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Mustard Seeds vs. Mustard Powder

Chris Hennes

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With most spices I only keep the whole spice on hand: coriander, fennel, cumin, etc. But looking at my spice rack I see that I have both Colman's powdered mustard and mustard seeds. I never really gave it any thought, I just have both and use them when a recipe calls for one or the other. But is it necessary, or even desirable, to keep powdered mustard? Does it lose its potency faster than the whole seed (as with other spices)? Is it hard to grind because of the tiny, smooth spheres? Do you have both?

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Chris Hennes
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I always have both, and honestly never really considered grinding my own until I read you post.

My Indian and Sri Lankan friends swear by keeping spices whole and grinding them at the last minute for freshness; their thinking is that the flavor in dried spices fades fast, and since they grind their own spices every week I'll defer to them as experts. I've read that Colman's uses a combination of yellow and black mustard seeds, so once you tweak the right ratio you'd probably end up with something just like Colman's.

"There's nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves."

Fergus Henderson

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I keep only the seeds on hand, yellow, brown and black, and grind them when needed. I have found that ground mustard loses potency within a few weeks of grinding.

However, if you have only had experience with ground mustard, you probably haven't noticed the difference.

Note: I grow my own mustard because where I live, it grows like a weed and I can get three crops a year in our long growing season. Currently the crop is already three feet high!

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett


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I only have whole spices which I use one or the other of two small coffee bean grinders that I have to grind them on demand. I go through A LOT of black whole pepper this way.

Whole mustard seed, like whole allspice, et al, is sometimes hard to judge how much powdered mustard you will wind up and after using the required amount in a dish calling for mustard powder I keep little 1 oz bottles for leftover ground spices. I use them up fairly quickly.

On the other hand, whole mustard seed is great to coarse grind it and make your own mustard, like German style coarse ground mustard.

But like anything else, even whole spices give up the "ghost" after a time, so I limit how much I buy to a year's worth. Only recently stocked up on whole nutmeg because I read that the nutmeg trees have suffered a world-wide blight and they will be in short supply for many years to come. Don't know how much credence to give to this, but I did have an original small bottle of whole nutmeg from the late 1970's, and they were still great right up to the end when I used up the last one a couple years ago. Therefore I didn't spend much time thinking on it and bought up several of the last bottles i could find in several markets (many of which were already out of stock!)


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Do you generally toast the mustard seeds before grinding them, like you would do with other spices? Or does it depend on the application?

I'd say it depends on what you want to achieve. The reaction that produces the heat in mustard is enzymatic. Toasting them would denature the enzyme(s). However if what you want is the mustard flavour without the heat then toast (or fry) away.

Fried mustard seeds are a staple of Southern Indian cooking; where they add flavour without the heat.

As an aside, does anyone know where mustard originated from?

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As an aside, does anyone know where mustard originated from?

Prepared mustard dates back to the Romans, who ground up the seeds and added wine to make a paste. No one can say with any authority where mustard seed originally comes from: it's been found at prehistoric sites from Europe to China. McGee claims that mustard was the only native pungent spice in early Europe.

"There's nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves."

Fergus Henderson

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  • 11 years later...

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