Mustard: “Fifty Shades of Yellow”?

When you come across the word “Mustard”, do you still think automatically of the bright yellow saucy condiment that’s primarily used on Hot Dogs? Read on. I’ll open your eyes and tantalize your taste buds!

Mustard Plants

Seeds of an idea

“Mustard”, in the food sense, is a collective name for the seeds of a variety of closely related plants grown in temperate climates all over the world. It just so happens that Saskatchewan, Canada, has ideal soil and weather conditions for Mustard production and the province actually accounts for as much as 85 per cent of the world’s annual mustard exports. As one of my Chef Instructors at Culinary School noted, the famous French prepared Mustards (Grey Poupon, Dijon, etc.) are actually made almost entirely from Canadian Mustard Seed. They grind it, add Vinegar, Salt and sometimes Spices, and then sell it back to us in fancy little jars at much higher prices.

Colour me yellow – and…

Mustard Seed comes in a wide variety of colours and strengths, depending on the exact variety of “Mustard” plant grown.

Mustard Seed - ©

Unprocessed Mustard Seed occurs naturally in colours ranging from light grey to tan, to brown, to purple, to black. Favourite varieties among the makers of mainstream Prepared Mustard condiments are the light grey to brown variants.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no natural Mustard variety that produces bright yellow seeds. The makers of classic “American” Prepared Mustard (eg.- French’s) add Turmeric and other food colourings to light grey Mustard to achieve their trademark “Mustard” colour.

Why Mustard is “hot”

Basically, Mustard is hot for the same reason Chili Peppers are hot. All Peppers have some Capsaicin, the ingredient that produces the sensation of “heat” on your palate. Likewise, all “Mustards” have a little (or a lot of) the heat-inducing compounds Myrocin and/or Sinigrin. They have a different savoury flavour profile than Capsaicin but the “heat” experience is similar.

How many of our readers are old enough to remember Mustard Plasters? They consisted of a combination of Mustard and medicinal ingredients, wrapped in a gauze or cotton poultice, designed to give relief from chest colds and muscle pains. Mustard provided a sensation of heat.

Mustard the Condiment

Prepared Mustard, the generic name for the family of saucy condiments based on various kinds of mustard and spice additions, takes in everything from your standard Yellow Mustard in the familiar squeeze bottle to artisanal blends of different coloured and flavoured Mustard Seeds, ground to a powder, cracked, coarse ground or blended-in whole. Mustard makers these days are apt to add almost anything to their fancy mixtures. Honey, Wine Vinegars, Wines and Spirits, a wide variety Herbs and Spices – even Hot peppers – are all fair game.

The consistency of Prepared Mustard can vary from runny and Vinegary to thick, pasty and predominantly hot, rather than tart.

To make Prepared Mustard, all you have to do is start with some finely ground Mustard Seed and your choice of coarsely ground, cracked or whole Mustard Seed. Mix up the colours if you wish to create distinct flavour and heat combinations. You must add some oil, to help create a smooth saucy or pasty consistency, and a sour component to complement the Mustard’s heat.

Mustard the Ingredient

Besides being used as a condiment, Mustard has long filled another, broader role as a cooking ingredient in classic European and Asian cuisines.

You can substitute Dry Mustard for Prepared Mustard, and vice-verse, in almost any recipe. But remember, Dry Mustard is up to three times as hot as Prepared Mustard, and not nearly so acidic. Many sources recommend adding a dash of Vinegar or Lemon Juice when substituting Dry in place of Prepared Mustard. Try balancing off the sourness of prepared Mustard when used in place of Dry by adding a couple of pinches of Sugar, a dollop of Honey or some other sweetener suitable to the recipe in question.

Ground Mustard Seed (also known as Dry Mustard) is used extensively in Vinaigrette Salad Dressings and Marinades, both to add flavour and, importantly, to act as an emulsifier, mediating the friendly mingling of Oil and water – which don’t naturally mix. For this property, Mustard can thank the protein Lecithin, in which it is very rich. And we can thank Mustard for helping us create dressings that don’t separate when left to sit for a few minutes.

Mustard is also a favourite ingredient in Cheese Sauces, Macaroni and Cheese and other creamy sauces and soups where a hint of zippy heat and a flush of warm colour are desired. Think, also, of Scalloped Potatoes and other dishes that employ a version of Béchamel Sauce…

Mustard is a mainstay of BBQ Sauces and Rubs, too. It is called for in both dry and wet Rub recipes, in both Dry and Prepared form.

Given the preceding statement, it should come as no surprise that Mustard is a central component of many a Pork Sauce and Glaze, in general. Bacon lovers in the crowd may already have tried Mustard Crusted Pork Belly, a new bar food phenomenon.

My Grandmother had a wonderful Old Country expression: “Sympathy is poor relief; it’s like Mustard without Beef.” A classic British culinary combination!

So is Beef and Hoseradish. But that’s another story, for another installment of Cooking 101!

~ Maggie J.