A brief history of ketchup and mustard

If you are American and have nothing else in the refrigerator, you probably have mustard and ketchup. Even if you don't use them often, it's nice to have them available. But how did they originate? Mustard began as mustard seed, used as a medicine and a spice.

The paste-like form of mustard showed up roughly 2500 years ago. The Greeks and Romans blended ground-up mustard seeds with unfermented grape juice, or must, to make a smooth mixture. The first version of this concoction wasn't necessarily food—it may have been used more for its medicinal properties, and not completely without reason: Mustard seeds are rich in compounds called glucosinolates, and when these particles get broken down, they produce isothiocyanates, powerful antioxidants that fight inflammation and give mustard its nose-tingling kick.

The Greeks and Romans applied mustard's medicinal properties to almost every ailment imaginable—Hippocrates even praised its ability to soothe aches and pains. Many of mustard's historical uses don't hold up to modern science—for instance, it's not a cure for epilepsy, as the Romans once believed—but it's still used as a holistic treatment for arthritis, back pain, and even sore throats.

The whole idea of mustard as medicine reminds one of "mustard plaster," a term that confused me in childhood because the practice had already died out by then. Read how both mustard and ketchup were developed and turned into modern condiments at Mental Floss. A video is included if you'd rather watch than read.

[via Strange Company]