Mustard
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Versatile and Wonderful

We have presented some different mustard paste recipes for you at the end of this page. But first, a little on the history and background of this wonderful spice.

There are actually 3 different species of this plant that we use in cooking. The white or yellow seeds are Sinapis alba, the brown ones Brassica juncea and black seeds Brassica nigra.

The seeds can be used in many ways in cooking, and they are used globally. It has also been used in herbal medicine, for scorpion stings, pain, toothache, appetite stimulation, clearing sinuses, boosting immunity, reducing cholesterol and for frostbite, weight loss, asthma, and dermatitis. White mustard varieties are planted in Europe as a cover crop, where its resistance to nematodes is important in the rotation with sugar beet. It is also processed to produce biodiesel and pesticides.

The most commonly known and highly commercialized product from the seeds is a spicy paste or cream, a condiment we also know as ‘mustard’. It is generally squeezed over food on the go, fast food such as hot dogs, French fries, cheese, cold meats, and sausages in German cooking, to add flavour. It is not just a flavourant, but also a natural emulsifier and helps blend oil and water based liquids without curdling, and is thus frequently used in sauces, like Hollandaise, mayonnaise, marinades for steak, salad dressings, meat glazes and soups.

The spicy pastes can have many flavours and can be coarse or fine. To create the texture the seeds can be used whole, or can be cracked or bruised to liberate the piquant taste, or they can be ground to a fine powder. These are then mixed with acidic liquids like wine, vinegar or lemon juice, salt, sugar and other spices and flavours, to give a range of sharpness, sweetness, colours and styles.

Regional varieties are famous, coming from Dijon, Meaux, Norwich, Tewkesbury, Düsseldorf, Bavaria (with sugar, apple sauce or honey) Austria and Switzerland, Ireland (with whiskey), Romania, the US and India, where Kasundi is a favored Bengali relish. They vary in the choice of preserving agents sugar, 

alcohol or acid (taking the form of honey, vinegar, spirits, wine or  beer in variations), in the coarseness or inclusion of all parts of the seed, and the presence of other flavourings and spices, ageing and heat treatment.




History of Mustard

A paste made from the seeds of this plant was first used as a condiment with hot dogs in the US in 1904. One of the largest suppliers of the condiment to the US is Dijon in Canada, producing American yellow or “ballpark” mustard for fast food. Mild and coloured 

gold by turmeric, it differs from American deli varieties, or Spicy Brown which is coarsely ground and spicy, and then there is the Creole style from Louisiana, which is much coarser, and beer mustard popular in the midwest. In the US it is the most used spice after black pepper.

English and Karashi varieties of the condiment paste are the hottest in the world. The most famous English brand is bright yellow Colman’s dating from 1814. Another popular use of the spice in England is a 50/50 ground yellow seeds  and honey mix, which can be thinned down with oil and vinegar to make salad dressing, or used to coat cutlets. This same recipe is ironically used as a cough syrup in Eastern Europe. No cliches about English cuisine please.

In England the use of this spice paste is also attested very early. The chefs of 14th Century royalty made coarsely ground dried mustard balls with flour and cinnamon, in some cases horseradish, which could be moistened with wine or vinegar to make a paste. English mustard making tradition was started by its introduction from France in Anglo Norman times, and the French acquired it from Roman cuisine. The word ‘mustard’ is first found in English in the 13th Century and derives via Anglo-Norman and Old French from the Latin mustum (young wine) and ardens (flaming hot), due to the Roman practice of making it with young wine.

There is a Roman recipe for the paste dating from around the early 5th Century. It was prepared with ground seeds and young wine, mixed with pepper, caraway and lovage, grilled coriander seeds, dill, celery, thyme, oregano, onion, honey, vinegar, fish sauce and oil and used for glazing spit roasted boar. It is uncannily like the ingredients for a vinaigrette salad dressing I use, without the caraway, lovage and coriander.

The spice paste has been combined with fruit like apple, quince and cherries since the 14th Century in Italy, where it may be simmered until syrupy, or left cold and very piquant.

The Russian variety is hot, and prepared with brown Indian seed and high acid, as well as salt, sugar and oil. It can be heated as brown mustard is less denatured by heat than white.

In the tenth century Parisian monks began their own production, and in the 13th century Royal mustard makers were registered in Paris, and Dijon had become known as a production centre. The most Famous French company producing the condiment Grey-Poupon was established in 1777 and Dijon mustard was granted and Appellation d’origine contrôlée in 1937. They used a new recipe from 1856, replacing vinegar with the juice from sour green unripe grapes (verjuice), but recently white wine is more usual. Most Dijon mustard today is made from Canadian seed. Canada and Nepal are the world’s biggest mustard growers

But the history of the spice goes deeper. It was stored in pharaonic tombs in Egypt in preparation for the afterlife, was grown in the Indus valley more than four thousand years ago, and there are Sumerian and Sanskrit written records from three thousand BC. There is very little physical trace of mustard in the archaeological record, and conclusions about its use are based on archaeo-linguistics, and distribution of wild varieties in Europe and Asia. The white variety Sinapis hirta/alba, probably originated in North Africa, Middle East and the Mediterranean as it grows wild there, the brown variety, Brassica juncea originated in the foothills of the Himalayas, whereas Brassica nigra, the black variety originated in Europe and possibly South Asia. It is grown as a vegetable in Ethiopia, growing up to eight feet tall, and it is believed to be the variety referred to by Jesus as a symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew

13:31-32. “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows it is the largest of garden plants, and becomes a tree so that the birds come and perch in its branches”

 The popularity of the spice in global cooking and medicine is largely due to its chemical properties. It is an aid to sauce making, being a natural emulsifier. When mixing the powder of the seeds with water based liquids, a chemical reaction occurs. An enzyme is released which helps produce pungent oil. When the powder is mixed with water it is more pungent but deteriorates more rapidly in pungency. The use of acidic beverages preserves the pungency a little. The same plant chemical is responsible for the burn in wasabi, horseradish and garlic, stimulating pain sensors for heat and acidity in the mouth and nose. Slightly different chemicals lead to the milder burn in cabbages, broccoli and watercress, which are relatives in the same plant family, the Brassicas, as are radishes and turnips. White and yellow seeds produce a milder paste than brown or black seeds.

Preparation with heat reduces the burn, as does strong acidity in the liquids. The finer it is ground, the stronger it gets too, as there is more surface area for 

the chemical reaction. The whole plant is pungent in flavour, including the leaves. In addition to oil, the plant contains many nutrients and essential oils, such as Omega 3.

It possesses anti bacterial properties. The prepared paste does not need refrigeration, lasting indefinitely without becoming harmful. However it loses pungency over time and should be kept in a sealed container to prevent this. 

Some Mustard Recipes

The homemade country style recipe on this page is very simple with few ingredients. It contains the basic universals of powder, seeds, and acidic liquid or vinegar and salt which have been used since time immemorial to make the spice paste. The addition of turmeric aligns it a little with “Ballpark variety from the US” in coloring but it is mainly included because of the marvelous anti-inflammatory medicinal properties attributed to turmeric. It is a medium sharp, non sweet paste.

The homemade country style recipe on this page is very simple with few ingredients. It contains the basic universals of powder, seeds, and acidic liquid or vinegar and salt which have been used since time immemorial to make the spice paste. The addition of turmeric aligns it a little with “Ballpark variety from the US” in colouring but it is mainly included because of the marvelous anti-inflammatory medicinal properties attributed to turmeric. It is a medium sharp, non sweet paste.

Country style mustardCountry style

The fruit based recipe with apricot and basil is sweet and spicy and mixed cold, leaning towards or inspired by hot, fruity and sweet Italian style pastes. 

And finally we have the sweet variety that is used at the Oktoberfest in Bavaria as an accompaniment to Weisswurst and Brezeln / Pretzels.

This Sweet Oktoberfest variety is ideal for Weisswurst

Homemade Sweet Oktoberfest Mustard in a glass jar



Find more Condiment Recipes


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