Brassica alba (white mustard) is the mildest of the three popular mustard types – white, yellow and black consumed today. The plant is a native to the Mediterranean region and Crimea. It is an introduced species in Europe, Asia, the Americas and the Australian region where it has become naturalized. There are two sub species of B alba-sub species alba that has yellow or pale brown seeds and sub species dissecta with grayish- brown seeds.
White mustard plants prefer a cool temperate climate, are resistant to frost but do not like wet soils. This is an annual herb that grows up to 1.5 meter height. It is cultivated mainly for its seed although it is a popular potherb and salad. Most of the seed weight increase happens during the last two or three days prior to ripening.
Seeds yield 20-35 percent of a golden yellow mild tasting oil. The oil is a by-product of the condiment industry where the seed is partially deolated before milling. White mustard is often combined with black mustard for aroma and yellow mustard for the color to make mustard sold in the market. This combination gives it the pungency of the white mustard, the aroma comes from the yellow species while black mustard gives it the yellow color.
The pungency in white mustard is due to the presence of an enzyme myrosin and a glucoside that upon hydrolysis yields a pungent tasting near odorless oil. White mustard oil is slightly volatile and mixed with steam can cause blisters on the skin. The seeds on contact with water liberate hydropen sulphide gas which can be poisonous to cattle.
A teaspoon of B. alba seed contains 87.1 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, 84.2 mg of omega-6 fatty acids, 22.2 mg of potassium, 27.3 mg of phosphorous, 9.7 mg of magnesium, and 16.9 mg of calcium.
B. alba is not used as medicine in developed regions of the modern world. The volatile oil is a powerful irritant and rubefacient and is used in traditional Asia to treat a range of respiratory and other ailments. However modern scientific studies to support use of white mustard as medicine are few and far between. The value of the spice lies in its taste, high omega fatty acids and minerals.
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Book link: Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants