Mustard Seeds

They are an important spice in many regional foods and may come from one of three different plants: black mustard (Brassica nigra), brown Indian mustard (B. juncea), or white/yellow mustard (B. hirta/Sinapis alba). Mustard seeds can be steeped in warm milk, whisked into salad dressings, ground, sprinkled into warm meals, or soaked and used to make mustard paste. Mustard paste is arguably the most popular way to consume mustard. All parts of the mustard plant are edible, including the seeds, leaves, and flowers; it is in the same genus as cabbage and turnips and is an annual plant. Brassica nigra is the plant that produces black mustard seeds. It is native to North Africa and parts of Europe and Asia; black mustard seeds are still very popular in the Middle East and Asia Minor where they originated. The seeds are removed from their seed coats and are very small. They can be ground into a spice or used whole, often added to hot oil to bring out the flavor.

Appearance, Taste, and Smell
The mustard seeds used in Indian cooking are tiny and black or dark brown in color. The seeds have a faint spicy smell much like curry leaves. They taste just like mustard in its paste form.

Buying It
Mustard seeds are the most commonly utilized form of mustard in Indian cooking, with the powder rarely, if ever, being used. If you ever require the powdered form, it is advisable to buy the seeds and grind them at home as required in the recipe.

Using It
Tadka or tempering is a cooking method in which cooking oil is heated until very hot and whole spices are added to it and fried. This oil and spice mix is then added as a final touch or garnish to the dish. In Indian cooking, Rai/Sarson is often part of the Tadka in a dish.

In comparison, Rai/Sarson is used more in South Indian than in North Indian cooking. In the South, it is typically combined with green chilies and curry leaves in a tadka. It is sometimes used in paste form, for example in Eastern Indian dishes like Deemer Patudi or fish curries.

Interesting Facts
Mustard seeds are from the mustard plant, which belongs to the Cruciferous plant family. Other vegetables belonging to this family are cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Though small, the mustard seed is famous. It is referred to in Christian teachings, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Sanskrit writings from 5,000 years ago mention mustard seeds. Mustard seeds were used medicinally in history and today we know them to be a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, and magnesium. Some research suggests they contain compounds that help fight cancer.1