Despite their use in a number of different cuisines around the world, including Africa, China, India, and the Caribbean, mustard greens have yet to gain widespread acclaim in the US. What are we waiting for? Like other leafy greens, mustards are packed with health-supportive vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And with their distinct peppery, Dijon flavor, they provide a memorable and delicious spin on salads, soups, stews, and roasts.
Long and slender, fresh mustard green leaves are typically deep emerald green, but some varieties are also purple or deep red. Depending on the variety, they have either a flat or curly texture and may have frilly or scalloped edges.
Packaged mustard greens often come chopped in big squares, so the texture and edging may not be apparent.
The name says it all: mature mustard greens have a pungent flavor, similar to Dijon mustard. The flavor mellows after cooking. Young greens are milder, with a slight peppery zip, similar to arugula.
Mustard greens are readily available in supermarkets throughout the year fresh, packaged, or frozen. In a pinch, you can also use canned mustard greens. You’ll find fresh greens at most farmers’ markets during peak season.
Prime season for these cool weather vegetables is December through April in the US. In Europe the season starts as early as October. Farmers’ markets in the US tend to sell fresh mustard greens closer to the end of their season in the spring.
Pick the most crisp, green leaves that are firm on the stem. Avoid greens that wilt easily, have pitted leaves, yellow tips, or thick, woody stems.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
Mustard greens do not appear in the EWG guide, but considering that so many other greens on the list have high pesticide residue, including spinach, kale, and collard greens, it’s best to buy organic mustard greens.
The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Remove any rubber bands or twist ties holding fresh greens together. Wrap the loose greens in paper towels, and store in airtight plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper for three to five days.
Rinse mustard greens under cool running water for a couple of minutes to remove grit. Many chefs recommend spritzing greens with lemon juice after rinsing, and resting them at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This activates enzymes in the greens to enhance their flavor.
Fold the leaf in half and cut off the stalk at the base of the leaf. The leaf’s smaller, interior stem will break down on its own when the leaf is sliced into ribbons, so there is no need to remove it.
If braising or sautéing mustard greens, slice mature greens into ¼-inch strips. For raw use, choose young mustard greens.
For salads, a coarse chop is fine.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bones. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs.
This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Mustard greens are packed with antioxidants. An antioxidant is a substance that prevents the oxidation of cells in the body. While we typically think of oxygen as a good thing, sometimes when cells are oxidized, they produce free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are always looking for additional electrons to make them more stable. They often attach to the electron of another cell and cause new free radicals to form. Over time, free radicals damage the cells in the body and can even alter our DNA. Excessive free radicals contribute to the aging process and may also contribute to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants help by stabilizing free radicals, thus reducing their potential to cause damage.
A cautionary note: Mustard greens have a high number of naturally occurring oxalates, which are organic acids, and for some people, these substances can become too strong and cause health problems. If you have digestive, gallbladder, or kidney issues, only eat mustard greens occasionally to keep oxalate buildup to a minimum.
Also, mustard greens, collard greens, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and soy are considered by dieticians to be goitrogenic foods because of a certain combination of chemical compounds. If you have a thyroid condition, these chemical compounds can sometimes interfere with healthy gland function. Cooking these foods instead of eating them raw can help break down those chemical compounds.
- Although more closely identified with African and Caribbean cuisine, mustard greens are native to the Himalayas in India.
- India, Japan, China, and Nepal are the leading producers of mustard greens.
- The seeds, stems, and leaves of the mustard plant are all edible.