Mustard is a highly versatile plant, which lends its fiery flavour to a lot of dishes and condiments through the use of it as both a herb and a spice. Botanically speaking, mustard is a member of the brassica family together with vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli, and as such it comprises a high level of sulphur that’s responsible for the warmth we taste in it, especially in the seeds.
Mustard can be increased either for salad use or for its seeds, which are the primary ingredient of the table condiment which most people think of when they hear the term’mustard’. The greens of the young plant can be eaten in a salad, and have a similar taste to cress, which it is closely associated with. The leaves might be a little strong for use on their own, but make a excellent combination with different salads of character like rocket, baby spinach or watercress.
The majority of us, however, are more comfortable with mustard in the guise of a potently hot yellow paste that we use either in cooking or as a condiment – most famously of course on these regular foods as hot dogs and burgers. Many kinds of table mustard are available, ranging in intensity from the comparatively mild American mustard into the sinus-clearing English variety. German and French mustards have their own distinctive characters, and even within France there are many types available – contrast the conventional, brown-coloured French Mustard with the milder, creamier, paler Dijon variety.
Table mustards are made by grinding the seeds down of this mature mustard plant and mixing the results with a little liquid, usually vinegar, together with a seasoning of salt and pepper, and possibly a little sugar to take the edge off the heat. The strength of the finished mustard depends in part on the type of seeds are used. Black, white and yellow varieties are available, each with various strengths and attributes, and naturally there are many different breeds of mustard plant grown, and each one will have a slightly different flavour.
Many people think that they don’t like the taste of mustard, and it is true it can be something of an acquired taste. If you tried it as a child and have been put off for life, why not give it another go now that you have a more mature and developed sense of taste?
Mustard also has medicinal uses, and has traditionally been made into a poultice and applied to the skin to relieve inflammation, and in the treatment of bronchial problems such as chest colds. If you are tempted to use it in this way, then use a mix of 10% mustard to 90% flour, and blended to a paste with water. Be sure though to avoid applying it to sensitive regions, and take great care to avoid the eyes!
In the end, mustard is commonly used agriculturally, equally as fodder for livestock and as a’green manure’ which can be grown rapidly and then plowed back into the soil to enrich and fertilize it in preparation for growing the main crop the following spring.