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Mustard Seed – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

Mustard Seed – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

as recommended by Michael Vidrine

I like hotdogs – a lot.  Whenever we travel, I seek out the local variations to enjoy.  I’ve had all kinds of hotdogs like the Brazilian cachorro-quente, the Danish polser, the Austrian wurst, the Hungarian kolbász, the German frankfurter würstechen and of course the American versions – the Chicago dog, the New York dog, and the truly wonderful and messy chili cheese dog.  One thing almost all these delightful treats have in common is the condiment mustard – which starts out as a humble mustard seed.

Mustard seeds, as one might expect, come from mustard plants and this is a big family of plants known as the Brassicaceae.  Many of our well-known garden vegetables are in this family including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kohlrabi, turnip, Bok choy, arugula, radish and horseradish plus the leafy mustards that a lot of us Southerners have always enjoyed.   These plants are also known as cruciferous plants because they form 4 petaled yellow flowers in an X or cross shape.  Although all of the vegetables listed above will flower and seed, the mustards that are grown specifically for seed production usually come from one of four different plants: black mustard (Brassica nigra), brown mustard (B. juncea), white mustard (Sinapis alba) and rapeseed (B napus).  Rapeseed is typically used to produce rapeseed oil and not used as a condiment.  Black mustard is the most pungent and white mustard is used to prepare our classic yellow mustard colored with the addition of turmeric.

Mustard and its relatives are being grown almost everywhere around the world.  In medieval France, mustard seeds were mixed with unfermented grape juice (must) and the mixture was called mout-ardent (burning must), which morphed into moutarde in French and mustard in English. It is thought that the domestication of mustards began over 6000 years ago, and the use of mustard has been documented in Sumerian texts from 3000 BC.  Many religious texts including the Bible, the Quaran and the Buddist Sutras use mustard to teach life lessons including humility and the potential for growth.

Commercially, seed mustards are grown primarily in temperate regions and are quite easy to grow.  Mustard is often grown as a cover crop between main agricultural crop cycles for its biomass and pest and disease suppression.  As a cover crop the mustard is usually mowed and/or tilled in while still green to add nutrients to the soil and to prevent self-seeding.  Many vineyards use mustard as a cover crop to prevent erosion, to add soil nutrients, to suppress pests and attract beneficial insects.  By competing for water and nutrients, mustard can also moderate early vine growth and reduce the need for hedging. 

For seed production, the plants are left to flower, set seed and partially dry.  The seed pods are then stripped from the plants before they shatter.  The pods are air dried until brittle and separated from the chaff by winnowing or screening.  Mustard flowers are very attractive to pollinators including my honeybees.

Mustards are cool season plants and, in our area, are best grown in the fall or the spring.  The plants can typically mature, bloom and set seeds in 80 to 90 days depending on variety and weather conditions. The longer the bloom period the greater the seed production.  For seed production, fall plantings should go in by late summer and spring plantings by late winter.  Unless temperatures are unusually cold, mustards will grow right through our typical winter. 

The plants are relatively undemanding as to soil types but will do best in moderately fertile, near neutral pH, well drained soils.  Any part of the garden that does well with cabbages will be perfect.  Keep in mind, if not harvested, mustard can self-seed and proliferate – a lot.

Although less often used this way, the leaves, stalks, and flowers of seed mustard plants are edible and can be prepared like their more familiar mustard/cabbage cousins.   Mustard seed contains no cholesterol, only trace amounts of vegetable fat, and about 25 percent protein.  There are about 15000 mustard seeds per ounce.  Prepared mustard is a mixture of mustard seeds with a liquid – water, vinegar, wine etc. – ground to a smooth or grainy consistency. 

Mustard is the second most used spice in the US – only peppercorns are used more often.  The seeds are a common pickle and relish ingredient but have many other uses as a spice.  The seeds add zing to salads, particularly cabbage and carrot slaws.  Most curry and chutney recipes will include mustard seeds.  The seeds also make nice additions to other spices for rubs and braises and the spicy taste helps cut through rich pork and beef recipes. Toasting the seeds mellows the flavor and helps it blend in with milder spices and herbs.  The seeds go well with roasted chicken and fish dishes and give a pop to blander vegetables like legumes and potatoes. 

Of course, you can buy prepared mustards and mustard seeds but if you are up for a bit of ancient plant growing, harvesting, winnowing, and grinding – and you would like to attract some interesting pollinators to your garden – growing mustard could be just the thing for you.  If you do happen to make your own prepared mustard, let me know … I’ll bring the hotdogs.

My favorite Mustards:

  • Dijon Mustard
  • Chinese Hot Mustard Sauce
  • Grainy Orange-Honey-Tarragon Mustard

Homemade mustard tips:

  • Pods should be air-dried in a warm place for about two weeks. Spread them out on clean muslin, an old sheet, or a fine screen. Once dry, gently crush the pods to remove the seeds and hulls.riental variety like ‘Giant Red’
  • 15,000 seeds/ounce
  • Whole plant edible
  • Seeds can be consumed whole or processed into mustard condiment

Fun mustard facts:

  • Fantastic cover crop
  • Great for pollinators and honey bees
  • Helps prep the ground

Michael Vidrine

Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor

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