Mustard is a condiment made from the seeds of a mustard plant. The term “mustard” is derived from the the French words moust (must) and ardens, which means “burning.” A moustarde was originally made from unfermented juice pressed from grapes and mustard seed and made into a pungent table relish.
The mustard plant is biennial which means that their life cycle lasts two years, although only annuals are cultivated today. They are known as cruciferous plants because of their four-petaled flowers that resemble a cross. Cruciferous plants (radishes, horseradish, turnips, and cress) are very high in sulfur which adds to their pungency. There are three types of mustard seeds: white, brown and black.
Mustard has been cultivated for thousands of years – the ancient Chinese grew several species in their gardens. One of the earliest written references to mustard was found on a 4,300 year old clay Sumerian tablet. Mustard seed was prescribed medicinally by Hippocrates (460-370 BC) who is considered to be the father of medicine. Wild mustard plants were described by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) as growing wild everywhere in Italy without cultivation. Pope John XII was so fond of mustard that he created a new Vatican position – grand moutardier du pape (mustard-maker to the pope) – and promptly filled the post with his nephew.
Mustard seeds contain 30-35 percent oil. At one time, the oil was used as a lubricant, in soap-making and was burned in crude oil lamps. Mustard is also used as a cover crop to hold soil in place and when plowed under, it nourishes the soil.
Mustard is available in three forms: mustard seed, ground mustard or cream, a blend containing vinegar or wine and various spices. Ground mustard seeds develop their pungency when cold water is added. which causes a chemical reaction between an enzyme in the seed and a substance called gycoside. The reaction takes about 15 minutes to reach its peak.
Mustard is high in calcium, folic acid, vitamin C and potassium. Dijon-style mustards are made from brown or black mustard seeds. The exact formula for Grey Poupon dates back 200 years and is a closely guarded secret.
The most commonly used mustard in the United States and Canada is American Mustard sold as “Yellow mustard,” a very mild prepared mustard colored bright-yellow by turmeric. The R.T. French Company first introduced it on a hot dog at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
In Biblical times, mustard seeds were used for their laxative properties and to treat indigestion. In the Middle Ages, mustard was used for asthma, coughs and chest congestion. In China today, mustard seeds are used to treat colds, stomach problems, abscesses, rheumatism, lower back pain and ulcers. The leaves of the mustard plant are used to treat bladder inflammation. Mustard helps cleanse the entire respiratory tract by breaking up nasal and lung congestion and by clearing the sinuses. Medicinally, the most common use of mustard is in a plaster applied topically to warm the area and to relieve pain, ease sore muscles and loosen stiff joints.
Antol, Marie. The Incredible Secrets of Mustard.