Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dig In - Mustard

clockwise from top: brassica alba, mustard powder, brassica juncea
You don't need a lot of money to live like a king. All you need is a mustard pot. Mustard was such a highly regarded seasoning and condiment in the Middle Ages that medieval courts included an official called a "mustardius" who supervised the growing and preparation of mustard. And when King Louis XI of France was invited out to dinner he carried with him the royal mustard pot.  The Roman legions carried mustard seeds with them wherever they went.  Used mustard with their MRE's I guess.  (I totally get this. We bring a bottle of malt vinegar when we go to American Legion fish fries.  A person has to take care of himself.)

There is a reason that mustard was and continues to be so popular. It has great flavor and adds zip and character to a wide variety of other foods. Mustard is as at home on a hot dog in its bright yellow American style as it is mixed into the most sophisticated shallot and olive oil vinaigrette in its Dijon form.

Have you reviewed your mustard inventory lately?  If all you have is yellow ball park mustard, I beg you to expand your collection.  Purchasing - or even making - a few kinds of mustard is a very inexpensive and fun way to improve the quality of your food and cooking life.

Some mustard history
The first commercial mustard was made in the area of Dijon, France in the mid 14th century. The French have always favored "made" or prepared mustards. Mustard powder has never been popular in French home kitchens as it has been in English kitchens.

There are several important English names in mustard history.  At least as early as the mid 16th century, a horseradish style mustard was made in the town of Tewkesbury.  That style of mustard still exists and is famous for its strength.   Some artisanal varieties are still made there.

Another big name in English mustard history is Colman.  Jeremiah Colman was a mustard magnate - he is the reason that Britain dominated the mustard powder industry starting in around 1804.  (He owed a lot to a Mrs. Clements, it would seem.  In 1720 she developed a process for drying seeds enough so that they could be milled into powder instead of an oily paste. )  Here are some mustard recipe ideas from the folks at Colman USA.

Kinds of mustard
Mustard comes in two basic forms - powdered and seeds.
Almost all commercial mustard is made with either Brassica alba (tan or yellowish seeds native to Europe) or Brassica juncea (small reddish brown seeds native to Asia, often called "oriental mustard"). Brassica nigra - black mustard seeds - are seldom used commercially.

There are basically three kinds of "made mustard":

Bordeaux – mild and brown. Has a slight vinegary taste and can contain sweetener and herbs - often tarragon.

Dijon – paler yellow than Bordeaux but stronger. When Mr. Grey invented the steam driven mustard mill in Dijon in 1853, this mustard's fortunes were made.

Meaux – usually fairly mild and made with unmilled crushed grains. Sometimes called Moutarde a l‘ancienne

Mustard chemistry
Mustard seeds contain glycosides.  These are sulphur compounds found in other members of the cabbage family.  Once the seed coat is broken and the contents come in contact with water, an enzyme (myrosinsase) starts breaking down the glycosides.   This is what creates the sharp mustard flavor we know and love. In about ten minutes the mustard flavor will peak, unless it is stopped with the addition of either heat or acid, such as vinegar.  If heat or acid is applied to mustard seed as soon as it is ground, the enzyme reaction never starts.  So the time at which acid is added affects flavor and punguency of the mustard.  In Indian cooking, whole mustard seeds are often sauteed.  This creates a mild, nutty flavor.

Uses of mustard
Mustard - usually the Bordeaux kind - is essential with German type sausages.   The Chinese use mustard mostly in the form of mustard greens, the vegetable.  Many Americans know the hot mustard sauce often served with eggrolls - it is just mustard powder (from Brassica Juncea) mixed with water.  Scandinavians love mustard sauces - hot and cold - with various types of fish.  Italians don't use mustard much in cooking - but they do love a special fruit relish made with mustard called mostarda di frutta.  In modern American kitchens mustard is a must - with all kinds of salad dressings or sauces or as a condiment with various kinds of meat or boiled dinners.

Some cooks prepare a little mustard fresh just prior to a meal for best flavor - blending mustard powder with a little water or beer and then after 10 to 15 minutes adding a little vinegar, perhaps garlic or a pinch of sugar or bit of honey and any desired herbs or spices.  A good ratio is 1/4 cup mustard powder to 2-3 T. liquid.  Note that mustard powders vary in their rate of liquid absorption and heat - so you may need to experiment to find your favorite kind.  I usually get mine in bulk at the food co-op.

Mustard recipes

Mustard Gingerbread
2 1/4 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. soda
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 t. powdered mustard
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1/2 c. butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 large egg
1 cup hot water
Mix together dry ingredients.  Cream together butter and sugar.  Add molasses and egg and beat well.  Add flour mixture alternately with hot water.  Beat batter about one minute.  Pour into greased 9 x 9 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool in pan about 10 minutes and turn out onto wire rack to finish cooling.  Good served warm - with applesauce, lemon sauce or whipped cream

Mustard Horseradish Sauce
1 t. water
1/2 t. powdered mustard
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
combine water and mustard.  Let stand 10 minutes to develop flavor.  Add horseradish and mix well.  serve with ham, pork, roast beef and tongue.

Hot mustard sauce
Prepare at least 2 hours prior to serving.
3 T. white wine vinegar
2 T. grainy prepared mustard
1 T dry mustard
3/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground white pepper
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 t. ground cardamom (this is the Scandinavian influence)
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
Whisk together all ingredients except oil.  Gradually whisk in oil until sauce is thick.  Makes about one cup.  (Note - you might wish to mix mustard powder with a little water first and wait 5-10 minutes if you want a sharper flavor.  The acid in the vinegar will inhibit the mustard enzyme.)

Tarragon mustard
This is from one of my favorite cookbooks, now out of print, called Better than Storebought
1/4 cup white or yellow mustard seeds
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2 t. dried tarragon
1/3 cup water
1/8 t. ground black pepper
1/8 t. ground allspice
2 t. honey
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
Combine mustard seeds, wine, vinegar and half the tarragon in a dish.  Let stand 3 hours or more.

Pour the mustard mixture into a blender or food processor and add all the other ingredients except the extra tarragon.  Whirl to a puree.

Cook mixture in a double boiler over simmering water about 10 minutes - until thickened.

Cool.  Add remaining 1 t. tarragon.  Scrape mustard into a jar and cap it.  This will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.  Makes about 1 cup.


  1. oo i wish i had that better than storebought cookbook...lucky you! thank you for the tutorial on mustard, i truly enjoyed it!!

  2. I am looking for a delish recipe for this mustard – – It only has 4 ingredients – water, mustard seeds, vinegar & salt. I can eat it with a spoon – OMG! Found 1 crock of it at a Marshalls (discount) store. PLEASE someone facebook me with a recipe! THANKS!