A piquant condiment made from the seeds of the mustard plant. When the seeds are crushed, two elements, myronate and myrasin, are released, creating a fiery tasting essence. It is either left in a powdered form to which the consumer adds water; or it is mixed with water, wine, vinegar, or a combination of these ingredients, in a food processing plant.
Mustard seeds have been used for culinary purposes since prehistoric times. You will find mention of them in the Bible. The plants were cultivated in Palestine and then made their way to Egypt where they have been found in the pyramids.
The seeds were chewed during meals, quite possibly to disguise the rank flavor of spoiled meat. The Romans were known to crush the seeds and mix them with verjuice (unripened grape juice). Greek and Roman cooks used the seeds in a flour form, or mixed into a fish brine to flavor both fish and meat.
By the fourth century, mustard was being used in Gaul and Burgundy. Pope John XXII was so enamored of its flavor that he created a new office, grand moutardier du pape (great mustardmaker to the pope), and installed his nephew as the first moutardier.
In 1390, the French government issued regulations for the manufacture of mustard, decreeing that it contain nothing more than "good seed and suitable vinegar." Two hundred years later, corporations of vinegar and mustard manufacturers were founded at Orleans and Dijon.
Mustard popularity increased in the eighteenth century, thanks to two innovators. An Englishwoman named Clements developed a recipe that combined mustard powder with water. She traveled the countryside selling her product, keeping its ingredients a secret. King George I is said to have been a frequent customer. In Dijon, France, a mustard manufacturer named Niageon created a recipe for a strong mustard that combined black and brown seeds with verjuice.
In 1777, one of the most famous names in mustard was created when Maurice Grey, who had invented a machine to crush, grind and sieve seeds, joined forces with Auguste Poupon. The resulting Grey-Poupon Dijon mustard is made from brown or black mustard seeds that have been mixed with white wine.
In 1804, a British flour miller named Jeremiah Colman expanded his business to include the milling of mustard seeds. His process for producing his dry mustard is virtually unchanged since that time, with the only alteration being the use of brown seeds instead of black ones. Brown and white seeds are ground separately and then sifted through silk to filter out the seed hulls and bran. The two mustards are then blended and poured into tins.
By the turn of the century, an American named Francis French was also finding success making mustard. French's version was milder, made solely with white seeds, colored bright yellow with tumeric and made tart with vinegar.
The process by which mustard is made has not changed substantially over the years. The seeds are cleaned, crushed, sieved, and sifted. A variety of liquids such as wine and vinegar are added to make prepared mustards. Just like Mrs. Clements of Great Britain, however, manufacturers are still secretive about the precise measurements of each ingredient.
Today, most of the work is done by sophisticated machinery. In the earliest times, the seeds were crushed and grinded by hand. Then, steam-powered stampers were used. Now, the seeds are loaded into roller mills that can flatten and hull them simultaneously.
Brown (Brassica juncea) and white (Sinapis alba) mustard seeds are used to make mustard. They are sown in March and April, the plants usually flower in June, harvesting takes place in September. It is important to harvest before the pods are fully ripe because they will split and spill the seeds out. An 8 oz (226.8 g) jar of mustard requires approximately 1,000 seeds.
Before the invention of modern farming procedures, much of the work was done by hand. Quality was difficult to assure. Today, plant breeding allows the farmer to produce a consistently high quality seed. Combines have eliminated the back-breaking work of hand-cutting the plants with sickles.
Eighty-five percent of the world's mustard seeds are grown in Canada, Montana, and North Dakota. Most mustard producers purchase seeds from a cooperative. The seeds are stored by the tens of thousands in silos until they are ready to be used. Samples are taken from each shipment and tested for quality.
Vinegar, water and/or white wine are purchased from an outside supplier and added to the milled mustard seed to make a paste. A variety of spices including tumeric, garlic, paprika, and salt are added to the mustard paste for flavoring and color. These are purchased from outside supplier. Other ingredients may be added to the mustard paste to create flavored varieties. These ingredients are purchased from an outside supplier and range from lemon to honey to horseradish.
All manufacturers check the mustard at each point in the process. Government food processing regulations set parameters for cleanliness in the plant. These regulations include all utensils and machinery, floors, and workers' garments
In the United States, mustard is used more than any other spice except pepper. Mustard is also popular in Europe and Asia. By the late twentieth century, mustard cookery became a favorite of both professional and amateur chefs. Recipes were developed to use mustard as a marinade for meats and fish. Mustard sauces were developed for a wide variety of dishes. The number and types of flavors seem to be restricted only by the imagination.
Jordan, Michele Anna. The Good Cook's Book of Mustard. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1994.
Lang, Jenifer Harvey, ed. Larousse Gastronomique. New York: Crown Publishers, 1988, reprinted 1998.
Roberts-Dominguez, Jan. The Mustard Book. New York: Macmillan, 1993.
Mount Horeb Mustard Museum. 109 E. Main Street, Mount Horeb, WI 53572. (608) 437-3986. http://www.mustardweb.com/index.html/ (June 29, 1999).
Nabisco. http://www.nabisco.com/museum/gpoupon.html/ (June 29, 1999).
Unofficial Colman's mustard site. http://ilhawaii.net/-danrubio/mustard/history/ (June 29, 1999).
— Mary McNulty