According to food historians, mustard is the oldest condiment known to man. Mustard seeds have been found in the tombs of the ancient Egyptian pharoahs. Botanically, they belong to the brassica family, along with broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
The origins of mustard
According to Barry Levenson, holder of the largest collection of prepared mustards in the world, and curator of The Hount Horeb Mustard Museum, Mount Horeb, WI,“Mustard as we know it (wet mustard), a condiment sauce made from the seeds of the mustard plant in combination with some liquid (water, wine, beer, etc), dates back to the 14th century and perhaps even earlier.”
More than a condiment
Mustard’s uses extend beyond that of a mere spread for bread. The seeds, leaves, and roots has been used as food, fodder, fertilizer, seasonings, medicine, and as a standard of excellence for millennia. Every part of the plant can and has historicially been used. We’ll focus on the seeds for now. Photo credit right: Wikipedia
Mustard in medicine
As medicine, mustard musters up more than 40 restorative properties, from poultices and plasters to infusions, baths, liniments, and antiseptic solutions. Ancient medical texts mention using mustard to treat pulmonary disease, congestion, bronchitis, weak appetite, constipation, digestive weakness, sore throats, tooth aches, hiccups, snake and scorpion bites, skin rashes, scorpion bites, rheumatism, arthritis and many other ailments.
Before the advent of aspirin, people made mustard plasters (aka poultices) and applied them to various body parts to relieve aches and pains. They also used mustard in foot baths and full body baths to increase blood flow to inflamed tissues.
You can find mustard references in the British Pharmacopoeia, ancient and modern Chinese medicine texts, and the writings of some of history’s most renowned healers: sixth century Greek Scientist, Pythagoras (you thought he was only a mathematician?); ancient Greek physician Aesculapius, Hippocrates, John Gerard, author of the Brittish Pharmacopoeia; Nicholas Culpepper, an English botanist, herbalist, physician, and author of The Complete Herbal (1653); and Dr. Bach, known for his famous flower remedies.
Can you cut the mustard?
As a standard of excellence, the eighteenth century phrase,“the proper mustard” meant the genuine article, or real thing. In the 19th century,“keen as mustard” refered to someone who could add something––usually zest––to a situation. In the 20th century, someone who could perform at the required level was “up to mustard,” while someone who failed to keep up or measure up, was described as “unable to cut the mustard.”
Photo credit: Rachel Albert© 2010
* Mustard plants produce about 1,000 pounds of seeds per acre.
* One pound of mustard contains approximately 250,000 seeds.
* In one year at New York's Yankee Stadium, people consume more than 1,600 gallons plus 2,000,000 individual packets of mustard.
* Most of the mustard seeds used in Dijon, France are actually grown in the United States and Canada. Canada produces about 90 percent of the world's supply of mustard seeds.
* Benjamin Franklin allegedly brought mustard seeds to the United States
* Worldwide, consumers eat more than 700 million pounds of mustard annually.
* The Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, WI, holds the world's largest collection of mustards, with over 3,700 varieties.
* Ground mustard has little or no aroma or flavor until you add liquid to it.
* Most commercial mustards get their distinct yellow color from the addition of turmeric.
What do you do with mustard?
Besides using wet mustard as a condiment at the table, I add the ground seeds or prepared (wet mustard) to dips and salad dressings, omeletes and scrambled eggs, lettuce wraps, beef and bison jerky, curried greens, and chutney. Do you have any unusual uses for it? I’ve heard of people adding it to chocolate cake. I’ve not tried that though!
Caution: If you follow a gluten-free diet, read labels carefully. Some brands contain wheat flour. My favorite, True Natural Taste Creamy White Mustard, is not only gluten-free, it's also certified organic, and made from a 5000-year old recipe. It comes in many flavors too!
Here’s a recipe I modified from my book, The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook. For more wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, primal, and healthy recipes, click here to order your copy. If you buy the book directly from the publisher, you’ll receive a sample shopping list that goes with the sample month of menus contained in the book.
Honey-Mustard Chicken with Ginger
Prep: 30 minutes/ Cooking: 8 to 12 minutes/Yield: 6 servings
Honey and mustard do wonders to moisten and flavor chicken breasts when paired with olive oil. Ginger adds a zingy taste and helps improve digestion and fight inflammation. This makes a delicious topping for salad greens or a main-course salad made with an assortment of raw, roasted, or grilled vegetables. A creamy carrot, squash, or tomato soup or side of roasted sweet potato fries makes a great accompaniment.
1 1/2 to 2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast fillets, cut into 1-inch x 2-inch strips or chicken tenders left whole
Honey Mustard Marinade:
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup creamy white, yellow, or Dijon mustard (True Natural Taste white mustard is my favorite)
2 tablespoons honey (double if desired)
1 tablespoon finely grated and minced fresh gingerroot or 1 teaspoon ground ginger (fresh produces the best flavor)
1/4 teaspoon ground red or black pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon finely ground unrefined sea salt or 1 to 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
- Add chicken to glass or Pyrex pie plate or bowl. Combine Honey Mustard Marinade ingredients and pour over chicken. Stir and turn chicken to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours, all day, or overnight, turning the chicken pieces once or twice.
- To bake: Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Transfer the chicken and marinade to an oblong 14x9x2 or 18x9x2-inch heatproof Pryex baking pan if it has not been marinating in one. Bake until chicken pieces reach an internal temperature of 160˚F or the juices run clear and chicken is the same color throughout when cut in half.
- To broil or grill: Remove chicken from marinade, reserving the marinade. Cook chicken pieces on the grill, under the broiler, or in a liberally oiled, heavy-bottomed skillet, griddle, or grill pan over medium heat, about 3 minutes per side, or until firm, meat is beige throughout, and juices run clear when test piece is cut in half.
- If you removed chicken from the marinade to broil or grill, while the chicken cooks, add about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of water to the leftover marinade and bring to boil in a saucepan, cook at a boil for 10 minutes, then reduce heat and cook for at least 4 minutes or until thick. Baste chicken with this mixture as it cooks on the grill or under the broiler, or cook the juices down to about 1/4 cup and spoon over the chicken after cooked. After baking chicken, boil down the pan juices to reduce to about 1/4 cup, then spoon over chicken.
- Serve chicken while warm. Refrigerate leftovers and use within 3 days. (They’re delicious cold, especially over a green salad.)
1 serving: 230 calories, 30 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat, 15 mg calcium, 128 mg sodium
* In step 1, add 1 tablespoon minced fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, tarragon, dill, or basil.
* Honey-Mustard Chicken with chipotle: Replace ginger with 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle. Omit black pepper. Garnish with minced cilantro before serving.
* Honey-Mustard Chicken Salad: Serve chicken over individual plates heaped with raw spinach, arugula, or spring greens, minced scallions, parsley, red radishes, celery, fresh or sun-dried tomato slices, avocado, sliced avocado and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice or your favorite salad dressing. Add roasted onions, bell peppers, and/or carrots, if desired.
Source: The Garden of Eating: A Produce Dominated Diet & Cookbook by Rachel Albert & Don Matesz (Planetary Press, 2004). For more info or to order your copy, click here.