It was the condiment, not the plant, that was originally called mustard. The condiment got its name because it was made by grinding the seeds of what was once called the senvy plant into a paste and mixing it with must (an unfermented wine). Mustard is one of the oldest spices and one of the most widely used. The Chinese were using it thousands of years ago and the ancient Greeks considered it an everyday spice. The first medical mention of it is in the Hippocratic writings, where it was used for general muscular relief. The Romans used it as a condiment and pickling spice. King Louis XI would travel with his own royal mustard pot, in case his hosts didn’t serve it. Today, world consumption of mustard tops 400 million pounds.
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.
Whole seeds are included in most pickling spices. Seeds can also be toasted whole and used in some dishes. Powdered mustard is usually made from white mustard seed and is often called mustard flour. When dry, it is as bland as cornstarch — mixed with cool water its pungency emerges after a glucoside and an enzyme have a chance to combine in a chemical reaction (about ten minutes). Don’t use hot water as it will kill the enzyme and using vinegar will stop the reaction so that its full flavour will not develop. Once the essential oils have formed, then other ingredients can be added to enhance the taste: grape juice, lemon or lime juice, vinegar, beer, cider or wine, salt, herbs, etc.
Historically, mustard has always held an important place in medicine. The ancient Greeks believed it had been created by Asclepious, the god of healing, as a gift to mankind. Although the volatile oil of mustard is a powerful irritant capable of blistering skin, in dilution as a liniment or poultice it soothes, creating a warm sensation. Mustard plasters are still used today as counter-irritants.
Over the years mustard has been prescribed for scorpion stings and snake bites, epilepsy, toothache, bruises, stiff neck, rheumatism, colic and respiratory troubles. It is a strong emetic (used to induce vomiting) and rubefacient (an irritant) that draws the blood to the surface of the skin to warm and comfort stiff muscles.
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