Mustard can be both used as a spice and as a condiment. this article includes information about the mustard plant, a brief history of mustard and other interesting background information on mustard.
The mustard plant and its seeds.
The mustard plant has vivid yellow flowers, each flower having four petals and generally flowers in early spring.
Mustard is a member of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family as is Horseradish. The name Cruciferae which is the older name for the family, refers to the four petals growing in the shape of a cross.
The mustard seeds grow in pods and are anywhere between 1 and 3 mm in diameter dependant on the type of mustard.
In ideal growing conditions which are cold and damp, the mustard seeds germinate within a week. In the commercial world, mustard plants are allowed to mature into bushes from which the pods containing the mustard seeds are harvested.
Varieties of mustard seeds, colours and tastes
There is a wide variety of mustard seeds, however from the culinary perspective only three types are in prominent use. White, brown and black mustard seeds. All have a fiery taste but to different degrees.
White mustard seeds
White mustard seeds (sometimes called yellow mustard) vary in colour from a pale yellow, almost off white to light brown, they are very hard, almost spherical and vary in size between 1 to 2 mm in diameter
The pods of Sinapis alba, the white mustard plant, grow vertically, are hairy and contain a maximum of 6 seeds. White mustard seeds do not have the pungent odour of other mustard seeds and although they do have a sharp taste, it is not as strong as others.
White mustard is cultivated for two purposes. Agricultural and culinary use.
Black mustard seeds
Black mustard seeds are almost black in colour. They are very small with a thin brittle but hard shell.
Unlike white mustard, the pods of the Brassica nigra plant are smooth and contain up to 12 of the tiny seeds which are about 1 mm in size.
Black mustard seeds have the most pungent and sharpest taste.
Brown mustard seeds
Brown seeds are often referred to as Indian Mustard and are the produce of the Brassica juncea plant. In colour, these seeds vary from a light to a dark brown and are very similar in size to black mustard seeds.
Their taste is sharp and hot but not to the same degree as black mustard seeds.
General information about mustard
The origin of the word mustard
The name mustard emerged from the variety of English dialects spoken between the eleventh and the middle of the fifteenth century. Mustard was then known as moustarde, a combination of the old French words moust and ardens.
Most English names are associated with a place or occupation. Mustard or Moustarde is thought to have referred to someone who dealt in or traded in spices.
The producers of mustard seed
The European Union is the world’s largest mustard seed producer and accounts for 34% of the world’s production. Following in descending order are China with 23%, Canada with 19%, India producing 14% and the Ukraine producing 5% of the world’s mustard seed production.
Further information can be found in this year’s Mustard Seed Report.
Allergies to mustard
Some people are allergic to mustard though according to the Food Standards Agency it is quite a rare occurrence in the UK as opposed to mainland Europe and in particular France.
The UK Food Standards Agency have an excellent section on food intolerance. This link will take you to the mustard allergy page.
Use this link for additional technical information on mustard allergy on the EEC funded ‘Infomall’ website which is specifically about allergenic foods and very detailed.
A brief history of mustard
Mustard as a crop is believed to have been first cultivated approximately 5 thousand years ago in India though possibly originating in the Mediterranean.
References to mustard being used as a spice, condiment and herbal medicine can be found in most of the great civilisations and religious works. These records seem to start about two and a half thousand years ago.
This brief history of mustard recounts the most famous.
Mustard and the Romans
The late 4th century Roman equivalent of today’s cookbooks entitled ‘Apicius’ includes a recipe for a condiment that used ground mustard mixed with other spices and herbs in wine.
Greek mustard records
Pythagoras (circa 565 – 490 BC) the famous Greek mathematician and scientist is known to have used mustard to counteract scorpion stings.
Hippocrates (circa 460 to 365 BC) regarded as the father of modern medicine, used mustard as a treatment for toothache and in poultices. The oath known as the Hippocratic Oath is taken by all newly qualified doctors today.
English references and mustard events
In the 17th century, the town of Tewkesbury in the UK became famous for its mustard although mustard had been made there since the 15th century.
Tewkesbury mustard was originally made in the form of solid balls which were made out of a mixture of ground mustard seed, plain flour and horseradish. The mustard balls were dried and then sold.
In the 18 century, Mrs. Clements invented the method of preparing mustard flour or powder, which was known for a long time as Durham Mustard. This method extracted the full flavour from the seed, and Durham Mustard became hugely popular.
Falstaff in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV states ‘his wit’s as thick as Tewkesbury Mustard’
Spiritual references to mustard
The parable of the mustard seed is narrated in three of the four traditional Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke. The fact that the tiny mustard seed grows into a large plant is compared to the growth of the faith and the Kingdom of God.
Mustard is also referenced in the Quran where the tiny size of the mustard seed is used to practically illustrate the smallest injustice and that God will judge everything no matter how small on the Day of Judgement.
As mustard is a very common spice, Buddha told a grieving mother who wanted to find a cure for death, to find a handful of mustard seeds from a household that has never lost a family member or friend. Being unable to fulfil the request, she learnt that death is a common event to everyone.
How we use mustard seeds
We use mustard seeds to make our range of mustard condiments. We also use them in our Indian pickles.
The statement that we use mustard seeds to make the condiment may seem like an odd thing to say. Not all mass produced mustards do! Some use vinegar to achieve the taste and turmeric for the colour.
The condiment mustard
We use various varieties (Usually black, white and brown) of mustard seeds. Different mixtures of mustard seeds are used dependant on the mustard being made.
If the mustard is a smooth variety as opposed to a wholegrain mustard, we grind the seeds into a powder or flour before mixing it with fluids like honey, cider, beer, vinegar, water or wine to make the individual base mustard.
Once herbs and spices have been blended with the base mustard, it is allowed to mature for several weeks to enable the full taste, texture and aroma to develop before it is bottled.
We currently make two types of Indian pickle though there are others are in the making. Mild Lime Pickle and Lemon Pickle.
We use split mustard seeds in both which soften during the six to eight week maturing process so they are easy to eat!
The Old Hatfield Pickle Co’s range of mustards
The Old Hatfield Pickle Co’s range of mustard condiments is growing as they blend new mustard flavours to compliment different foods and culinary uses.
Their mustards tend to have subtle flavours and generally are of a mild to medium hotness. the Old Hatfield Pickle Co believe that mustard should enhance and complement the food it’s being eaten with rather than obliterate its taste.
That’s not to say that their mustards are meek and mild! The range includes traditional English mustard and another based on an Elizabethan recipe. Both could be described as quite warm!
We make our mustard in the traditional way in small batches allowing plenty of time for them to mature before they are offered up for sale.
The following make up our mustard range. Golden Honey, Clove Spiced, Spicy Tamarind, Tarragon and Paprika, and a Fine Herb Reserve mustard.
Mustard, compiled by the folks at the Old Hatfield Pickle Co.