The Magic of Mustard

More than just a condiment, this spicy herb is among the world’s favorites for flavor and health.

| October/November 2007


I don’t know exactly when my fascination with mustard began. Maybe it started with the Clue board game I played as a child. (Was the villain Colonel Mustard in the ballroom with the candlestick?)

Something about the word and the way mustard tasted on hot dogs and hamburgers held my interest and as I grew older, I found myself inextricably attracted to the pungent spice. I dabbed it on baked potatoes, spread it on fish and added it to marinades. Mustard powder found its way into my spice rubs, vegetable sautés, chicken and roasts.

A little mustard can work a lot of magic, I discovered. It enhances the flavor of so many foods in subtle ways while adding almost no calories. Just a few seeds or a bit of powder can transform a mundane meal into something extraordinary.

The Origins of Mustard

You might recognize mustard’s familiar zip in some of its relatives. Mustard is a member of the brassica clan, which makes it a kissing cousin to cabbage, broccoli and radishes. Three main species are used for cooking. White- or yellow-seeded Sinapis alba, formerly known as Brassica hirta, is believed to be native to the Meditteranean region. Brown-seeded B. juncea probably originated in northwest India, and black-seeded B. nigra is native to the Middle East and Asia Minor. All three have naturalized throughout most of North America.

Food historians think mustard was first cultivated in India around 3000 B.C., and ancient Romans brought the seeds to Gaul. The plant was highly valued in Biblical times: Matthew 13:31 compares a grain of mustard to the kingdom of heaven.

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