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What Are Mustard Greens?
Mustard greens are the leaves of brown mustard plant (Brassica juncea). Brown mustard is a hybrid of Brassica nigra (black mustard) and Brassica rapa (field mustard; subspecies include bok choy, napa cabbage, and turnips) with its origins in the Himalayas. It’s the same plant whose seeds are used to make French-style brown mustards, and canola oil (brown mustard’s relative, rapeseed, is the other source for canola oil).
Different Types of Mustard Greens
A couple of different subspecies, or cultivars, of brown mustard are grown particularly for the leafy greens:
The subspecies Brassica juncea subsp. integrifolia includes:
- Curly mustard (aka American mustard, Southern mustard), which has very frilly leaves, and looks similar to curly kale. Curly mustard is an important green in soul food cooking and is the type of mustard most commonly available in the United States.
- Gai Choy (aka Chinese mustard, Indian mustard, head mustard) has a large bulb, like bok choy, which it resembles more closely than curly mustard. A smaller version is sometimes called leaf mustard or bamboo version.
- Red mustard, which has rounded purple-tinged leaves and a more tender texture.
- Mizuna (aka Japanese mustard), which is serrated feathery and looks a little like dandelion greens. If you’ve ever gotten “spicy mix” at the farmers market, it probably contained a combination of baby mizuna, red mustard, and arugula.
- The subspecies Brassica juncea subsp. tsatsai (aka swollen-stem mustard) is used to make zhai cai, an important Chinese pickle (aka Szechuan vegetable).
Ethiopian mustard (aka texsel greens) is another species entirely (Brassica carinata), a cross between cabbage and mustard, that’s also eaten for its leaves.
What Do Mustard Greens Taste Like?
Although the intensity of flavor will vary between cultivars, and depending on when the mustard was grown and harvested, all different subspecies of mustards have a peppery flavor, not unlike mustard seed or prepared mustard. If you enjoy the pepperiness of arugula, you’ll probably like the spicy, horseradish-like bite of mustard greens. Like other cruciferous vegetables, mustard greens can also be very bitter. Young mustard (look for smaller, more tender leaves) will have a milder flavor.
How to Cook Mustard Greens
The best way to prepare mustard greens will depend on the variety: Cook curly mustard as you would kale, but treat gai choy more like bok choy. Like kale, both the leaf and the stem of curly mustard greens can be eaten, but the stems can take longer to cook. Discard any tough, woody parts. Mustard greens will loose their vibrant green color when stewed for a long time, so if the color is important to you, blanch or steam mustard greens before stir-frying, sautéing, or pureeing.
How to Flavor Bitter Mustard Greens
If your greens are tasting very bitter, try balancing the flavor out with a little sugar (especially good for Southern braised mustard greens, or stir-fried gai choy). Or, try adding a little more salt: Salt both balances out bitterness, and lessens our perception of bitterness.
11 Ways to Cook With Mustard Greens
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Mustard greens are incredibly versatile. They’re delicious raw, but also well suited to slow cooking. Try mustard greens in:
- Salad: Raw mustard greens lightly dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt make for a refreshing, peppery salad. Use curly mustard, red mustard, or mizuna.
- Stir-fry: Try stir-frying curly mustard or gai choy in sesame oil with garlic and dried red chillies for a simple, flavorful side dish.
- Soup: Mustard greens are delicious in a soup or stew. Try curly mustard with white beans or gai choy with miso.
- Gratin: Combine blanched curly mustard greens and kale with cheese and cream, top with breadcrumbs, and bake for a decadent warm-weather meal.
- Pesto: Use blanched curly mustard greens in place of the basil in a classic pesto.
- Gumbo: Mix curly mustard with collard greens and turnip greens for a green gumbo.
- Creamed: Try curly mustard cooked with cream and bechamel sauce.
- Braise: Include mustard greens in a mix of collard greens, turnip greens, and kale, cooked low and slow in chicken stock fortified with a ham hock. Seasoned with apple cider vinegar and crushed red pepper flakes.
- Sarson Ka Saag: In this North Indian dish, Indian mustard is blanched or steamed, then mashed and sauteed in ghee with garlic, onion, green chillies, and spices.
- Fermented: Fermented mustard greens are popular throughout Asia. They’re known as dua cai chua in Vietnam and gundruk in Nepal. In Korea, mustard greens are made into kimchi. Mustard greens can also be made into Korean kimchi. Chinese zha cai is made from the stem of a variety of mustard with an extra large stem.
- Blanched: Serve blanched mustard greens the Japanese way, seasoned simply with soy sauce.
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