There are at least 40 different varieties of mustards, but we use black, white and brown. Black mustard seeds originated in the Middle East and the southern Mediterranean region. The Latin name for the plant they come from is Brassica nigra so they are related to other brassicas, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage for example. The plants have very distinctive yellow flowers and are cultivated in fields across Britain, the rest of Europe, the Americas, the subcontinent as well as many other places. The brown seeds come from the foothills of the Himalayas.
The seeds might be small, but they are packed full of minerals and trace elements. They contain Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, selenium and magnesium among other things. They can help in the treatment of asthma and more research might show that they can help prevent cancer.
We know that the mustard seeds were used in Greece, and their discovery was attributed to Aesculpius The Romans invented the forerunner of modern mustards by pounding white seeds into a paste. The leaves are also edible and were used as a vegetable in ancient times. In Pakistan and India they are made into saag, a vegetable side dish, or a vegetarian meal on its own with roti (chapatti).
The mustard seeds used to grow mustard and cress, so often found in egg sandwiches, is white mustard, and these young mustard sprouts are good in salads.
In his Herball of 1623 John Gerard wrote that mustard ‘Doth help digestion, warmeth the stomach and provoketh the appetite’. The English town of Tewkesbury was famous for its mustard seed balls, which were black mustard seeds, mixed with honey, vinegar and a little cinnamon. Shakespeare mentions Tewkesbury mustard in ‘Henry V’ and one of the fairies in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is called Mustard-seed. In his ‘Acetaria’ of 1699, John Evelyn refers to the Italian way of making a mustard paste to which they added orange or lemon peel. Culpeper thought it was good to take the poison out of snake bites, and said that mustard powder and honey rolled into balls would clear the voice and help sufferers with cold symptoms. He also believed that if mixed with wax or honey and applied to a black and blue bruise, it would remove the colouration, and also get rid of a ‘crick in the neck’.
In Pakistan mustard oil from the black seeds is sold from door to door by street sellers, and is bought not for culinary purposes, but to condition hair and leave it shiny. People here are embarrassed to use it for cooking as it’s so cheap, they prefer to be seen to use more expensive items such as top quality ghee, or clarified butter. However it’s good to cook with! And probably expensive where you come from!
When you use mustard seeds, you should bruise them a little and fry them in oil until they start to sputter, to release their flavour and also flavour the oil. They are used in pickles and sauces. Below is a different type of recipe for them.
CHICKEN SALAD MOULD
250 gr chicken, boiled and cut into small cubes
½ cup raisins
½ cup mayonnaise
½ tbsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp white pepper, ground
1 tbsp aspic
1½ cups chicken stock (see recipe in our Bay Leaf post) hot
½ bunch of fresh coriander, shredded
salt to taste
oil for greasing mould
Grease a 1½ pint mould with the oil.
Pour a little of the stock into the aspic powder and stir to mix until it dissolves. Use a cup to do this.
Put the rest of the stock in a large bowl and add the mustard seeds and mayonnaise and mix well. Then add the aspic and the stock mix the raisins, white pepper and salt and mix well.
Add the chicken pieces and coriander leaves and stir in well. Pour the whole mixture into the mould.
Put the mould in the fridge and leave until set.
To get it out of the mould in one piece, put the mould briefly in warm water, and then turn it out onto a large plate.
Garnish with fresh mint leaves and slivers of root ginger, or green chillies.
This has Taste and is a Treat.