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Brassica juncea

Family : Cruciferae


Mustard is any of several herbs belonging to the mustard family of plants, Cruciferae, or the condiment made from these plants' pungent seeds. The leaves and swollen leaf stems of mustard plants are also used, as greens, or potherbs. The brown, or oriental mustard (Brassica juncea), is of Himalayan origin. Mustard is unusual among spices in that it is mainly grown in the temperate regions of the world, principally on the Canadian and American Great Plains, in Hungary and in Britain, and in lesser amounts in other countries. Mustard has featured in history and literature since early times. The use of mustard seeds as a spice has been known from the earliest recorded times and is described in Indian and Sumerian texts dating back to 3000 BC. Mustard plants are mentioned frequently in Greek and Roman writings and in the Bible. Mustard seed was used medicinally by Hippocrates, among other ancient physicians. During the 20th century, the use of mustard as a spice or condiment has grown to the extent that it is by far the largest spice by volume in world trade. During the Middle Ages, mustard was introduced into Spain by Arab traders, and it was soon carried throughout Europe. The word mustard comes from the Latin mustum or must, the name for the grape juice used to mix the ground seeds to a paste.


Brown mustard seeds are not as pungent as the black seeds. From very small seedlings, the mustard plants grow rapidly and enter a phase of dense flowering; the blooms have an intense yellow colour. The plants reach their full height of 1.5 to 2 m (5 to 6 1/2 feet) as their flowers fade and after numerous green seedpods have appeared on their branches. The plants produce flowers which are a pale yellow, and seed pods, which are larger than other types. The pods of brown mustard contain up to 20 seeds each, those of white mustard contain up to 8 seeds. Mustard plants are easy and inexpensive to grow; they flourish on many different types of soil, suffer from unusually few insect pests or plant diseases, and tolerate extremes of weather without serious harm.

Aroma and flavour

Mustard seeds are nearly globular in shape, finely pitted, odourless when whole, and pungent-tasting. They are about 2.5 mm in diameter but are a darker yellow in colour. The seeds contain about 30 to 40 percent vegetable oil, a slightly smaller proportion of protein, and a strong enzyme called myrosinase. When dry or when ground into a flour, the seeds are odourless, but when the seed is chewed or when the flour is mixed with water, the water causes a chemical reaction between two of the constituents within mustard, an enzyme and a glucoside, and produces an oil that is not present as such in the plant. This volatile oil of mustard has a pungent, irritating odour and an acrid taste. Mustard seed also contain a natural mucilagenous substance, a linear acidic polysaccharide, in the bran of the seed which exhibits thickening and emulsification properties.

Culinary use

Mustard is an indispensable ingredient in cooking. As a condiment, mustard is sold in three forms: as seeds, as dry powder that is freshly mixed with water for each serving to obtain the most aroma and flavour, and as a paste that is blended with other spices, vinegar or wine, and starch or flour to tone down the sharpness. The whole whit seeds are mainly used both for pickles and in the meat industry. The brown seeds are used throughout India in currry powders and in spiced ghee. Mustard is widely used as a condiment with various foods, particularly cold meats, sausages, and salad dressings. It is also used as an ingredient in mayonnaises, sauces, and pickles. The mustard oil is used for food or for industrial purposes, with the residual cake used for animal feed.

Medicinal and other use

Mustard is a stimulant and it is used to relieve respiratory complaints and rheumatism. It stimulates the kidneys and is also given as a laxative and emetic. A gargle of mustard seed in hot water is helpful in the relief of sore throats and bronchitis. Bathing in a few spoonfuls of mustard powder is said to relieve muscular aches and pains. Mustard plasters were formerly used in medicine for their counterirritant properties in treating chest colds.


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