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16 Interesting Facts About Mustard Seed

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Mustard seed refers to the small seeds of the mustard plant. It is commonly used as a spice in various cuisines around the world. Mustard seeds can be black, brown, or yellow, and they have a pungent and slightly bitter taste. They are often ground into a powder and used as a condiment or added to dishes for flavoring. Mustard seeds are also used in the production of mustard oil. In addition to culinary uses, mustard seeds have been used in traditional medicine for their potential health benefits.

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1. Mustard seeds have been used since ancient times

Mustard seeds are one of the oldest spices known to humans. There is evidence that mustard seeds were used in Indian and Sumerian cuisine dating back to 3000 BCE. They are also mentioned in ancient Greek, Roman, and Biblical texts.

The use of mustard seeds as a spice and medicinal herb spans thousands of years across many cultures and civilizations. Their distinct flavor and purported health benefits have cemented their status as a beloved culinary staple worldwide.

2. There are 3 main types of mustard seeds

The 3 primary types of mustard seeds are:

  • Black mustard seeds (Brassica nigra): Originating in South Asia, these seeds have the strongest flavor and heat.
  • Brown mustard seeds (Brassica juncea): Native to the Himalayan region of India, these seeds have a milder flavor.
  • White/yellow mustard seeds (Brassica hirta/Sinapis alba): These have the mildest flavor, originating in the Mediterranean region.

Each variety has a distinct flavor profile and heat intensity that lends itself to different culinary applications. The versatility of mustard seeds is showcased across various global cuisines.

3. Mustard seeds grow well in temperate climates

Unlike most spices that hail from tropical regions, mustard is a cool weather crop that thrives in temperate zones with long, hot summers and cold winters.

Some of the top producers today include:

CountryPercent of Global Production
Canada28%
Nepal15%
Russia15%
Ukraine10%
China4%

The success of mustard agriculture relies heavily on ideal moisture, temperature, and sunlight exposure throughout the growing season.

4. Mustard seeds are nutritionally dense

These tiny seeds deliver a powerful nutritional punch. Some of the key nutrients and compounds found in mustard seeds include:

  • Protein
  • Fibers
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Potent antioxidants like carotenes, zeaxanthin, and lutein

Consuming mustard seeds, especially regularly, can provide some great health benefits like improved heart health, reduced inflammation, and antioxidant effects.

5. Mustard seeds have antimicrobial effects

Mustard seeds contain certain compounds, namely glucosinolates and myrosinase enzymes, that exhibit natural antimicrobial properties.

The myrosinase enzymes break down sinigrin, a glucosinolate found abundantly in mustard seeds, into allyl isothiocyanate (AITC). Studies show that AITC has antibacterial and antifungal effects against foodborne pathogens like E.coliSalmonellaAspergillus, etc.

Thus, mustard seeds may help prevent spoilage and foodborne illnesses when incorporated into various foods.

6. The mustard plant produces lovely yellow flowers

The mustard plant develops delicate yellow flowers during the summer months of June-July. These flowers contain nectar that attracts bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects.

Once pollinated, the flowers produce long, slender seed pods over the next 2 months. These pods burst open when ripe, scattering the seeds onto the ground below to propagate future generations of mustard plants.

7. Mustard seeds are used to produce mustard oil

While most people associate mustard seeds with the condiment of the same name, they are also commonly pressed to extract mustard oil.

This oil has been used for centuries in Asian and Eastern European cuisines as a cooking oil, salad dressing ingredient, and marinade component. In India, it is traditionally called sarson ka tel.

However, some varieties of mustard oils have high levels of erucic acid and glucosinolates that may cause health concerns. Food regulations in many countries have banned mustard oil for edible purposes due to these compounds.

8. Mustard plasters were historically used in folk medicine

In traditional medical practices across many cultures, poultices and plasters made from mustard seeds and powder were applied topically to treat inflammatory conditions and infections.

Mustard plasters were placed on the chest to relieve congestion, on the joints to ease arthritis pain, and on other affected areas as a counterirritant. The compounds in mustard seeds cause mild skin irritation, bringing blood flow to the surface.

However, this traditional remedy may cause burns for some people. Modern medicine does not recommend mustard plasters today.

9. Mustard seeds are banned in some countries

Despite their long history of use, mustard seeds and products have been banned for import and sale in some countries due to invasive weed concerns.

For example, New Zealand has imposed extensive restrictions regarding the entry of mustard seeds since the 1970s. Several species including black, brown, and white mustard belong to the country’s unwanted organisms register.

Such regulations intend to prevent mustard seeds from establishing troublesome wild populations that outcompete native species.

10. A Bible passage uses mustard seeds metaphorically

In the Bible, Jesus tells the Parable of the Mustard Seed to highlight the power of faith. He refers to mustard seeds as the “smallest of all seeds on earth”.

Yet when planted, this tiny seed grows into an expansive bush that birds can take shelter in. Though beginning humbly, the mustard seed holds remarkable potential.

This biblical story uses mustard seeds as a metaphor to illustrate that the Kingdom of God may start small initially but will eventually grow and spread God’s blessings everywhere.

11. Mustard seeds were found in King Tut’s tomb

When King Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered remarkably intact in 1922, archaeologists found traces of mustard seeds among the precious items placed to aid the Egyptian ruler in the afterlife.

This suggests that over 3,300 years ago, mustard seeds held cultural and religious significance in ancient Egyptian society. Their presence in King Tut’s tomb indicates they were a prized commodity.

12. Mustard seeds were once believed to have magical properties

In medieval times, myths and folklore surrounding mustard seeds arose across Europe. Scattering mustard seeds around one’s home was thought to protect against evil spirits and demons.

German tradition used mustard seeds in love divinations. A single woman would plant mustard seeds to judge a suitor’s love and fidelity. If he nurtured the growing plant, his love was true. But if the plant withered, so would their romance.

13. Mustard seeds add heat through a chemical reaction

The compounds responsible for giving mustard seeds their signature spice and heat are not activated until they come in contact with moisture.

Whole mustard seeds have relatively mild flavor. But when they are crushed, combined with water or vinegar, and agitated, a chemical reaction occurs between an enzyme called myrosinase and a compound called sinigrin, resulting in the formation of allyl isothiocyanate.

This reaction happens more readily at room temperature compared to colder temperatures. And acidic environments allow more allyl isothiocyanate to form, yielding spicier mustard.

14. The earliest mustards originated in France

The origins of prepared mustard date back to ancient Rome. But mustard as the familiar yellow condiment we know today arose in France during the 13th century.

Pope John XXII, who loved mustard, appointed the first “Grand Moutardier du Pape” or Grand Mustard Maker to the Pope. This spurred Dijon mustard’s evolution from its crude beginnings into a more refined, complex flavor we associate with Dijon mustard today.

15. Canada produces the most mustard seeds globally

Canada has emerged as the top producer of mustard seeds worldwide, accounting for about 28% of total global production. Favorable agroclimatic conditions across the Canadian prairies support extensive mustard cultivation.

Saskatchewan dominates Canada’s mustard production, earning its nickname “Mustard Province.” The city of Saskatoon even hosts an annual Mustard Festival each August to celebrate this iconic crop.

16. There are mustard seed museums

Given all the fascinating history and lore surrounding mustard, it is no wonder some enthusiasts have created entire museums devoted to this humble seed.

The Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin claims to hold the world’s largest collection of mustards and mustard memorabilia. Visitors can explore various mustard exhibits and sample different flavors from sweet to spicy.


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