About Mustard


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 India.

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.

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