You may think of mustard as just a common condiment you spread on sandwiches or on the all-American hot dog, but mustard also serves well as a marvelously tart ingredient in many dishes.
There are three main types of mustard seeds, somewhat unique to specific cuisines, and each with its own unique flavor. Black seed mustard, for instance, is characteristic of Middle Eastern dishes. Brown seed, originating from the Himalayans, commonly is used in dishes in the United States, United Kingdom and in American Chinese dishes. And that familiar yellow prepared mustard found on picnic tables across the country, well that starts with white seeds originally from the Mediterranean.
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Prepared mustard is made when you mix the ground seeds of these plants with vinegar, water and salt. It is a no-fat and low-calorie ingredient, but tends to be high in sodium. One teaspoon of prepared mustard can have between zero and 10 calories with 35 to 120 milligrams of sodium.
Still, a small amount of this zesty ingredient can add big flavor to any dish and the culinary uses for mustard are as endless as the varieties on grocers' shelves.
Mustard is a great choice to brush on chicken, beef, fish or pork chops before or after cooking. It can be added to your favorite meatloaf recipe, squeezed into potato, pasta, tuna or egg salad, or whipped into a salad dressing (try blending ¾ teaspoon mustard with 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 4 tablespoons olive oil and ½ teaspoon honey). Mustard can also be used in sauces or marinades.
If you are in a pinch and your recipe calls for prepared mustard you can use 1 teaspoon ground dried mustard for 1 tablespoon prepared mustard. Prepared mustards can add moisture to a recipe, and offer a sweet, tangy or tart taste. Experts recommend adding mustard near the end a dish's cooking process to preserve the characteristic flavor.
If you really want to expand your celebration beyond a dollop of mustard on your sausage at the summer barbecue, take a visit to the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wis. where you will find more than 5,000 mustard choices. Yes, there is a museum to highlight this wonderful condiment.
And if you forgot to celebrate National Mustard Day on Aug. 1, here's chance to catch up. Use a dab of Dijon or your favorite mustard to brighten this nut- and tortilla-crusted tilapia.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, is the author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies" and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.