Black mustard seed (Brassica nigra)
is hottest of all, while white mustard (B.alba), which is
actually dull yellow, is least hot. B.juncea, an important oil
crop which has brown or reddish-brown seeds, is the variety common in
The white variety is not generally used in
Asia, with the exception of China, where a mustard similar to English
mustard is served as a pungent dipping sauce with certain rich meats.
The powder is mixed with sufficient cold water to form a thin paste and
left for 1 hour to mellow and develop its pungency. It may be stored in
the refrigerator for weeks.
The dark brown or black seeds, used in
Indian and Sri Lankan cooking, are fried in a small amount of oil until
they sputter and turn grey, before other ingredients are added. The
mustard flavors the oil and the seeds are rendered mild and nutty by the
heat. They do not have the characteristic pungency of English mustard.
This is because mustard contains an essential oil which is activated by
an enzyme upon mixing with cold water. It develops its full strength
after being allowed to stand for at least 10 minutes, preferably longer.
In Asia, black mustard is always soaked in
vinegar before grinding, and vinegar inhibits the enzyme, so it is never
as hot as when mixed with water, the English style. Ground mustard
seeds, used in Asian pickles, are mixed with grated fresh ginger, garlic
and sugar to make a vehicle for lightly cooked, well-drained vegetables.
This type of mustard pickle is popular in India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
Mustard is a vital component in the Indian
blend of five whole spice seeds called panch phora. There are few
recipes, mainly from eastern parts of India, in which mustard is used as
the seasoning Western palates know. These are the vegetable stews labra
(laphra) and shukta, and the bite of mustard is surprisingly pleasant
combined with the natural sweetness of vegetables.