The variety of mustards available today is matched only by the number of theories about the origin of this spicy paste. Mustard seeds can be traced back as far as 3000 BC. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Indians and Romans are all said to have grown mustard seeds and cooked the tender leaves of the mustard plant. (The Egyptians originally chewed the seeds whole while eating meat in order to improve the flavour.)
Mustard was eventually brought to Europe, where its popularity flourished. By the thirteenth century, 'Mustarder' was a common occupation. How mustard found its name is a hotly debated question. In classical times, mustard was made by mixing the pounded seed with mustum (unfermented wine). The suffix '-ard' is supposedly derived from the Teutonic '-hart', meaning hard, strong or intense, - all characteristics of a good mustard. Another explanation is that the word 'mustard' comes from the Latin mustum ardens, meaning 'burning must', since mustard seeds were mixed with grape must in France long ago.
A more romantic story is told by the people of Dijon, France . Long associated with fine mustard, the Dijonais claim the word was established in the late part of the fourteenth century by Philip the bold, Duke of Burgundy. Local legend has it that the Duke had difficulty digesting meat during the lengthy and elaborate banquets he was so famous for giving. He asked his chef to devise a sauce that would disguise the meats often rancid smell and taste. Mout ma tarde, meaning 'a long time I delay my meal' was the term given to this spicy yellow condiment which allowed the Duke and his guests to savour their food. Later, this phrase was shortened to 'moutarde', the French word for mustard.
This story, apocryphal or not, gives some clue as to why mustard has remained so popular over the centuries. In the past mustard was enjoyed simply because everyday foods weren't flavourful enough or had a downright bad taste. Early mustard users were not gourmets.
Today, despite its association with the 'gourmet' and 'speciality' food world, mustard is loved for similar reasons. Of all condiments, it is undoubtedly the most basic, capable of complementing and enhancing just about every type of savoury food. Modern Mustards. Our growing enthusiasm for mustard has produced an onslaught of new products and, not surprisingly, the results are varied.
For each terrific new mustard tasted, there have been least five 'duds'. These mustards can be described as 'trendies' - mustards that are brimming with interesting ingredients but having absolutely no memorable qualities. Usually these trendies are packaged so beautifully that you'd be willing to bet money that they'll taste good.
But looks can be deceptive. One spoonful and it's all over.
When tasting a mustard, the first thing to look for is pure mustard flavour - not salt, flour, oil or a strong herb taste, but mustard. After all that is what you are supposed to be buying. Far too many of the products sampled were filled with ingredients that overwhelmed, or conflicted with, the natural flavour of the mustard seeds. What follows is an attempt to make sense of the ever-growing selection of mustards, divided into nine major types with some hints of what they'll go best with.
The word 'style' in this category is significant. Although there is now a large and impressive selection of American mustards to choose from, what is truly defined as American-style is not terribly impressive. But, like iceberg lettuce, American-style mustard had its place. Everyone in the United States knows about this type of mustard. Its mild (some would say bland) taste and bright yellow colour is familiar, but there are two basic categories. The smooth, bright yellow 'ball park' mustard made from ground white seeds, vinegar, sugar, and spices ( most notably turmeric, a deep yellow spice used in curries); and the coarser, somewhat spicier brown 'deli-style' mustard made from a mixture of ground white and black seeds, vinegar and spices. American mustards seem to have been made to be eaten with hot dogs. They are also a good accompaniment to delicatessen sandwiches, sausages and baked beans.
Dijon and Dijon-Style Mustard.
Some would say that nothing rivals a good Dijon mustard. It should be pungent and spicy with a smooth, creamy texture. The Dijonais have an expression to describe the characteristics of a truly good mustard: mont au nez, meaning 'coming up to the nose'. It is also said in Dijon that mustard should stimulate the appetite and aid digestion, but never burn the throat or alter the taste of sauces or dishes.
The Dijonais take mustard making as seriously as some of their fellow Burgundians take wine-making, and there are strict laws in France, some dating back to the 1880s, that govern what can, and cannot, go into Dijon mustard. According to French law, a Dijon mustard must be made exclusively from black seeds (brassica nigra), salts and spices mixed with either white wine,(verjuice, the juice of unripened grapes) or vinegar. By law no sugars, flours, oils, perfumes, colouring or additives may be added. Any mustard that deviates from this traditional recipe must be called Dijon-style.
Dijon mustard is made by crushing the hulled seeds into a yellow paste and then mixing them with the liquids and flavourings. The mixture is allowed to stand for three days for the heat and flavourings to come together, then it is bottled. An average of 57,000 metric tons of Dijon mustard is made each year. Of all the varieties of mustard, Dijon is probably the most versatile. It's perfect served with steaks, leg of lamb, chicken, boiled beef, cold meats, sausages and fish. Try it as a base for vinaigrettes and use it for cooking; its smooth texture and pungent flavour blend easily with soups, stews and sauces.
English Mustard (Powder).
For centuries mustard has been a staple of the English kitchen. Thirteenth century Tudor households were said to consume mustard in enormous quantities. An earl of Northumberland would go through between 160 and 190 gallons of mustard a year. English mustard powder as we know it today is credited to a woman named Mrs Clements. The story goes that in 1720 she developed a powder that produced a smooth-textured mustard rather than the grainy type which was usual throughout England. What was so revolutionary about her mustard was that she ground the seeds in a mill rather than crushing them with a mortar and pestle, and she then put the mustard flour through a sieve to remove the hulls.
Mrs Clements took her 'discovery' from town to town and eventually to London, where it found favour with King George the First. Soon, mustard powder was made on a commercial basis throughout the country. It was referred to a 'Durham mustard' - a tribute to Mrs Clement's home town.
The popularity of English mustard was furthered in 1814 when a miller named Jeremiah Coleman bought a flour and mustard mill in Norwich. His company was so successful that, forty years later he bought a larger factory in Carrow, a district of Norwich, exclusively for production of his pungent mustard powder.
The English have always preferred mustard in powder form. Made of a blend of ground black and white mustard seeds, wheat flour and spices, English mustard is terrifically hot. To make English mustard simply add cold water to the powder, just enough to make a somewhat thick paste. It should stand for between ten and thirty minutes to develop full flavour and heat. The full flavour develops after ten minutes and diminishes after a few hours. You can also experiment by adding milk, cider, flat beer or herbs. Whatever liquid you use make sure it is cold as heat will kill the enzymes which activate the pungency and flavour. English mustard is extremely versatile. There is no better accompaniment to roast beef or left over cold meat. It also makes a tangy glaze for baked ham and goes well with sausages and sharp cheeses.
Since mustard powder acts as an emulsifier and preservative, it is often added to home-made mayonnaise, it not only adds a delicious flavour but prevents curdling.
The Germans, like the French and the British, adore mustard or, as they call it, Senf. Made from a blend of ground mustard seeds, wine vinegar, salt sugar and spices, there are tow major varieties of German mustard: Bavarian - a sweet, dark mustard, and the more popular Dusseldorf - a spicy mustard similar to Dijon. German mustard, it seems, was made to be eaten with sausages and wurst. The Dusseldorf mustards, which range from mild to very sharp, stand up to all sorts o spicy sausages and salamis. The sweet flavour of Bavarian mustard complements the more delicate sausages like Weiswurst, which is made from veal.
Grainy mustard, or what the French call moutarde a l'ancienne, tastes like all mustards used to taste before the eighteenth-century innovation of removing the seed's hull. Made from a mixture of ground and semi-ground seeds combined with vinegar and spices, this mustard's greatest asset is its texture. Grainy mustards have a taste similar to Dijon, although they are generally not as sharp. Their texture ranges from somewhat creamy to thick and crunchy, and lends itself to a wide variety of uses, one unusual suggestion being to spread a tablespoonful or two on a thick slice of bread and grill. Serve with a bowl of onion, vegetable or pea soup.
To some people, the key characteristic of good mustard is just how hot it is. Manufacturers have begun producing mustards labelled as 'Hot', 'Super Hot' etc. These are usually Dijon-style mustards with the addition of cayenne pepper, horseradish of chilli peppers. These range from mildly spicy to 'Oh-my-God-I can't-stand-it' hot. Cooking with these mustards is not the best idea as they tend to overwhelm other flavours.
Making your own mustard.
Making mustard is a surprisingly straightforward process of grinding and mixing mustard seeds with a few other ingredients. The seeds themselves are not hot until they are ground and moistened with some sort of cold liquid. The liquid activates a mixture of enzymes called myrosin which is what gives the mustard its pungency.
Freshly made mustard is searingly hot. It should be allowed to stand for 10-30 minutes to develop flavour and allow the heat to subsided slightly. The longer it stands the mellower it becomes. The making of mustard invariably involves secrets. Look at the labels on a dozen jars of Dijon mustard, they all list the same ingredients (mustard seeds, vinegar, salt and spices) but they taste very different. It is the manufacturers' special combination of seeds and seasonings that gives each mustard its distinctive flavour.
All mustard comes from the same family, the cruciferae plant-so called because it bears flowers with four petals arranged in the shape of a cross. The most common is the white seed (brassica alba), which is actually a yellowish-tan colour. This is the mildest and is used to make America-style mustard.
The black variety (brassica nigra) (actually a dark reddish-brown Colour) has been known since the earliest times for its potency. They are used for making hot mustards, most notably Dijon.
The brown variety (brassica juncea) is the hottest of them all, so hot that it is said to repel insects while growing. This variety is not generally used in prepared mustard but is frequently used in curries and ground into powder form to make what is called Chinese mustard.