Brown Mustard Seeds
Mustard seeds are one of the most unappreciated spices in the U.S. Most Americans are pretty much locked into the mindset that mustard means yellow ballpark or maybe an exotic Dijon every once in a while. In stark contrast, the Chinese, French, Indians and even the Brits have a much better understanding of how to use this tasty seasoning.
Mustard Seeds come from one of three different plants: white mustard (Brassica alba), brown mustard (Brassica juncea) or black mustard (Brassica nigra), White mustard seeds are typically a whitish, tan color and are often referred to yellow mustard seeds. Brown mustard seeds are also known as Indian mustard seeds.
Mustard plants grow in the wild, and food historians believe they were first cultivated in India around 3,000 BC.
Early mustard lore tells the story of the Persian King Darius III (381-330 BC) who received a sack of sesame seeds from his rival Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) to signify the size of his army. King Darius in turn presented a sack of mustard seeds to convey not only the size but also the feistiness of his army.
Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) was not only the Roman Empire's commander of the army and navy, but he was also an author. He created a written recipe that mentions crushing mustard seeds in vinegar; making it one of the first condiments every used. Early Romans would also occasionally use mustard seeds to flavor food (similar to the way that we use freshly cracked pepper) and would crush the seeds on their plates.
Between 400-700 AD, the Romans introduced mustard seeds to the Celtic Gauls (this people lived in the region that is modern day France, Belgium, Luxemburg and parts of Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany). Monks, in what is now modern day France, planted mustard seeds in the grape vineyards and would mix the ground mustard seeds with unfermented wine, known as "must". The word mustard is derived from the Latin phrase "mustum ardens" which roughly translates to "burning wine".
In the 9th century, French monasteries were making significant amounts of mustard for local consumption. Pope John XXII who was the Pope from 1316 until his death in 1334 was such a fan of mustard that he created the post of "Grand Moutardier du Pape" which translates to "Grand Mustard Maker to the Pope".
In the late 1700s, two men from Dijon, France - Maurice Grey and Antoine Poupon, established a company using Grey's mustard recipe and bank rolled by Poupon's money. Their original store still stands in downtown Dijon.
The House of Maille has been making mustard and vinegars since 1747 in Paris. Benjamin Franklin, who was the ambassador to France, is believed to have brought some of their mustard to America when he returned in 1758.
During World War II, mustard seed availability in the US came to a halt. Since that time, mustard has become a major specialty crop in North America. During the 1950s, California and Montana were the major production areas of mustard seeds in the US. In the 1960s, the Upper Midwest began harvesting various types of mustard, and now North Dakota has the largest share of domestic production.
Mustard is an annual herb with seedlings that emerge rapidly, but then mature slowly. With ideal moisture and temperature conditions, mustard plants cover the ground in 4 to 5 weeks. Under drier conditions, the tap roots will grow 5 ft into the soil to efficiently locate stored soil moisture. At maturity, plant height reaches 30" to 45" depending on type, variety, and environmental conditions. Brown mustard typically matures in 90 to 95 days, while white or yellow mustard takes 80 to 85 days.
Mustard comes in three varieties - yellow, the most common, brown and black, which is much harder to find than the first two.
If you are craving mustard with a bit more bite, then black or brown mustard is for you. Brown mustard seeds have an enhanced flavor and produce a more pronounced mustard taste than yellow. Black mustard seeds are more pungent and the flavor is even greater than that of brown mustard seeds. Black mustard is not as easily found as it once was, and has been surpassed by brown mustard in total global usage as the latter is more economically feasible to harvest.
Yellow mustard seed is the traditional type most of us in the US are most familiar with and is typically used in canning, pickling and to make sausage. Brown mustard seeds are hotter and smaller than the yellow seeds, and are used in traditional African and Asian recipes. In India, whole cumin and brown mustard seeds are fried in oil or ghee until they begin to "pop".
Mustard seed's character changes completely when exposed to heat. What begins as a somewhat bitter taste becomes a delightful pungent flavor that adds complexity to curries, roasted meat, roasted vegetables and stir fries. Experienced cooks often keep all three varieties in their spice cabinets.
We like to use ground brown mustard in spice rubs and like to use the whole seeds in marinades for grilling. Once heated, the softened seeds give a wonderful appearance and a savory flavor. For an added twist, use brown mustard seeds in place of yellow in your next pickle brine.
Brown mustard seeds are also a key ingredient in Panch Phoron (also known as Bengali Five Spice).
Brown mustard works especially well in Indian curry dishes when partnered with asafoetida, coriander, cumin, curry leaf and fennel.
You'll also find that they work well when combined with bay, chili powder, dill, fenugreek, garlic, honey, nigella, parsley, pepper, tarragon and turmeric.
Use brown mustard with grilled beef, cabbage, robust cheeses, chicken, fish, seafood and sausages.
In most recipes, black and brown mustard seeds are interchangeable.
Brown mustard seeds start off with a slightly bitter taste but then grow hotter and more aromatic. They also pack a little bit of heat, coming in at around a 3 on a heat scale of 10.
Serving Size1 tsp
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*