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Mustard Seeds, Black

English Name:                                        Mustard Seeds - there are three main varieties eaten - black, brown and yellow/white

Hindi Name:                                        Rai

Sanskrit Name:                                        Siddharthaka, Rajika

Latin Name:                                        black – brassica nigra, brown – brassica juncea, white/yellow – brassica alba or brassica hirta

Plant Family:                                        Brassicaceae

Region Grown:                                        Area covered is around 6.5 million hectares, about 20% of the world's crop.

Part of Plant Used:                                        Seeds – the leaves of this plant are also eaten in India.

Plant Description:                                        Annual plant with yellow flowers that grows up to around 5 feet tall. They flourish on all types of soil and are one of the easier crops to grow.

Characteristics:                                        In rising order of pungency the seeds are white, brown, and then black. Often there is not much distinction drawn between the black and brown seeds and the two are used interchangeably. Black seeds probably originated in the Mediterranean region, whilst brown seeds hail from the Himalayas – both are grown in India. Black seeds are hardly grown in Europe anymore, and, in general, brown have largely replaced them as the crop of preference as they are more suited to mechanized cropping. Mustard plants are commonly consumed in five different ways. As mentioned, the leaves can be eaten, sometimes raw sometimes cooked. Mustard oil is very common, especially in India. It is used both as a food and industrially, and the majority of mustard grown in India is for oil. Many Indian dishes and pickles can not be prepared authentically without mustard oil as its flavour has a certain unique flavour. In the UK and the USA mustard oil can not legally be sold as a food. When you see it in shops, it will have ‘for external use only’ or some such written on the label. It is, however, in no way different to the mustard oil that the Indians use to cook with.  Such labeling falls into the category of ‘loophole’ and should not put you off cooking with it, should you wish so to do. The two most common ways the mustard plant is consumed in Europe and the US is as mustard powder or the condiment ‘mustard’. Mustard powder is simply the ground seeds, and the usual varieties for sale are from the white seeds. Mustard is made from adding water or wine to the powder, sometimes with vinegar and a variety of spices and flavourings. English and American mustards use white seeds, whilst French mustards tend to use black seeds. Aside of the oil, the use of them that is of most interest in Indian cooking is as the whole seed. The whole character of their flavour is changed when they are cooked whole. They can be roasted, but are more commonly dropped into the hot oil. Instead of the sharp fiery taste that we associate with mustard, the flavour becomes much more rounded and ‘woody’. When fried, the seeds make a satisfying audible pop (well, we like it, anyway!) and become slightly grayish in colour. The black mustard seeds are a part of Panch Phoran, and are mixed in whole not ground. Mustard seeds are usually used in conjunction with other spices, but my cousin makes a delicious carrot dish by simply frying up a load of black seeds in some ghee and then stirring in some par boiled carrots.

Aroma:                                        Whole mustard seeds have no aroma, but have a slightly nutty aroma when fried.

History:                                        Mustard seeds are one of the oldest and widely used spices in the world. The Sumerians were the first people to start writing, and they mention mustard as early as 3000BC. Ancient Indian texts also mention mustard and are nearly as old. The Greeks and Romans were big users of mustard. In the sixth century BC Pythagoras wrote that mustard was a treatment for scorpion bites. One hundred years later, Hippocrates valued it highly in a number of treatments, and Aristophanes wrote of its culinary use in stews. In 4th century BC, King Darius of Persia sent Alexander the Great a sack of sesame seeds to try and intimidate him with allusions to the vastness of his army. Alexander’s response was short and to the point: he sent a sack of mustard seed, not only signifying a larger army – more of the smaller seed would fit in a sack, but their fiery nature as well.  Pliny, the Roman 1st century writer, ‘knew’ of 40 different uses for it, including the apparent improvement of lazy wives!

Points of Interest:                                        The plant came to be known as ‘mustard’ after the condiment. The Romans used to make mustard by adding the ground seeds to ‘must’, which was a young wine – verjus. Mustard is the second most commonly used spice in America, and by volume it is the largest spice in world trade. Mustard powder itself is not pungent or hot until it is mixed with cold liquid. The heat is caused by a chemical reaction between myrosin and sinigrin in black mustard, or sinalbin in white mustard, in the presence of cold liquid, which, in each case, produces an essential oil with the qualities we associate with mustard. This is a protection mechanism for the plants. The essential oil would poison the plant, so it is only created when the animal takes a bite from the plant and starts to chew upon the seeds. The mustard powder and water will get hotter and hotter over a period of about fifteen minutes. Adding vinegar will stop the reaction, so it stops getting hotter. Interestingly, using warm liquid does not cause this reaction to happen as heat destroys some of the enzymes needed for it. This is why frying the seeds in hot oil, as the Indians do, does not make the dish hot and pungent, the condiment mustard needs to be added for that. The heat is different from chilli in that it travels up the nose and then dissipates quickly. The heat from chilli stays in the mouth and throat and does not dissipate in the same way, so the effect can build up as you take further mouthfuls.

Ayurvedic Properties:                                         Cooling for vata and kapha, warming for pitta. Has analgesic, antiseptic, emetic, vermicide, expectorant, carminative, rheumatic properties, and is a rubifacient when a ‘liquid’ mustard. Mustard seeds aid digestion, clear congestion, helps with asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, stomach cramps, excess gas, increases appetite, lowers blood pressure. Adding a handful of crushed seeds into your next foot bath will make a welcome difference, as well as refreshing you, it can be used to clear up colds. Gargle with mustard seed infused water to relieve sore throats. Energetics: pungent, bitter taste, heating action

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