheumatism.
Nicolas Culpepper, author of The Complete Herbal (1653), claimed mustard was a good antidote against snake poison and poisonous mushrooms. The producers of Colman's mustard noted the health benefits of their product in a 19th century advertising campaign: "It purges the body of toxic products, relieving pain, giving a feeling of warmth and well-being, and an increased flow of blood; it stimulates capillary circulation, relieves rheumatism, colds, flu, bronchitis, coughs on the chest, aches in the nape of the neck, neuralgia in the side of the face, and toothache." Today, mustard is still used therapeutically, primarily in mustard plasters and in herbal remedies.
GROWING MUSTARD IN TEXAS
Mustard plants are hardy annuals best sown in the fall for winter greens and harvest of seed in the spring. If you're growing mustard for its leaves, sow at several intervals from spring through early fall. Within 5-6 weeks of sowing, you can harvest the young, tender leaves from the stem for greens and fresh salads. As long as the crown of the plant is not damaged by harvesting, it will continue to produce. If you want to harvest the ripe seeds, sow in the spring or late summer. Harvest the seeds when the pods have turned from green to brown but before they begin to split open. Cut and spread the plants on a screen or tray covered in tightly woven cloth. Within 2-3 weeks the seeds will ripen and should be separated from the chaff in a large strainer. Collect the seeds and store in tightly covered jars.
Mustard grows best in cool weather and full sun and is easily propagated by seed. The seed remain viable for years. Plant the seeds ½" deep in rows 12" to 18" apart and thin the seedlings to 6" to 9" apart. Mustards need to be kept evenly moist for best growth and flavor. Plant in a sunny spot where the soil is rich and well drained. Plants are heavy feeders, so dress the soil regularly with manure or compost. The black species normally grow to 6' tall, the brown and yellow species 2' tall.
Mustards are excellent companion plants for vegetables and attract bees and butterflies. Mustards stimulate the growth of beans, grapes, and fruit trees. When planted with collards and brussel sprouts, mustard reduces aphids and flea beetles. Mustards release a chemical into the soil that inhibits the emergence of cyst nematodes and prevents root rot.
Flowers: The plants begin to flower with the first warm weather in spring and continue in early summer; the small, yellow flowers have 4 petals which form a cross; in terminal racemens; 4 sepals in calyx; 2 stamens.
Stem: Smooth, round, hard branching and mid-green
Leaf: Oval, pointed, and dark green with mid-green undersides and pungent flavor. Lower leaves are toothed.
Fruit: The seed pods called silique are long and slender. Ironically, the size of the seed relates to the intensity of flavor in reverse order -the smaller the seed, the bigger the flavor. Yellow mustard seeds are the mildest in flavor, brown seeds are considerably more flavorful than yellow, and black seeds are the most pungent of all.
OUT OF THE BALLPARK!
As a condiment and in cooking, mustard has far-reaching appeal and diverse use. The flavor of mustard can be discreet and subtle or assertive and primary. It complements foods and illuminates the natural flavors of many dishes, but it can also star as the principal taste in any prepared foods. It is used in numerous dishes as a thickening and flavoring agent and as a preservative. Mustard is used in the commercial preparation of sausages and bologna, soups, pickles, mayonnaise, salad dressings, vinaigrettes, sauces, relishes, and marinades.
The seeds of the plant, as well as prepared pastes, are used in the cuisines of India, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, northern Europe, the Balkan States, Asia, the United States, and Africa. Nearly every culture has developed at least one unique version of mustard and has a special use for mustard in one form or another. The Chinese mix water or vinegar with an incendiary yellow mustard powder and serve the paste with deep-fried foods such as egg rolls. In India, the seeds are favored in a great number of dishes: chutneys, pickles, curries, stews, and soups, and in meat, poultry, fish, and vegetable dishes. The seeds are often toasted in a pan over low heat or mixed with other spices and cooked in a small amount of ghee (clarified butter).
Northern Europeans are fond of spreading a variety of prepared mustards onto breads and forming them into interesting sandwiches. Likewise, mustards are served with all sorts of cured, salted, and smoked meats and sausages throughout Europe. In France, prepared mustard is put to use in countless ways -in vinaigrettes and aioli, soups and stews, ragoût and daubes, as well as straight from the jar, spread onto bread and accompanied by cheese and sliced meats.
In America we tend to think of mustard as the perfect condiment for hot dogs and hamburgers, but mustard has become increasingly popular when preparing vinaigrettes, honey mustard salad dressings, potato salad, coleslaw, bean dishes, and hundreds of other hot and cold dishes. Americans are now focusing on homemade, preservative-free foods, so it's only natural that we turn to making mustards at home. There are many unusual commercial mustards available, but the freedom to create a particular style of mustard at home is a great advantage, offering a much broader range of mustard flavors.
Preparing these inviting, unique and original pastes requires a spice or coffee grinder, a few bowls (stainless steel, plastic or preferably glass to keep flavors from turning bitter), and only a few standard ingredients. It literally takes just minutes to put together a fine mustard, and after a couple of weeks of curing time, you will have a wonderful, flavorful, and robust condiment to use in cooking or simply straight from the jar.
Cure prepared mustards for a minimum of one week before using. Curing helps the flavors marry, allows time for the mustard to mellow, and helps reduce the sharp flavor initially present in many homemade mustards. Any homemade mustard containing fresh herbal additives, fruits or eggs should ALWAYS be stored immediately in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Any other homemade mustards typically do not contain any artificial preservatives, so should be stored in the refrigerator after the initial one to two week curing period in a cool, dark place. Most prepared mustards can be used for up to one year. However, mustards lose their pungency with time; mustards stored in the refrigerator for longer than six months can be flat tasting and bland. Mustard seeds stored at cool room temperature can last up to one year and can therefore be safely purchased in bulk. Small purchases of mustard powder is recommended to prevent loss of strength and character; store in tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place for several months.
Mustard recipes can be made with various combinations of yellow and brown mustard seeds, vinegars, wine, champagne, beer, citrus juices, and a variety of herbs, spices, and flavoring agents. Recipes create an array of flavor: sweet and sour, herbed and spiced, mild and hot. These mustards may be much hotter and more intensely flavored than the commercial brands you are used to. Concentrated in flavor, mustard also serves as a low-fat, low-calorie flavoring agent that easily finds its way into a wide assortment of recipes.
Culinary historian Alice Arndt discusses cooking with mustard in her book Seasoning Savvy. "Powdered mustard seed, also called mustard flour or ground mustard, has no aroma and is virtually tasteless when dry. …Strangely enough, the addition of a small amount of powdered mustard serves as a remarkable flavor enhance in both sweet and savory foods. Perk up boiled root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and parsley roots by adding a half teaspoon of mustard powder along with the salt in the cooking water. One-half teaspoon of powdered mustard included with the dry ingredients in the batter for chocolate cakes, brownies, or cookies will intensify their chocolate flavor but will be otherwise undetectable. Similarly, a little dry mustard in the fruit filling for a pie or a cobbler will enhance it fruitiness."
The characteristic "heat" of mustard develops when the seeds, whole or powdered, are mixed with cold water. This causes a reaction between two components of the seed –the enzyme myrosinase (myrosin) and the mustard oil glycosides called glucosilinates, which produces a sugar (glucose) and several chemical irritants (aglycone). The reaction is different if mustard seeds are mixed with hot water. This reaction produces somewhat toxic irritants called nitriles, accounting for bitterness. At least 20 minutes prior to blending with your other ingredients, mix your mustard flour with just enough cold water to make a very thick paste . This will allow the favorable reaction to occur, and will minimize any bitter flavor in your finished mustard.
SWEET CHAMPAGNE MUSTARD (Makes 1¾ cups)
⅔ c. dry mustard (about 2 oz. by weight)
1 c. sugar
3 eggs, beaten and strained
⅔ c. Champagne or White Wine Vinegar
Mix mustard with about 1 T cold water in top of glass or stainless steel double boiler and allow to rest 20 minutes. Mix in sugar. Stir in vinegar gradually. When smooth, gently mix in the beaten strained eggs and place mixture over simmering water. Stir and cook about 4 to 7 minutes or until mixture thickens. The mustard will thicken more as it cools. Pour into sterilized jars. Cap and cool and store refrigerated.
Excellent in vinaigrettes.
HOT SWEDISH-STYLE MUSTARD (Makes 1½ cups)
from Helene Sawyer's Gourmet Mustards
3 eggs, beaten and strained
¼ c. packed brown sugar
½ c. honey
⅓ c. apple cider or juice
⅓ c. apple cider vinegar
⅔ c. dry mustard powder
½ t. salt
¼ t. ground cardamom
¼ t. ground cloves
¼ t. ground mace
¼ t. ground cinnamon
Mix mustard with about 1 T cold water in a bowl and allow to rest 20 minutes. Beat eggs in a large non-aluminum saucepan. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Cook over low hear, stirring constantly until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Pour into sterilized jars. Cap and cool and store refrigerated.
½ c. dry mustard
⅛ t. white pepper
¼ c. water
1 t. salt
1 t. brown sugar
1 clove of peeled garlic
½ c. white wine or cider vinegar
1 - 2 T. prepared horseradish
Combine the dry mustard, pepper, and water in a bowl. Put the salt, sugar, garlic and 1 T. of horseradish in a blender and blend them together, then strain into the mustard mixture. Transfer to a small pan, and simmer over low heat, stirring all the time, until it has slightly thickened. When the mustard has cooled, stir in half the additional horseradish if you like. If the mixture is too thick, thin with additional water or vinegar.
This startlingly hot mustard is definitely only for those who like strong condiments. It’s good with beef, ham, and hearty sausages.
SWEET ‘N’ HOT MUSTARD (Makes 2 cups.)
from Helene Sawyer's Gourmet Mustards
3 T. anise seed, crushed
1½ c. dry mustard
¾ c. firmly packed brown sugar
¾ c. apple cider vinegar
1½ t. salt
½ c. oil
Process anise seed in blender or food processor until crushed, about 3 minutes. Add mustard, sugar, vinegar and salt; mix well. Stop frequently to scrape down the sides of the work bowl. With the machine running, add oil in a slow, steady stream and blend until the mixture is the consistency of mayonnaise. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Age in a cool dark place for 2 - 8 weeks, then refrigerate.
APRICOT MUSTARD (Makes 1½ cups.)
from Helene Sawyer's Gourmet Mustards
1 c. Sweet ‘n’ Hot Mustard
½ c. apricot jam
¾ c. dry mustard
Mix together in a bowl. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Age in a cool dark place for 2 to 8 weeks, then refrigerate.
Delicious glaze for baked ham or grilled or broiled chicken.
BROWN SUGAR-SHERRY MUSTARD (Makes ¾ cups.)
from Janet Hazen's Mustard: Making Your Own Gourmet Mustards
½ c. dry mustard
4 T. sherry wine
3 T. sherry vinegar
¼ c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t. salt
½ t. pepper
Place the mustard powder in a small bowl. Add the sherry wine and the vinegar to form a paste. Add the sugar, garlic, salt, and pepper; mix well. Transfer to a clean, dry jar or bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for 2 weeks before using.
Slightly sweet, hot, and smooth in texture., this mustard is ideal for using in marinades, sauces, and vinaigrettes and for pairing with smoked meats. Add a couple of spoonfuls to a pot of beans or chicken salad, or spread it on baked ham during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
USING YOUR MUSTARD
CLASSIC MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE
1 T. Champagne Mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
½ c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. red wine vinegar
2 t. minced fresh tarragon, or 1 t. dried tarragon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place the mustard, garlic, and oil in a medium bowl. Slowly add the vinegar, whisking constantly to make a smooth emulsion. Add the tarragon, season with salt and pepper, and mix well. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
CREAMY MUSTARD SALAD DRESSING
¼ c. mayonnaise
1 T. half and half or light cream
½ t. dry mustard powder
¼ t. salt
⅛ t. pepper
1 T. any Dijon-based Mustard
In a small bowl, mix all ingredients thoroughly. Chill and serve.
TORTELLINI WITH MUSTARD SAUCE
½ lb. cheese-filled tortellini
For a Cream Sauce:
1 egg yolk
½ c. low-fat milk
2 T. Dijon-style mustard
1 T. chopped fresh tarragon
For Hot Mustard Sauce:
3 T. horseradish or green peppercorn mustard
½ c. white wine
Cook the tortellini in 2 quarts of boiling salted water with a few drops of oil for each type. Drop the tortellini into the boiling water and cook for 8 minutes or until tender.
For the cream sauce, beat the egg yolk and milk in a bowl. Mix in the mustard and the tarragon. Drain the tortellini and return to a saucepan. Pour the cream sauce on the tortellini and stir over a low heat until the sauce has thickened slightly and coats the tortellini.
For the hot mustard sauce, stir the mustard and white wine together. Pour the horseradish mustard sauce over the tortellini and stir until they are coated and the sauce is heated through.
GARLIC-MUSTARD GREEN BEANS
1½ lbs. fresh green beans
2 slices bacon
¾ c. thinly sliced onion
2 cloves garlic
1 T. Brown Sugar-Sherry Mustard
¼ t. freshly ground black pepper
⅛ t. salt
Cook green beans according to package directions. Drain beans. Meanwhile, in skillet cook bacon until crisp. Drain; reserve drippings in skillet. Crumble bacon and set aside. Cook onion and garlic in drippings over medium heat 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in mustard, seasoning, and salt. Cook about 30 seconds more. Toss beans with onion mixture; sprinkle with bacon. Serves 8.
Antol, Marie Nadine. 1999. The Incredible Secrets of Mustard. New York: Avery Publishing Group.
Arndt, Alice. 1999. Seasoning Savvy - How to Cook with Herbs, Spices, and Other Flavorings. New York: The Hayworth Herbal Press, Inc.
Bassett, Barbara. 1993. “The Amazing Mustard Seed.” The Herb Companion Vol. 5 Number 6 (August/September): 33-37.
Bremness, Lesley. 1988. The Complete Book of Herbs. New York: Viking Studio Books.
Hazen, Janet. 1993. Mustard: Making Your Own Gourmet Mustards. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Holcombe. Carrie E. 1995. “For the Love of Mustard.” Country Home Vol. 17, Issue 5 (October): 188-191.
Hopley, Claire. 1991. Making and Using Mustards. Pownal, Vermont: Storey Communications.
Jordan, Michele Anna. 1994. The Good Cook's Book of Mustard. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. (out of print, but available on-line)
Kowalchik, Claire, and William H. Hylton, eds. 1987. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, Inc.
Sawyer, Helene. 1990. Gourmet Mustards: How to Make and Cook with Them. Lake Oswego, Oregon: Culinary Arts Limited.
Stodola, Jirí, and Jan Volák. 1985. The Illustrated Book of Herbs: Their Medicinal and Culinary Uses. New York: Gallery Books.