The Zen Of Mustards
Mustard is to pulled pork as jelly is to peanut butter. The two just go together naturally. Although most BBQ sauces are tomato based, classic South Carolina BBQ sauces are yellow and are based on yellow mustard. Many Kansas City-style red BBQ sauces have mustard added for complexity, spiciness, and depth of flavor.
There are many different types of mustard. You can buy mustard powders, pastes, or sauces. They are made from Brassica plants, members of the cabbage family. Their little yellow flowers produce white, brown, and black seeds, which are ground to make mustard "flour." White mustard seeds produce yellow powders, and black seeds produce a brown powder. Mustard pastes are made by mixing powders with water, wine, vinegar, and even beer. Then they are mixed with herbs, spices, and flavorings as diverse as horseradish, rosemary, peppercorns, grape juice, and honey.
Mustard's heat comes from oils released when the ground seed is mixed with liquid. The active ingredient is allyl isothiocyanate. It travels up the nose, and the really hot ones can make your eyes tear. Unlike pepper heat, which tends to stay in the mouth and builds cumulatively with each mouthful, mustard heat dissipates fairly quickly.
According to Barry Levenson, Curator of the Mustard Museum, mustard is the oldest condiment. The Chinese have grown mustard for more than 3,000 years and mustard seeds were found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. He says "The earliest references to mustard in the Dijon region of France dates back to 1336, but we can assume that the early monks had developed the art of mustard making many years earlier." The Mustard Museum, in Middleton, WI (just west of Madison), and its website are a treasure trove of info and trivia, and it sells a number of mustards and other sauces online. In the shadow of the massive University of Wisconsin campus, Levinson touts his facility as Poupon U. The annual National Mustard Day celebration in early August is a hoot featuring $1 hot dogs with mustard. If you want ketchup, there is a $10 surcharge.
Mustard heat and flavor dissipate with age, so buy small quantities, and use them up.
English dry mustard a.k.a. Mustard powder. Colman’s Mustard powder is a blend of brown and white mustard powders that has been made in England since 1814 and is widely available. You can prepare your own condiment by mixing it with wine, vinegar, water, and seasonings. Go ahead. Make your own honey mustard. Go easy. It's hot. Real hot.
Dijon-style mustard or brown mustard. I use the more widely available Grey Poupon. Technically GP is "Dijon-style," since it is now made in the US and other locations by Nabisco. Dijon and Dijon-style mustards are made from brown or black mustard seeds. The seeds are ground, and white wine, verjus (the juice of unripe grapes), or vinegar is added along with other spices and herbs. For most of my recipes I use the original Grey Poupon, not the "Country" or "Spicy" flavors. GP is owned by Kraft.
Whole grain mustard. Contains the husks of the seed giving it a rustic texture and flecks of brown color. I like it for pan sauces.
Yellow "ballpark" mustard. Made from yellow mustard seeds and colored by turmeric, American "ballpark" style mustard is essential for eating hot dogs, emulsifying salad dressings and pan sauces, in South Carolina BBQ sauces and many other sauce recipes. They are not as hot and flavorful as English or Dijon mustards. French's is the most popular and they claim it takes 10 million seeds to make one bottle. French's is owned by the multinational, Reckitt Benckiser. I have also used Plochman's and there is little diff in taste. Plochman's is still family owned. Usually I buy whichever is on sale.
Other mustards. Other popular mustard types are honey mustard (mixed with honey), horseradish mustard (mixed with horseradish), and hot mustard (mixed with wasabi or hot chile peppers).
This page was revised 9/4/2009
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