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Tiny little mustard seeds, mostly added as a tempering, lend an interesting bite, exotic flavour and tempting aroma to Indian foods. 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. The seed is first processed to remove the outer skin before it is commercially sold. It has a mild flavour and good preservative qualities, which makes it good for making ballpark mustard and in pickling.
Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) is a round hard seed, varying in colour from dark brown to black. It is smaller and much more pungent than the white variety. It is used to season foods, mostly added as a tempering or as a powder.
Brown Mustard (Brassica juncea) is similar in size to the black variety and varies in colour from light to dark brown. It is more pungent than the white, less than the black, and is once again used to temper and season foods.
How to Select
• Most markets carry mustard seeds in several forms, including whole, ground and powdered.
• Look for clean seeds, without contamination by stones, dirt and grit.
• Check the seal of the package and the expiry date.
• Tadka or tempering is a method of seasoning, in which seeds and spices are added to cooking oil heated to almost smoking point. This causes the seeds and spices to crackle, bringing out their full flavour. This tempering is then added to foods as a finishing touch. Mustard seeds, along with cumin seeds, turmeric powder, asafoetida, etc., are commonly used to temper south and north Indian foods.
• A tempering of mustard is indispensable in all south Indian foods, be it a curry, chutney, sambhar or rasam.
• The seeds are dry roasted till they split open, and then added whole or powdered to pickles. When roasting the mustard, beware of overcooking the seeds as they will burn and turn bitter.
• In international cuisine, whole mustard seeds are used in pickling or in boiling vegetables such as cabbage or sauerkraut.
• It is also used as an ingredient in mayonnaise, vinaigrette, marinades and barbecue sauce.
• Mustard seeds are used to prepare salad dressings when combined with vinegar and/or olive oil.
How to Store
• Because of its antibacterial properties, whole grain mustard does not require refrigeration; it will not grow mould, mildew or harmful bacteria.
• However, the seeds tend to lose their pungency soon if not stored in a tightly sealed, sterilized container in a cool, dark place.
• If stored under such conditions, whole mustard seeds last for up to a year, while ground and powdered mustard lasts for 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 circulation improving properties.
• As a digestive aid in moderation, mustard neutralizes toxins and helps ward off an upset stomach. However, too much can be an irritant. This is why it is commonly added as a tempering to most foods, especially the hard-to-digest ones.
• Whole grain mustard seeds are a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as calcium, dietary fibre, iron, manganese, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, protein, selenium and zinc.