Make Mustard Work for You.
Byline: Matt Sutherland
Make Mustard Work for You
after salt and pepper, mustard remains the world's most important spice. More than 170,000 tons are now harvested annually, up from 75,000 tons only a few decades ago. Yes, French's yellow mustard and the every-street-corner popularity of fast-food restaurants can take much of the credit for this growth -- Yankee Stadium alone serves approximately 1,800 gallons annually -- yet mustard seed flour also has found work as a meat extender in prepared meats, and the seeds are commonly used for biodiesel. More conventionally, specialty mustards in hot and sweet incarnations, or blended with horseradish, honey, beer, cranberry, basil, garlic, or jalapeno, among hundreds of other flavors, also comprise a huge market.
Mustard's alluring pungency only develops when cold water is blended with the ground seed and a reaction occurs between the enzyme myrosin and the glycoside sinigrin, resulting in a sulfurous compound captured in the highly volatile (and hot-tasting) seed oil. Traditional Chinese medicine, ayurvedic practitioners, and other healing traditions versed in herbal treatments rely on mustard as an expectorant. like ginger, mustard and other hot herbs and spices cause increased fluid flow in the lungs, which thins the mucus and makes it easier to expel. For thousands of years, healers have prescribed mustard for colds, congestion, bronchitis, asthma, sinus problems, and various forms of respiratory distress.
Ayurvedics also use pungent foods to stimulate digestion and regulate the metabolism, and mustard factors into many detoxification remedies.
Mustard greens are a staple culinary ingredient in many cultures around the world. They are especially rich in calcium -- 581 milligrams in one pound of the greens -- and unlike spinach and Swiss chard, mustard greens don't contain excessive amounts of oxalic acid, so the calcium is readily absorbed by the body. In addition, iron, potassium, folic acid, and vitamins a, B, and C are all plentiful in the mustard leaves.
As an endnote, in The Incredible Secrets of Mustard (Avery Publishing Group), Marie Nadine Antol discusses the use of mustard plants as a technique to leach toxic contaminants out of Brownfield sites. In the 1930s and 1940s, Russian scientists identified mustard as an indicator plant growing profusely over underground deposits of valuable metals. They thought the knowledge would be beneficial for mining companies, but as it turns out, "Brassica juncea, common brown mustard, is the champion at sucking lead, chromium, cadmium, zinc, and copper from the soil." Based on the research of plant biologist Ilya Raskin, Rutgers University partnered with a new company named Phytotech to bring the "phytoremediation" technique to market. With more than 30,000 contaminated sites in the United States alone, mustard has some important work to do. Seek out a copy of Antol's engaging book for more history, lore, medicinal information, and recipes highlighting mustard's essential role in world affairs.