Herb to Know: The Mustard Seed

It's more than passing the mustard

| August/September 1999

  • Brown mustard
    Photograph by Holly Shimizu

  • Black mustard
    Photograph by Rosalind Creasy
  • White mustard
    Photograph by Jerry Pavia
  • Ground mustard seeds are mixed with water, vinegar, wine, or beer to make the condiment.
  • Tangy mustard complements the richness of cheese, adding up to a perfect sandwich.

5 tasty recipes with Mustard Seed

“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field,”Matthew 13:31 reads. “Which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”

The mighty mustard plant bestows bright flowers that herald spring, crisp greens that spice up summer salads, and those magical seeds. Mustard seeds are key to cuisines around the world: from India, where they are pressed into rich, yellow cooking oil, to France, where the word Dijon needs no further explanation.

If the word mustard brings to mind that yellow stuff you stripe on hot dogs, think again. The tiny mustard seed lends itself to a wide variety of flavors, forms, and functions. 

I’m mad about mustard— Even on custard.

—Ogden Nash

Even though I wouldn't go quite as far as putting it on my dessert, mustard is a ­wonderful condiment, and I have at least seven varieties in my refrigerator at the moment. The commercial ones include smooth and coarse blends and a few “gourmet” kinds containing roasted alliums and jalapeños. Then there are my homemade mustards, so hot that they seem to penetrate the roof of the mouth, ­travel to the sinuses, and make the eyes water. I use them sparingly.

My ­re­frigerator holds none of that turmeric-laden American-style mustard, the kind that ­accompanies nearly every hot dog eaten in the United States.

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