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Mustard Seeds

Of the many varieties of mustard, the three most prominent are the tiny, round, brownish-black seeds from the plant known as Brassica nigra, commonly known as black mustard, the purple-brown seeds of Brassica juncea, commonly called brown mustard, (pictured below) and the yellow seeds from Brassica alba, known as white or yellow mustard, (also pictured below). mustard seeds

Black and brown mustard seeds look so similar that they are often confused with one another. Brown mustard seeds, Brassica juncea, are commonly used as a spice seed in Indian cuisine where they are known as rai.

In South Indian cuisine brown mustard seeds are fried in hot oil or ghee to extract their nutty, pungent flavour before being added to soups, chutneys or vegetables dishes.

In Bengali cuisine, mustard seeds are one of the five ingredients in the whole spice blend known as panch puran. Two famous Bengali stewed dishes, laphra and shukta both use ground mustard seeds, yielding a pleasantly pungent taste more reminiscent of the European style of mustard.

Yellow mustard seeds (Brassica alba), are less pungent than the darker varieties and are commonly used in European cuisine as a pickling spice. They are strongly preservative, discouraging moulds and bacteria, hence their inclusion in pickles. These yellow mustard seeds are generally not used in Asian cuisine, except in China where a mustard dipping sauce similar to the European variety is made.

When mustard seeds are pounded, they form the basis of immense varieties of commercial brands of the condiment known as mustard. Different varieties of mustard are made from different combinations of hulled and unhulled yellow or brown seeds.

It is interesting to note that the pungency of mustard is due to an essential oil which is not present in the seed or the powder, but which forms when the crushed seed is mixed with water. An enzyme then causes a bitter substance in the seed to react with the water, and the hot taste of the mustard emerges.

Yellow mustard seeds are available from supermarkets and grocers, and brown or black mustard seeds are available at Indian grocery stores.

For an extensive list of CONDIMENT AND SPICE terminology in Hindi, Tamil and Kannada, click here.

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