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