Mustard: Seed of Legends


The humble mustard seed appears in a couple of different historical references, but it is more than just a tool for teaching. It also makes really good eating.

The Historical and Legendary Mustard Seed

From the Buddhist tradition:

Kisa Gotami, wife of the wealthy Savatthi, became distraught after losing her only child. With every ounce of her being in grief she became desperate and asked if anyone could help her. An old man told her to go see the Buddha. The Buddha said he could bring her child back to life, but first she needed to bring him a mustard seed from a family where no one had died. She went from house to house to house, and was unsuccessful in finding a family who hadn’t suffered the loss of a loved one. This led her to realize that no one escapes mortality. She went back to the Buddha who comforted and taught her the truth, which led her into the first stage of enlightenment.

And from the Christian tradition:

He said, “How will we liken the Kingdom of God? Or with what parable will we illustrate it? It’s like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, though it is less than all the seeds that are on the earth, yet when it is sown, grows up, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the sky can lodge under its shadow.”

— Mark 4:30–32, World English Bible

In both traditions, the mustard seed represents a larger issue that stems from something tiny. It is a support for anyone in need.

Mustard Seed as Good Eating

Clearly, the mustard seed has been important to human culture for quite some time. In addition to featuring in life lessons, we’ve been consuming this tiny seed for just as long. It used to be known as “eye of newt,” so if you’re following a recipe, food or otherwise, that calls for eye of newt feel free to substitute mustard seed.

If you’d rather use mustard for culinary purposes, there are several ways to use it. You can use brown or yellow mustard seed in any recipe, just know that the brown are will add more heat.

  • add the ground version to BBQ or other meat rubs for a spicy, tangy flavor
  • make your own mustard:
    • The Best Mustard Ever Recipe from Alton Brown
    • use 1 part mustard seed, whole or ground, to 2 parts liquid (water, wine, beer, fruit juice, vinegar, and more) and let the mixture sit overnight. Cold liquid will make a spicier mustard and hot liquid will make it milder.
  • use in salad dressings and soups
  • add to homemade macaroni and cheese

The next time you’re creating in the kitchen, take the humble mustard seed for a spin. You’ll be the wiser for it.


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