Modern-day mustards frequently piggy-back with interesting companions — it might be savories like
sun-dried tomatoes, olives or French violets — pungencies like garlic, horseradish, Roquefort or touches of creole. Sometimes mustards take up with the fire of wasabi, jalapenos, habaneros, Africa’s Harissa or chipotle chile peppers. Subtle fruits like currants, key limes and raspberries tag along as well, not to overlook the intoxicating Tequilas, Cognacs, Irish Whiskies. Then, there’s the good company of exotics like truffles, chocolate and macademia nuts to be found in mustard these days. And this doesn’t even touch on the nuances of the Ball Parks and Mucky Ducks of the mustard world. North Americans, it seems, crave mustard more than any spice except black pepper. The U.S. markets 1600 different mustard varieties.
Historically, mustard dates back to the 14th century, the oldest condiment known. Made from crushed mustard seed, it is mixed with liquid, and these vary from water to beer or a broth. The Chinese used mustard for several thousand years, and Europeans commenced a little later. Mustard seeds were found in the tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs.
In the mid 1600’s England, Glocestershire became famous for its thick horseradish mustard, and it became the rage ingredient in English cooking. Shakespeare was known as a mustard lover. The true English pioneer with mustard, the greatest name in it, was Jeremiah Colman. In 1804 he began making his mustard in Norwich. He was a brilliant marketer, and Colman’s mustard became England’s landmark mustard. Close to his time, a J. W. Raye came up with a mustard sauce for canned sardines.
In France, the use of mustard dates back to 1336, probably first concocted by early monks. To this day, French law requires only brown seed be used in the preparation of France’s Dijon mustard. It is a pale grayish yellow in color, because the husk of the dark mustard is removed before crushing the seeds. Many hold Dijon to be the world’s finest
North Americans used very little mustard until the beginning of the 20th century. Francis French, a New York spice merchant, came up with his milder mustard which was bright yellow. It quickly caught on as French’s “Cream Salad Mustard.”
Hot mustard dipping sauces are a popular condiment served with Chinese and Japanese appetizers. They usually make it by mixing dry mustard powder with water, causing a sharp, hot taste. Some recipes call for the addition of sesame oil and some rice vinegar. They may add a small amount of sugar and some soy sauce, too.
The mustard family is large and extends to cabbage, broccoli and turnips. The mustard seeds grow on bushes four to five feet tall and produce large sprays of bright yellow flowers. There are three types — black, white or yellow and brown: Mild – yellow or white, Sinapis alba; Moderate — Brown, Brassica juncea, sometimes called Asian, used in Chinese cooking; and Sharp: Black B. Nigra. These are the hotest. Cultivated mustard greens grow from a different seed than seeds for making mustard.
Mustard powder has medicinal qualities. It is strong and must be used with care. Its heat is harnessed to make mustard plaster, which lends heat, and its fumes break up chest congestion and clear nasal stuffiness. Its heat-to-the-touch, like capazcin, is helpful with arthritis, rheumatism, toothache, general soreness and stiffness. Mustard also stimulates the stomach’s mucous membrane and improves digestion. It is also a vomiting inducer.
Making condiment mustard is simple. Crush or grind seeds, add liquid and any other desired flavorings. Some prefer to simmer the mixture before cooling and putting into jars. Avoid contact with aluminum surfaces
You can buy mustard three distinct forms, and the uses for each are different:
- Find mustard seed in the spice section. The seeds are actually tiny, round balls for crushing. Use them whole in pickling spices, corned beef seasonings or wherever “mustard seed” is called for.
- Mustard powder, usually Colmans: Use this when a recipe calls for “1 teaspoon mustard.”
- Prepared mustard: When a recipe calls for prepared mustard it refers to bottled mustard found in the condiment section.
- Here’s some tips on when to use mustards to enhance recipes:
- Mustard is also an excellent ingredient for soups, stews, dressings, marinades, barbecue sauce
- Put a scant half-teaspoonful of dry mustard into the yolk mixture when making deviled eggs.
- Use a scant amount of prepared mustard in salads for “salad sandwiches.”
- Popular with cold meats such as ham. The French like Dijon on steak.
- Mustard acts as an emulsifier in vinaigrettes or homemade mayonnaise. It enables the oil to mix and suspend with the other ingredients. Dijon-style, or Pommery type mustard works best.
- Basil, mint, tarragon and other herb mustards are great with greens and slaws.
- Beer and wine mustards are good in gravies, on sausages and pork.
- Orange-flavored mustard, mixed with softened butter, is an excellent spread for fish when it bakes.
- Hawaiian or pineapple mustard works miracles on baking ham
- Creole or jalapeno mustard adds zest to dips and seafood.
- Make a Honey-Mustard Sauce by combining whipping cream, white wine, honey with mustard.
National Mustard Day is the first Saturday in August. Here’s some sites of interest: