Mustard seeds are one of the most underappreciated spices in the U.S. We're pretty much locked into the mindset that mustard means yellow ballpark or maybe an exotic Dijon every once in a while. While the Chinese, French, Indians and even the Brits have a much better understanding of this tasty seasoning. It is much more than just a condiment for hot dogs or burgers!
Also known as Brassica nigra, black mustard, Chinese mustard, and Indian mustard. The earliest recording of mustard usage is in an Indian story of Buddha from 500 BC and the French have used mustard seeds as a spice since 800 AD.
Mustard comes in three varieties – yellow is the most common, brown and black, which is much rarer to find than the first two. Brown mustard seeds start off with a slightly bitter taste but then grow hotter and more aromatic. They are not only more pungent than the more popular yellow mustard seed but they pack a little bit of heat, coming in at around a 3 on a heat scale of 10.
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 and vegetables and stir fries. Knowledgeable cooks keep all three varieties in their spice cabinets.
If you are craving mustard with a bit more bang then black or brown mustard is for you. Brown mustard seeds have a more enhanced flavor and product a more pronounced mustard taste than yellow. Black mustard seeds are more pungent and the flavor even more than that of brown mustard. Black mustard is not found as easily as it once was and has been surpassed by brown mustard in global usage.
Yellow mustard seed is the traditional type most of 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 until they begin to “pop”.
We also like to use whole brown mustard seeds in spice rubs and 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 seeds work 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.
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