One of the oldest spices and one of the most widely used, "mustard" was initially the word for an English condiment dating back to the 1200s; eventually the plant and seeds from which it was derived took on the same name. The paste was so named because it was made by blending an unfermented wine called must with the ground seeds of the "senvy plant".
Three species of leafy plants that are now broadly known as "mustard greens", from the family that includes broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, are grown for their seeds: Brassica alba (white mustard), Brassica nigra (black mustard) and Brassica juncea (brown mustard). White seeds, whose skin has been removed, are mild and a good preservative; black are smaller and more pungent; and brown fall somewhere between the two. The seeds have no aroma but taste sharp and fiery, especially upon heating.
As a whole spice, ground or bought in a condiment, the flavour of mustard seed is ubiquitous from Bombay to Boston. The Chinese were onto it millennia ago and the ancient Greeks considered it a common spice and preparation for sore muscles. In a New Testament parable, Jesus uses the seed as a model for the Kingdom of God – the message being essentially that "from little things, big things grow".
In India, mustard seeds are used in an array of dishes. The brown seed is an ingredient in spice blends, curry powders and pastes, but is also used whole, the seeds fried in ghee until they pop. This produces a milder, nuttier seed that can be used as a garnish.
Use mustard seed in ...
pickling, toasted whole for curries, mixed with other ground spices to make a paste, fried in oil and drizzled over Indian dishes as a garnish; crushed with fennel and coriander seeds, salt and pepper to coat pan-fried fish or meats; powdered in mayonnaise, sauces, dressings, marinades and rubs; in vegetable dishes such as sauerkraut and Bombay potatoes; in devilled eggs and other egg or cheese-based dishes.
Mustard seed goes with ...
beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fish, potato, onion, garlic, tomato, leafy greens, lentils, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, chilli, parsley, cream, eggs, cheese, milk, coconut, pasta, mango, banana.