By Dr Mercola
Mustard is one of the most popular condiments widely available today, but have you ever wondered where it comes from? The answer lies in a tiny 1- to 3-millimeter round seed.1
Because it’s the main ingredient used to make mustard, the humble mustard seed now ranks as the second most-used spice in the U.S., after peppercorns.2
Despite their small size, they have been found to possess a number of benefits for your overall health. Keep reading to discover more interesting facts about mustard seeds.
What Are Mustard Seeds?
A part of the Brassica family and related to Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage, the mustard is a tall Mediterranean plant that grows 5- to 6 1/2-foot tall. It bears bright yellow flowers and its pods contain up to 20 tiny and flavorful seeds.3
According to The Spruce, the word “mustard” comes from a contraction of two Latin words: mustum and ardens. In English, the phrase means “burning must” – this refers to a common French practice of combining ground mustard seeds (which emit a spicy, “burning” flavor when crushed) with the young, unfermented juice from wine grapes called must.4 There are 40 varieties of mustard plants, however, the most common source for mustard seeds are:
- Black mustard (Brassica nigra): This plant produces black mustard seeds and are revered in Middle East and Asia Minor, where they are originally from.
- Brown mustard (Brassica juncea):5 From its roots in the Himalayas, the seeds of brown mustard are now popularly used by Chinese restaurants in North America.
- White mustard (Sinapis alba): Despite its name, this mustard plant, which originated from the Mediterranean, actually bears tan-colored seeds that are mixed with dye to produce yellow mustard.
Usually, mustard plants can be found in states across the U.S. and in provinces in Southern Canada.6 But because of their ability to grow in temperate weather, mustard plants can also grow in other countries. Hungary, Great Britain, India and Canada are also major producers of mustard seeds, allowing the seeds to become a prominent fixture in the global spice trade.7
Mustard greens from the same plant may be valuable for culinary use too, as they are often sautéed or added to salads. Meanwhile, mustard seeds can be made into mustard seed essential oil after they have undergone a distillation process.8
Do not confuse mustard plants used to make the condiment with the mustard tree (Salvadora persica). This tree, said to have originated from Iran, grows up to 20 feet tall and has branches that are a bit close to the ground. The tree bears purple fruits with pink or purple seeds,9 and is more known for its oral health benefits.10
Health Benefits of Mustard Seeds
Mustard seeds contain vitamins A, B6 and C (and other vitamins), dietary folate, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals like magnesium, potassium, selenium, manganese, phosphorus and copper.11 The seeds also have the following health-promoting plant compounds, which include:12
- Glucosinolates and isothiocyanates: The former is a compound broken down by myrosinase enzymes to produce isothiocyanates. Some studies have discovered that isothiocyanates may assist with reducing a person’s cancer risk by helping prevent cancer cell growth and defending the body against cancer cell formation.13,14
- Sinigrin: Researchers who spearheaded a study published in the March 2016 issue of Molecules revealed that sinigrin, a glucosinolate in mustard seeds, possesses “anti-cancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, [and] wound healing properties.”15
Sinigrin is also a precursor of a compound called allyl isothiocyanate (AITC), which is produced by the myrosinase enzyme when sinigrin mixes with water. AITC may aid in reducing liver cancer risk,16 assist in preventing the proliferation of E.coli and other foodborne pathogens, inhibit cell structure damage,17 and help improve liver and pancreas health.18 Because of the minerals, nutrients and compounds mentioned, mustard seeds may be useful in delivering the following properties:
- Antibacterial: According to “The Big Book of Home Remedies,” topical application of mustard seed paste can aid in alleviating ringworm.19
- Emetic: People suffering from narcotic or alcohol poisoning may consume a mustard seed decoction, as the seeds’ emetic properties aid in getting rid of toxins from the body.20,21,22
- Anti-inflammatory: According to the George Mateljan Foundation, mustard seeds are not only a good source of magnesium, but also contain excellent amounts of selenium — both of these nutrients are linked to helping improve symptoms of asthma, menopause and migraines. These nutrients also reduce the risk of heart attack in people with diabetic heart disease or atherosclerosis.23
Culinary and Medicinal Uses of Mustard Seeds
Mustard seeds are used as a spice in prominent dishes around Asia and Europe, and are also added to the Italian condiment “mostarda,” where they are mixed with fruits, sugar and other ingredients.24,25 The culinary use of mustard seeds, however, can be traced back to ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. The first use of mustard as a condiment was said to have come from the Romans, who ground up mustard seeds to make a paste.
As for their medicinal purposes, mustard seeds were used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine because of their potential to heal the bronchial system, eliminate intestinal parasites, and ease sprains and other pains.26 Physicians in ancient Greek and Roman civilizations used mustard seeds too.27
The mustard plant may also help target conditions like flatulence, cold, catarrh, chest and bladder ailments, and added to footbaths to counteract fatigue and promote circulation.28 Mustard seeds may also help combat the following skin issues:
- Psoriasis: A 2013 study in the Journal of Dermatology highlighted that mustard seeds may result in protection and healing against psoriasis-caused inflammation and lesions. Mustard seeds encouraged increased activities of enzymes like superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and catalase that were crucial in alleviating psoriasis indicators.29
- Contact dermatitis: A team of Chinese researchers discovered that consuming mustard seeds may aid in targeting symptoms linked to contact dermatitis, and promote tissue healing and decrease in ear swelling.30
Mustard seeds can be used to make a plaster or poultice that can help ease bronchitis and bronchial pneumonia, and pleurisy. It can also assist in promoting healthy blood circulation, which can help relieve different types of pain such as arthritis, sprains, spasms, and skeletal and muscular discomfort.31,32 Another way to combat respiratory congestion is by adding ground mustard seeds to a foot soak.33 Patients with sore throats can gargle tea made from mustard seeds.34
However, before applying mustard paste on your skin or using the seeds in a foot soak, consult a doctor first about the seeds’ potential effects. Prolonged exposure of bare skin to the seeds can cause skin ulcers to form.35 You can insert something like a piece of thin cotton or cheesecloth between the skin and mustard seed mixture to avoid this effect.36
Lastly, mustard seeds can be handy as a cleaner for dirty pots and pans. Grab a few bruised mustard seeds and combine these with some water and vinegar. Scrub the mixture on the pot or pan, allow it to stand overnight, and wash the pot or pan thoroughly the next day.37
How to Prepare Mustard Seeds for Cooking
If you want top-notch mustard seeds, try looking at Indian groceries or local spice stores. They may sell mustard seeds that are fresher, reasonably priced and in bulk quantities, and showcase an even wider selection of other better-quality spices. If there are no stores like these in your area, the spice aisle in your grocery store is a good alternative. When picking mustard seeds, look for varieties that are organically grown to ensure that no irradiation was done.38,39
You may use mustard seeds as they are, or try toasting them in a skillet first. The latter, according to The Kitchn, may assist in reducing the seeds’ bitterness and in bringing out enzymes containing pungent flavors.40,41 Once you’re done with preparing mustard seeds, place them in an airtight container in a dry place. This will allow them to last for a year.42
This Curry Recipe Incorporates Mustard Seeds’ Wonderful Flavor
Tomato Curry With Black Mustard Seeds Recipe
If you need inspiration in incorporating mustard seeds in your favorite dishes, check out this tomato curry recipe from Delicious magazine:43
|1 kilogram vine tomatoes, skinned||6 tablespoon, coconut oil||5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced|
|5 centimeter-piece of fresh ginger, finely grated||1 medium onion, thinly sliced||1 medium-hot red chili, halved, deseeded and thinly sliced|
|1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika||1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric||1 teaspoon ground cumin|
|1 teaspoon ground coriander||1 teaspoon tomato puree||24 fresh curry leaves|
|1 teaspoon black mustard seeds||150 milliliters (ml) of hot water||Handful of fresh coriander/cilantro sprigs, roughly chopped|
- When skinning the tomatoes, use a knife to score a small cross atop each fruit. Afterward, place the tomatoes in a heatproof bowl and pour over the boiling water. Leave for one to two minutes, then drain, refresh in cold water and peel.
- Finely chop half of the tomatoes and cut the remainder into quarters.
- Heat half the oil in a large deep frying pan. Add half the garlic, then as soon as it sizzles, add the ginger, onion and chili. Fry gently for five to six minutes until soft but not browned.
- Add the paprika, turmeric, cumin and ground coriander, then fry for two minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, half the curry leaves and 150 ml of hot water. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes have broken down into a sauce.
- Add the quartered tomatoes and 1 tsp. of salt, then simmer for a further five minutes or until they are just soft and still holding their shape.
- Heat the remaining oil in a small saucepan. Add the remaining garlic and curry leaves and the black mustard seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to pop and the garlic is lightly golden, tip the mixture into the tomato curry and stir well. Spoon into a serving dish, scatter with the coriander and serve with spiced pilau rice.
This recipe makes 4 servings.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Mustard Seeds Nutrition Facts
A tablespoon of mustard seeds, roughly around 6 grams, contains only 32 calories. They also contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, but do not have any trans fats. To know more about the other vitamins and nutrients in mustard seeds, look at the nutrition facts table below taken from Cronometer:
|Calories from Fat|
|Total Fat||2.3 g||4%|
|Saturated Fat||0.1 g||1%|
|Trans Fat||0 g|
|Total Carbohydrates||1.8 g||1%|
|Dietary Fiber||0.8 g||3%|
|Vitamin A0%||Vitamin C||1%|
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Are There Side Effects From Eating Too Much Mustard Seeds?
Although the health benefits of mustard seeds are impressive, a study found that side effects may occur when using mustard seed plaster. Tachypnea (rapid and shallow breathing45), sweating, dizziness, agitation and reduction in blood pressure levels occurred 40 minutes after topical application.46
It’s also recommended that people with certain health conditions should take caution when using mustard seeds for medicinal purposes, since these may lead to:47
- Exacerbated thyroid issues: Goitrogens in uncooked mustard seeds and leaves are known to disrupt thyroid hormone production and function. If you have thyroid issues, ensure that the mustard seeds are cooked first before eating them.48
- Calcium absorption interference: High-oxalate foods should be avoided if you have kidney or gallbladder conditions. Mustard seeds contain oxalates that may disrupt proper calcium absorption. The book “Foods at a Glance” highlights that the oxalates in mustard seeds may build up in body fluids, crystallize and trigger other health problems.49
If you have any of these aforementioned conditions, talk to your doctor first to see if consuming mustard seeds can be good for you, and the ideal portion of seeds that you can handle without developing side effects. On a final note, pregnant and breastfeeding women must avoid or be extremely cautious of consuming too much mustard seeds because of the lack of studies regarding their safety for both mother and child. 50
Mustard Seeds Are a Worthy Addition to Your Spice Cupboard
Mustard seeds prove that size doesn’t matter when it comes to your health, especially considering the various studies proving their benefits.
It’s essential to talk to your doctor first before consuming high amounts of mustard seeds. In some cases, the seeds can emit some heat that may lead to skin problems like blisters and other side effects like diarrhea, drowsiness, breathing difficulties and significantly reduced blood sugar levels, to name a few.51 Always remember to consume these seeds in moderation to avoid health problems.