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a very spicy seed
The mustard plant is an annual that is closely related to cabbage. The plant originated in the Himalayan region of India, but has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for over 5,000 years. The word "mustard" is a combination of the Latin words mustum ardens ("burning must"), which refers to the spicy heat generated by crushing mustard seeds, and is a reference to an old French practice of mixing ground mustard seeds with must, unfermented grape juice, to make a potent drink. About 700 million pounds of mustard are consumed worldwide every year, with the French being by far the greatest consumers (about 1.5 pounds per person per year); in the United States, mustard is the second-most commonly used spice, behind peppercorn (black pepper).
White mustard (Brassica hirta; left) is a branching annual that grows 2-3 feet high. It has yellow flowers, long-beaked bristly pods, and small round seeds. When ripe the seeds are collected, ground, and treated with water. The resulting paste forms the base of the yellow mustard brands Americans are familiar with, and is the one most commonly used to dress up hotdogs and hamburgers.
Black mustard (Brassica nigra; right) can grow to heights of 6 feet or more but has smaller pods than white mustard, and dark brown seeds. Much more potent than white mustard, the oil present in black mustard seeds can actually blister skin and sensitive membranes of the nose and mouth. Because it is so potent, black mustard is most commonly used as a flavoring rather than a condiment, although it does form the base of most brown mustards, such as Grey Poupon.
Commercial ground mustards (mustard powders) are usually made from a combination of white and black mustard seeds. They are used in the preparation of pickles, salad dressings, and other foods. Mustard pastes made from ground mustard, salt, and vinegar have been used for centuries as a remedy for chest congestion.
Mustard leaves (left), taken primarily from the Brassica juncea variety of mustard, can be eaten raw in salads or cooked as a vegetable. Like most dark green, leafy vegetables, mustard greens are an excellent source of vitamins K (524% of Recommended Daily Allowance), A (177%, and C (59%), folate (25.5%), and manganese (19%). Mustard greens are also known to stimulate the appetite by triggering saliva production, and are believed to provide some protection against some forms of cancer. Mustard flowers (right) are also edible, but they are not commonly cultivated.
In Christianity, the mustard seed symbolizes something small and insignificant that grows into something strong and powerful. Pope John XXII was such a fan of mustard that he created the post of Official Vatican Mustard-Maker, which still exists to this day. German folklore says that a bride should sew mustard seeds into the hem of her wedding dress to assure her dominance of household, and Danish and Indian lore says spreading mustard seeds around the exterior of a home keeps evil spirits away.
Mustard is a cool weather crop that matures fairly rapidly, allowing for two crops a year in most regions. Seeds for a spring harvest can be planted up to two weeks before the last spring frost, and those for a fall harvest are typically sown about fifty days before the first late-fall frost. The plants will cover the ground within 4-5 weeks, flower buds begin emerging at about 5 weeks, and the mature crop is ready for harvest within 95 days of planting. India and Nepal are the world's leading producers of mustard, followed by China, Japan, the United States, and Canada. North Dakota is the principal producer in the United States, and the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan are the leading producers in Canada.
This page was last updated on 01/09/2017.