Mustard Fields Forever

By Patricia B. Mitchell


French's Classic Yellow and Gulden's Spicy Brown share a supermarket shelf.

When I was gowing up out in the country one of the prettiest sights to see was a field of mustard greens almost “gone to seed,” their jaunty little flowers creating a yellow meadow.

Besides being pretty, mustard plants provide edible greens and seeds for flavoring. The seeds have also been used to make mustard plaster, a paste of powdered mustard, spread on a cloth and applied to the skin as a counter-irritant and rubefacient. Our main interest, for the purpose of this article, however, is mustard's use as a condiment. (Incidentally, the recorded use of mustard as both a condiment and a medicine goes back to the year 75 A. D.)

There are three types of culinary mustard plants: white or yellow mustard (Brassica hirta [or B. alba]), brown or Oriental mustard (B. juncea), and black mustard (B. nigra).

White or yellow mustard seeds (B. hirta) are used in making the “hot dog-type” mustard so near and dear to the ballparks and palates of many Americans.

Brown or Oriental mustard seeds are used in Chinese mustard, and also in Dijon, German, and hot-tasting English mustards.

Black mustard seeds are used less frequently commercially because the plants grow to different heights, making mechanical harvesting of the seed pods difficult. The seeds are flavorful, but, interestingly, lack aroma. White/yellow mustard seeds also have no aroma, but brown mustard seeds do have a characteristic smell.

Mustard inhibits the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds. While such a health benefit has long been appreciated, the peppy flavor alone makes mustard desirable.

In order to make a condiment out of the seeds, ground or crushed mustard seeds are mixed with some sort of liquid such as water, or wine, or beer, or vinegar. To this paste can be added all sorts of herbs, spices, or other ingredients which strike the maker's fancy (horseradish, jalapeño peppers, lemon peel, brown sugar, honey, chutney, etc., etc.).

There are a vast number of types and store brands of mustard from which to choose (and of course you could make the condiment yourself…). In the category of yellow mustard, French's is a popular brand. That company also makes a spicy brown mustard. Dijon-style is another type. French's makes that kind, as does (Kraft's) Grey Poupon. Coleman's is an extremely popular prepared yellow mustard, both here and in England, where it originated.

Much of the mustard seed crop used commercially in this country and in Europe is grown on the West Coast and on the Great Plains of the United States. Consumers probably do not need to worry about a mustard shortage. Planting two pounds of white/yellow mustard seeds will produce a half-billion second generation mustard seeds on one acre of land in a good year.