Mustard! It is a well-loved condiment for adding that extra kick. But where does it come from?

Ancient Romans were probably the first to use mustard as a condiment. Historians still don’t know exactly how the mustard plant got introduced to Ancient Rome, however, it is no doubt that mustard plants were well cultivated in the Hellenistic and Roman eras.

The English word “mustard” ultimately derives from the combination of two Latin words: mustum and ardens. Mustum is equivalent to today’s “must”, which is a young wine that has not fully fermented. Ardens is a word for hot, or flaming, and you can see its influence in other words like arson. The Romans mixed ground mustard seeds with must as a condiment and named it flaming hot must! They must have enjoyed this spicy sauce because it’s still one of the popular condiments around the world.

The key ingredient of mustard, mustard seed, has been used as a popular remedy, and in fact had a different name in the English history: eye of newt. Some may realize that eye of newt is used in a witch’s brew, and many people misunderstand this as an actual eye of a newt! Eye of newt became a well-known ingredient to a witch’s brew since William Shakespeare wrote his play Macbeth. In Act IV, Scene I when the three witches make their brew, they chant:

Double double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell broth boil and bubble.

In fact, all these ingredients with funny names are plants with interesting folk names. I find it funny that Shakespeare probably meant mustard seed when he wrote eye of newt!

reference | Mustard (condiment) - Mustard Seed - Macbeth Act 4 Scene 1
photo credit | wiseGEEK