What is the power of mustard?

Mustard is a condiment with a powerful, pungent flavor that comes from the seeds of the mustard plant. It has been used for thousands of years to add flavor and spice to dishes across many cuisines around the world. But beyond its culinary uses, mustard has also been prized for its healing properties and health benefits throughout history.

What gives mustard its powerful flavor?

The compounds that give mustard its signature heat and pungency are called glucosinolates. These plant compounds are found in high concentrations in mustard seeds. When the seeds are ground up and mixed with water, myrosinase enzymes in the mustard seeds break down the glucosinolates into sharp-tasting isothiocyanates like allyl isothiocyanate. Isothiocyanates are responsible for that eye-watering, sinus-clearing flavor that mustard is known for.

Different types of mustards have different concentrations of glucosinolates, resulting in mustards with mild, moderate, or robust heat. Yellow mustard seeds have a lower glucosinolate content, while brown and black mustard seeds are much more pungent and fiery.

The medicinal history of mustard

Mustard has been used since ancient times for its healing properties. Documents show mustard seeds being used medicinally by Sumerians as early as 3000 BC. In ancient Greek and Roman medicine, ground mustard seeds were applied topically or taken orally to treat a variety of conditions like headaches, toothaches, snakebites, poisonings, and digestive issues. Hippocrates and Pythagoras recommended mustard for its therapeutic effects.

The first century Greek physician Dioscorides documented mustard’s use as a diuretic to increase urine flow. Mustard plasters – poultices made by mixing ground mustard seeds with water – were used to stimulate blood flow and as a warm compress. Mustard oil was used for massage in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for its warming, stimulating properties.

Mustard seeds contain beneficial nutrients

Mustard seeds are an excellent source of essential nutrients that provide health benefits. Some of the key nutrients found in mustard seeds include:

  • Protein – mustard seeds contain high-quality protein needed for building muscle, enzymes, hormones, and antibodies.
  • Fiber – the seeds are rich in fiber which improves digestion and heart health.
  • Minerals like selenium, manganese, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron which act as cofactors for critical bodily functions.
  • Vitamins like folate, niacin, riboflavin, and vitamins A, E, and K which act as antioxidants and promote health.
  • Good fats like omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid that benefit heart and brain health.
  • Glucosinolates and isothiocyanates that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects.

Top therapeutic benefits and uses of mustard

Modern medical research has now confirmed many of the traditional therapeutic uses of mustard seeds and mustard products. Here are some of the top evidence-based health benefits of mustard:

Relieves muscle pain, arthritis, and rheumatism

Mustard has natural anti-inflammatory effects that can help reduce muscle soreness, joint pain, arthritis and rheumatism. Mustard plasters increase blood flow to speed healing of sprains and muscle injuries. Mustard’s isothiocyanates inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines for reducing inflammation and pain.

Boosts immunity

The antioxidant nutrients in mustard seeds support the immune system. Selenium boosts production of killer T-cells for fighting infections. Zinc increases activation of white blood cells. Vitamins A, C and E also help neutralize free radicals and prevent disease.

Protects heart health

Mustard lowers high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides for better heart health. It improves blood flow by inhibiting platelet aggregation. Animal studies show mustard oil reduces plaque buildup in arteries. Mustard’s omega-3s, fiber, magnesium, niacin, folate and vitamin E promote healthy circulation.

Aids digestion

The fiber, vitamins, and minerals in mustard support healthy digestion. Mustard stimulates gastric juices to improve appetite and nutrient absorption. The enzyme myrosinase boosts the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Mustard also reduces bloating, gas, and constipation.

Detoxifies the body

Mustard is a mild diuretic that increases urine production to remove excess water and salt from the body. This helps lower high blood pressure. Mustard’s glucosinolates stimulate liver enzymes to remove toxins from the body more efficiently.

Treats respiratory disorders

Mustard relieves congestion from colds, allergies and asthma by dilating airways and increasing mucus clearance. Mustard plasters help treat chest congestion. Mustard’s antimicrobial properties fight respiratory infections. Thiotriazylon, an extract from mustard seeds, is used in cough syrups.

Aids skin and hair health

Mustard oil has emollient properties that moisturize and soften skin. Its antibacterial activity protects skin from infection. Massaging with mustard oil increases circulation for healthier hair follicles and scalp. Vitamin E in mustard nourishes hair and prevents graying.

Prevents cancer

Mustard’s glucosinolates, especially benzyl isothiocyanate, have shown impressive anticancer effects in research. They induce apoptosis or cell death in various cancer cells like colon, breast, lung, ovarian and oral cancers. More human studies are needed, but mustard shows great potential in cancer prevention.

Mustard seeds versus mustard powder

Mustard seeds and mustard powder are both derived from the same mustard plant species, Brassica juncea, Brassica nigra or Brassica hirta. But they differ in the preparation methods and components:

Mustard Seeds Mustard Powder
– Whole, unmilled seeds – Made from finely ground mustard seeds
– Milder, nuttier flavor – More pungent, spicy flavor
– Lower myrosinase enzyme activity – Higher myrosinase enzyme activity
– Less glucosinolate conversion – More glucosinolate conversion
– Added to dishes whole – Blended into liquid sauces, dressings
– Used in pickling, curries – Used in dips, spreads, marinades

When preparing mustard products at home, using whole mustard seeds and grinding them just before use will maximize the pungent flavor and health benefits. Pre-ground mustard powder loses some flavor intensity over time but is more convenient to use.

How to incorporate more mustard into your diet

Here are some easy and delicious ways to enjoy mustard’s nutrients and zing:

Make mustard sauces and dressings

Blend mustard powder, vinegar, oil, herbs and spices into salad dressings, sandwich spreads, dipping sauces and marinades. Dijon mustard, honey mustard, maple mustard and spicy mustard are all tasty options.

Spice up proteins

Rub mustard powder, paste or oil on meats, tofu or tempeh before cooking. Brush mustard glazes on chicken, fish and pork. Mix whole mustard seeds into burger patties. Add stoneground or whole grain mustard to sandwiches.

Toss mustard greens

The mustard plant’s leafy greens are highly nutritious. Saute them like spinach or add raw mustard greens to salads for a spicy kick.

Try mustard pickles

Add whole mustard seeds to pickled vegetables for flavor. Fermenting helps increase the bioavailability of mustard’s nutrients.

Use as a condiment

Keep handy your favorite style of mustard – Dijon, yellow, spicy brown, whole grain or even honey mustard. Liven up wraps, sandwiches, hamburgers and pretzels with more mustard.

Make a mustard plaster

For a traditional mustard plaster to ease chest congestion or sore joints, mix 1 part powdered mustard with 3-4 parts flour and enough water to make a paste. Apply to chest or affected joints until skin becomes reddened. Rinse after 10-15 minutes.

Potential side effects and precautions

Mustard is likely safe for most people when used in normal food amounts. Some potential side effects and precautions to be aware of are:

  • Allergies – Some people may be allergic to mustard or mustard seeds. Discontinue use if any hypersensitivity reactions occur.
  • Heartburn – Large amounts of mustard may aggravate heartburn or GERD symptoms in some individuals.
  • Ulcers – Mustard irritates existing stomach ulcers and may increase bleeding.
  • Low blood pressure – High doses of mustard may lower blood pressure. Those on BP medications should use cautiously.
  • Drug interactions – Mustard may interfere with some medications’ effects. Consult your doctor.
  • Pregnancy – Unprocessed mustard seeds should be avoided in pregnancy as they contain potentially toxic erucic acid.

The takeaway

Mustard is way more than just a bright yellow condiment – it possesses potent medicinal properties that have been valued for millennia. Modern science has confirmed mustard’s ability to reduce inflammation, boost immunity, improve cardiovascular health, aid digestion, detoxify the body and even prevent cancer.

Adding more mustard, mustard seeds or mustard greens to your diet is an easy way to spice up meals while boosting your nutrient intake. Harness the power of mustard for better health and wellbeing.

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