Mustard is at least part of what makes street food so amazing. You drizzle it on hot dogs, smear it onto pretzels, squeeze it into knishes... and while it’s something gourmets can get super snobby about, even Anthony Bourdain acknowledges that the cheapest yellow mustard has its delicious, vinegary place.
In most cases, enjoyability is a sure sign that you're eating something that's horrible for you. But the happy truth is that mustard isn’t just an ideal dressing for almost any sandwich, and an essential culinary ingredient -- it’s also totally good for you. Here's the proof.
It has serious bang for the caloric buck
At 3 calories a teaspoon, mustard is the lowest calorie of the common condiments. Compared to mayo (31 calories), sweet relish (7 calories), or even ketchup (6 calories), this stuff is basically a freebie.
It has a long history as a health food...
According to Kenneth Kiple, author of The Cambridge World History of Food, Vol. 1 -- which at least sounds about as legit as it gets -- mustard has been used for both medicinal and culinary reasons for a really, really long time. The ancient Romans used to smear the stuff on themselves to cure everything from epilepsy (note: NOPE, THIS DOES NOT WORK) to lethargy (I mean, maybe? It would probably burn a little bit, which would get you off your ass?) to “hysterical females” (headdesk).
... and now science is backing it up
Well, outside of the epilepsy and hysterical females, that is. “Mustard seeds contain phytonutrients known as glucosinolates,” Dr. Deepa Verma says. “These substances break down to produce isothiocyanates. All these antioxidants are powerful in reducing chronic inflammation.” Inflammation, in case you didn't know, is suspected of playing a major role in chronic disease. Which is bad. Don't be inflamed.
It can help prevent cancer
Mustard (as well as mustard greens, the delicious leafy part of the plant) may be a cancer preventative. Don't get any ideas, though -- this doesn’t you can cancel out your out-drinking cigarette habit by also ordering up a hot dog with extra mustard.
It may help alleviate asthma and a bunch of other nasty conditions, too
“Mustard seeds are excellent sources of the trace minerals selenium and magnesium, which not only help with cancer prevention, but can also manage symptoms of asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure, and migraines,” Dr. Verma tells us.
It could lower your cholesterol
Some studies have shown that mustard can lower cholesterol, which has to be the most delicious way that has ever happened, ever. Not sure if that means the pastrami on rye with mustard is basically erased from your system, but it's at least a start.
If you go for the spicy stuff, you may live longer
If you gravitate towards those hot-hot-hot mustards (and other spicy foods), your predilection for spice may help you live longer, according to a Harvard study published earlier this year. Don't shy away from that coarse Dijon.
Maybe the Romans were on to something after all?
“Mustard seeds are also abundant in phosphorus, copper, manganese, and omega-3 fatty acids -- all of which are beneficial for cellular regeneration and energy,” Dr. Verma says. Mustard won't necessarily heal your wounds in Wolverine time, but that whole “lethargy” thing? Whatever you make of ancient medicine, it's pretty safe to say that a shot of mustard is better for you than a neon green energy drink.