The spice of life

The spice of life


If you like spicy mustard, thank a caterpillar

A new study explains why we owe the spiciness of mustard, horseradish and wasabi to an ancient ‘arms race’ between plants and caterpillars that dates back to the dinosaurs.

By: Russell McLendon

July 1, 2015, 2:45 p.m.

 Lagarta-the-spice-of-lifeThe larvae of cabbage butterflies have forced some plants to evolve elaborate chemical defenses. (Photo: Sam Fraser-Smith/Flickr)

 Mustard is a summertime staple in the U.S., from the yellow spread on hot dogs to the piquant greens in salads. But while people have eaten it in various forms for several thousand years, its tang has a much longer — and less benign — history.

The origins of mustard, along with related foods like horseradish and wasabi, date back nearly 90 million years. As a new study explains, they’re the result of an “arms race” between plants and insects that’s been going on since the age of dinosaurs. Read more.