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Also Known as
Tiny, mustard seeds have an interesting bite and they contribute to the exotic flavor and aroma of Indian food. If you are like most people, the word "mustard" probably conjures up images of ballparks and barbeques. Yet, once you add mustard seeds to your spice cabinet, the word will take on a whole new meaning, as you will also relish the spicy, aromatic rustic taste and fragrance that mustard can add to your meals. Mustard seeds are from the mustard plant, which is a cruciferous vegetable related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
While there are approximately forty different varieties of mustard plants, there are three principal types used to make mustard seeds:
White Mustard (Brassica alba or Brassica hirta) is a round hard seed, beige or straw coloured. Its light outer skin is removed before sale. With its milder flavour and good preservative qualities, this is the one that is most commonly used in ballpark mustard and in pickling.
Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) is a round hard seed, varying in colour from dark brown to black, smaller and much more pungent than the white.
Brown Mustard (Brassica juncea) is similar in size to the black variety and vary in colour from light to dark brown. It is more pungent than the white, less than the black.
How to Select
Mustard seeds are the most commonly utilised form of mustard in Indian cooking, with the powder rarely, if ever, being used. Most markets carry mustard seeds in several forms, including whole, ground and powdered.
· Tadka or Tempering is a cooking method in which cooking oil is heated till very hot and whole spices are added to it and fried. This oil and spice mix is then added as a final touch or garnish to the dish. In Indian cooking, Rai/ Sarson is often part of the Tadka in a dish. The flavor of mustard seeds adds nice and mild aroma.
· In India, the seeds are often toasted until they split open much like popcorn does. Beware overcooking the seeds as they will burn and turn bitter.
· Mustard Seed's hot and spicy flavor enhances meats, fish, fowl, sauces, and salad dressings. Whole Mustard Seed may be used in pickling or in boiling vegetables such as cabbage or sauerkraut. Brown Mustard Seeds are an important flavoring in Indian dishes
· The brown /black mustard seeds are commonly used as dried spices, especially in South Indian cooking where they are known as rai.
· The seeds are fried in hot ghee or oil till they pop, sputter and turn gray when they release their nutty, pungent flavor. They are usually fried with other fresh or dried spices like cumin, asafetida, chilies and turmeric before they are added to other Indian food like to dals, curries or vegetable dishes.
· Brown Mustard seeds are also used as a garnishing spice when they are dry roasted or sautéed in oil with whole red chilies and fresh coconut and then sprinkled on steamed vegetables or on dal or lentils.
· A pinch of mustard seeds certainly enhances salad dressings and can be used in all foods needing a bit of flavor. In Indian food, mustard seeds are often used to complement potato, cabbage and green beans.
How to Store
Store whole mustard seeds in airtight containers in a cool, dry place up to one year; ground and powdered mustard up to six months
· Mustard not only stimulates the appetite by increasing salivation by up to eight times, it also has digestive, laxative, antiseptic, and circulative stimulant properties.
· As a digestive aid in moderation, mustard neutralizes toxins and helps ward off an upset stomach. However, too much can be an irritant.
· Mustard also contains sulphur, which has been used as a treatment for skin diseases.
· Mustard plasters or poultices have been applied to the chest to aid in clearing the sinuses and decongest the lungs.
· Mustard greens are not recommended for those with thyroid problems as they can cause the thyroid to increase in size.