Mustard is a beloved condiment used worldwide, yet few realize just how diverse and versatile it truly is. Beyond the familiar yellow squeeze bottle, mustards come in a broad range of styles, each with its own unique flavors and best uses in the kitchen. This guide explores the origins, taste profiles, and culinary roles of the many mustard varieties.
A Brief History of a Timeless Condiment
Mustard is used on hot dogs and restaurant sandwiches all over the world, but it has been around for thousands of years. Mustard seeds have been used as both food and medicine since around 2000 BCE when people in India and China lived in old societies.
Texts from India’s Vedic time and the works of Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist, show that mustard was used in the past. In China, books from the Zhou Dynasty talked about how mustard was used in cooking and as medicine. Most likely, the condiment spread along trade lines like the Silk Road, and it eventually reached Europe and beyond.
Evidence of mustard’s long legacy has even been found in the ruins of Pompeii, signifying its establishment in Roman culture by 200 AD. By the 18th century, mustard was a fixture in European nobility’s kitchens, with German yellow mustard being a popular preparation. Today it remains a versatile kitchen staple.
Tailored Regional Mustard Styles
Over many generations, people all over the world have come up with ways to make mustard that fit their local foods and tastes. Most Asian mustards have a good mix of strong and sweet flavors.
Depending on where you are in China, mustard can be mild or spicy. To balance out the strong mustard seeds in Japanese mustards like Karachi, ingredients like rice wine vinegar, fruit, or mirin are added.
In Europe, the famous French Dijon style has a smooth, creamy body and a sharp bite. The British are known for making mustards with stronger spices and sometimes horseradish or herbs.
Germans like sweet mustards. Honey, sugar, or fruit juice are often used to tone down the heat. Russia’s traditional mustard has horseradish in it to give it more flavor. Some kinds are unique to the Americas, like the classic American yellow and stone-ground mustards made by hand.
The Science Behind Mustard’s Distinct Flavor
What is it about the mustard flavor that makes people love it so much? The mustard seeds have a bitter, sharp taste on their own. There is a group of chemicals called glucosinolates that give them their strength.
When the seeds are mixed with water, an enzyme reaction happens that breaks down the glucosinolates into volatile chemicals like allyl isothiocyanate. This makes the mustard’s signature oils, which give it its strong taste and smell.
How hot and spicy the mustard will be in the end depends on how strong this enzyme reaction is. It can be managed by how you do it. For example, using cold water instead of hot water makes the reaction stronger. The amount of acids like vinegar also affects the level of heat.
Mustard’s Globally Loved, Locally Used Role in Cooking
While we may think of mustard as a hot dog topper or sandwich spread, it plays diverse culinary roles worldwide. Beyond North America and Europe, mustard is used in Indian curries, Asian dipping sauces, and South American marinades.
What is it about the taste of mustard that people love so much? On their own, mustard seeds taste bitter and sharp. They get their strength from a group of chemicals called glucosinolates.
When the seeds are mixed with water, an enzyme process takes place that breaks down the glucosinolates into volatile chemicals like allyl isothiocyanate. This gives the oils that give the mustard its strong flavor and smell.
Depending on how strong this enzyme response is, the mustard will end up being hot and spicy. How you do it makes a difference. For example, the response is stronger when cold water is used instead of hot water. The amount of acids, like vinegar, can also change how hot something is.
Mustard Varieties: Diverse Textures and Flavors
There are three main types of mustard seeds, each contributing their qualities:
- Yellow seeds – The mildest, often used in American mustards. Provide color and subtle flavor.
- Brown seeds – Robust, spicy flavor perfect for deli-style mustards. Bring moderate heat.
- Black seeds – The most pungent, used in extra hot mustards. Deliver serious sinus-clearing heat.
By blending these seeds in different ratios and using various preparation methods, mustard makers can create any texture and flavor profile imaginable. Now let’s explore some popular global varieties:
- American Yellow – Bright, mild, and iconic. Gets its hue from turmeric.
- Deli Style – Coarsely ground with brown seeds bringing bolder heat. Great for sandwiches.
Specialty Regional Mustards
- Dijon – Creamy and finely textured with a signature tang from the white wine and vinegar.
- English – Packs heat using both yellow and brown seeds. Thickened with wheat flour.
- Bavarian Sweet – German-style balanced with sweetness from added sugar or apples.
Artisanal and Flavored Mustards
- Whole Grain – Studded with whole seeds for a flavorful crunch.
- Fruit Mustards – Sweetness from raspberry, blueberry, cranberry, and more
- Craft Beer Mustard – Unique mustard and craft beer fusion flavors.
- Honey Mustard – Sweetened with honey for a smooth glaze or dip.
No matter your tastes, there’s a mustard variety suited for you. Explore and find your favorites.
How to Buy, Store, and Prepare Mustard
Check the ingredients when you buy mustard to make sure they are good. Whole mustard seeds are better than mustard powder. Instead of artificial chemicals, look for other real, natural ones.
If you can, buy mustard in glass packages instead of plastic ones for the best taste. Unopened mustard jars can keep their zing for up to two years if they are kept in the fridge. Mustard stays good for about 6 months after it has been opened.
When cooking with mustard or making a sauce with it, whisk it well first to bring back any liquids that have separated. Adding a little water helps thin out mustards that are too thick. Mix with honey or maple syrup to make a glaze that is sweet and sour.
FAQs: Your Mustard Questions Answered
What makes a mustard mild or spicy?
The seeds, preparation method, and concentration of acids like vinegar determine the heat level. Using cold water makes hotter mustard compared to hot.
How do Dijon and yellow mustard differ?
Dijon has a smooth, robust flavor with white wine notes. Yellow is milder, colored with turmeric.
Why are some mustards grainy?
Varieties like whole grain contain whole or cracked mustard seeds, giving a textured appearance.
Can I substitute one mustard for another?
Substituting is fine in salad dressings or meat glazes. For dishes relying on a mustard’s specific flavor, it’s better to use the exact variety called for.
Share Mustard’s Rich Tradition
Mustard is a versatile cooking staple that has been around for a long time and is loved all over the world. Beyond the standard yellow squeeze bottle, there is a whole world of flavors, types, and uses to discover. Use mustards, from sweet honey to spicy Dijon, to spice up what you’re making.