Mustard is an extremely versatile plant, which lends its fiery flavour to a lot of dishes and condiments through the use of it as both a herb and a spice. Botanically speaking, mustard is a member of the brassica family along with vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli, and as such it contains a high level of sulphur that’s responsible for the warmth we taste in it, especially in the seeds.
Mustard can be grown either for salad use or for its seeds, which are the main ingredient of this table condiment that most individuals think of when they hear the word’mustard’. The greens of the young plant can be eaten in a salad, and have a similar taste to cress, which it is closely associated with. The leaves might be a bit strong for use on their own, but make a excellent combination with different salads of character such as rocket, baby spinach or watercress.
Most of us, however, are more comfortable with mustard in the guise of a potently hot yellow paste which we utilize either in cooking or as a condiment – most famously of course on such everyday foods as hot dogs and hamburgers. Many sorts of table mustard can be found, varying in intensity from the relatively mild American mustard to the sinus-clearing English variety. French and german mustards also have their own distinctive characters, and even within France that there are several types available – comparison the conventional, brown-coloured French Mustard using the milder, creamier, paler Dijon variety.
Table mustards are made by grinding the seeds down of the mature mustard plant and mixing the results with a little liquid, usually vinegar, along with a seasoning of pepper and salt, and maybe a little sugar to take the edge off the heat. The strength of the finished mustard depends in part on what kind of seeds are used. Black, white and yellow varieties are available, each with different strengths and attributes, and of course there are many different strains of mustard plant grown, and each will have a slightly different flavour.
Lots of folks think that they don’t like the flavor of mustard, and it’s true that it can be something of an acquired taste. If you tried it as a youngster and were put off for life, why not give it another go now that you have a more mature and developed sense of taste?
Mustard also has medicinal uses, and has traditionally been made into a poultice and applied to the skin to relieve inflammation, and also in the treatment of bronchial problems such as chest colds. If you are tempted to use it in this way, then use a mix of 10% mustard to 90% flour, and blended to a paste with water. Be sure though to avoid applying it to sensitive regions, and take great care to avoid the eyes!
In the end, mustard is widely used agriculturally, both as fodder for livestock and as a’green manure’ that can be grown quickly and then plowed back into the ground to enrich and fertilize it in preparation for growing the main crop the following spring.