Chances are, you have a jar of mustard in your fridge, whether it’s Dijon, spicy, or artisanal kimchi mustard you bought from the farmer’s market. If you didn’t know, mustard is made by combining mustard powder with vinegar and whole mustard seeds. Mustard might be America’s favorite condiment for hot dogs, but did you know that there are other ways you can use mustard seeds? Let’s learn a little more about what mustard seeds are and how we can incorporate them in our cooking.
What Are Mustard Seeds?
Mustard seeds come from the mustard plant, which produces bright yellow flowers that turn into pods that yield the seeds, which are harvested. Mustard plants have been around for thousands of years. They are mentioned in the New Testament, where heaven is compared to the grain of a mustard seed. They have also been mentioned in ancient Sanskrit writings. Mustard seeds have been cultivated for food since Hellenistic and ancient Roman times and the seeds have long been used in Asian, European, and Indian cuisines. Today, Pakistan, India, and Canada are the world’s top producers of mustard seeds.
There are three different varieties of mustard seeds: white or yellow, brown, and black. White or yellow mustard seeds have a mild flavor and are the most common seed used to make American mustard. They are also the go-to seed for pickling.
Brown mustard seeds are larger than yellow. They are spicier and taste more “mustard-y” than yellow mustard. These are used for pickling, making European mustard such as Dijon, and for flavoring meats. They are also used in Indian cooking, particularly when making tadka, an Indian cooking technique that involved tempering whole mustard and cumin seeds at the start or end of the cooking process.
Black mustard seeds are the most pungent, costly, and they are also the least common of all mustard seeds. Black mustard seeds are spicer than both brown and yellow and is ideal for tempering and making spicy Dijon mustard. If you like spicy flavors, there are also Chinese mustard seeds. These seeds are the same color as yellow, but smaller, and they pack a spicy punch.
Health Benefits of Mustard Seeds
You might be surprised to learn that these little seeds can benefit our health. The mustard plant is a member of the brassica family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Mustard seeds are rich in minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.
Research has shown that mustard seeds can be an effective treatment for psoriasis and other forms of inflammation. Mustard seeds have also long been valued in various traditional medicines for their supposed ability to aid in digestion, alleviating cold symptoms, relieving respiratory disorders, reducing aches and pains, and for their antibacterial properties.
Make Your Own Mustard
Yes, you can use mustard seeds to make your own mustard — and it’s really easy to do! To make your own mustard, you will need an airtight container, 1/2 cup mustard powder, 3-4 tablespoons mustard seeds (keep in mind the flavors of each color), 3 tablespoons vinegar (apple cider vinegar or white vinegar), 1/2 cup water, and a pinch of salt.
First, soak the mustard seeds overnight. Drain the seeds, then blend them or crush them using a mortar and pestle. Once the seeds have broken down, add all other ingredients except for the vinegar and blend again. Let the mixture sit for at least 15 minutes, then add vinegar and stir to combine. Transfer to an airtight container. At this point, your homemade mustard won’t taste like mustard. Let it sit in the fridge for a few days.
Finally, if you want to add any special flavors to your mustard, such as sweetener, hot sauce, or herbs like dill, tarragon, or oregano, you may do so at this point.
Mustard seeds are a common ingredient in European and Asian cooking to make dishes like curry, dal, but can easily be incorporated into stir-fried vegetable dishes. If you are going to cook with mustard seeds, be sure to toast them first, otherwise, they will taste too bitter.
In this Easy Potato Curry With Star Anise Rice, these Indian Golden Mashed Potatoes With Curried Gravy, this Tangy Lentils With Curry Leaves, this South Indian-Style Kurma, and these Indian Chickpea Tacos With Cucumber Raita, mustard seeds are tempered with onion at the start of the dish, which helps release their essential oil, resulting in stronger flavor.
Tempering mustards seeds is a great way to add flavor to any vegetable dish, as in these Coconut Milk Braised Collard Greens, this Spicy Mushroom Stir-Fry, this Sautéed Broccoli Rabe, these Green Beans With Toasted Mustard Seeds and Garlic, and these Stir-Fried Beets With Ginger and Lime. For more ideas on where you can incorporate mustard seeds, see our veggie stir-fry recipes page. Keep in mind, mustard seeds pair well with cumin, coriander, fennel, curry leaf, dill, oregano, and tarragon.
Finally, you can use mustard seeds are often part of the pickling process! If you’ve never tried pickling at home, it’s easy — just read Beyond the Cucumber: All You Ever Wanted to Know About Pickling. Or, try these Quick Bread and Butter Pickles, these Icelandic Pickled Beets, or these Super-Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles. They are also used in the Indian pickling process, as in this Indian Green Apple Pickle, this Indian Radish Pickle, and this Indian Pickled Potato and Cauliflower. You can also use whole mustard seeds in this Ayurvedic Sauerkraut.
Where you buy your mustard seeds depends on what type you are looking for. If standard yellow mustard seeds work for your tastes, then you can find them in just about any grocery store. If you are looking for black, brown, or Chinese mustard seeds, then your best bet is going to be at an Indian grocery store. Otherwise, you can buy all kinds of mustard seeds online.
For yellow, which is good for cooking and making American mustard, try these Frontier Co-op Organic Yellow Mustard Seeds. A 1-pound bag costs about $12. For brown, which can be used for tempering, pickling and making Dijon mustard, try this Starwest Botanicals Organic Brown Mustard Seeds. This 1-pound bag costs $13.18. For black, which is good for all purposes, go for these Jiva Organic Black Mustard Seeds. You can pick up this 7-ounce bag for $7.49.
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