The condiment mustard is made from the seeds of the mustard plant which belongs to the family Cruciferea (Brassicaceae) along with other vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kale and is related to watercress. Known as the “King of the Condiments”, it is used in many cuisines in one form or another and is the most popular of made condiments in the world. It even has its own celebration day on 5th August.
Origin and history of mustard
Recorded evidence of the use of mustard seeds can be found dating back 7000 years in India.
In Europe, the Romans spread the use of mustard to Gaul (France, Belgium, western Switzerland and the parts of the Netherlands and Germany) and Britain, and although recipes for mustard paste have been round dating back to 40AD of mustard paste became more sophisticated. The town of Dijon is said to have begun making its famous mustard as early as the 13th century.
From these early times, the making of mustard was regulated including the number of producers and the way it was prepared. This was to prevent adulterated products entering the market and by the 17th Century stricter laws cam into force making it an offence for anyone other than the recognised makers to produce mustard sauce.
In 1720 a Mrs. Clements of Durham, England founded the modern era for mustard making by milling the centre of the seed into a fine flour. This was to become the standard industrialized process for use as a seasoning in cooking and for preparing mustard sauce.
Types of mustard
There are so many prepared mustards on the market today, it would be almost impossible to site them all. However in general, there are four types of mustard on which most are based.
French Mustard types
These are made with brown mustard seeds and wine vinegar or grape juice which produces a sharp pungent mustard. Popular examples include Dijon and Bordeaux.
American Mustard types
These are made with white mustard seeds which produce a mild sweetish condiment.
English Mustard types
These are made with both white and brown mustard seeds producing a condiment which is both pungent and hot.
German Mustard types
Although there are strong German mustards, most of us are more familiar with the mild sweet types, which are made with brown mustards seeds mixed with vinegar and sweetened with brown sugar or honey
Whole grain Mustard
These types are made in various parts of the world. As the name suggests, some of the seeds are not ground which creates a grainy consistency
Sold in airtight tins, English mustard powder is made from both white and brown seeds but its true flavour only comes out once it has been mixed with cold water.
Mustard plants like full sun but prefer cooler weather. As they mature in 50 days, succession planting is useful to ensure a constant supply. Sow the seeds from March to June, 6mm/¼ -inch deep, 7.5cm/3″ apart in ordinary garden soil. Once germinated thin the seedlings to 20cm/8-inches apart. Keep well watered and weeded.
Mustard greens can be eaten raw or cooked. Harvest the leaves whilst still young and tender. picking a few leaves from each plant to ensure continuous cropping and later flowering which will provide the seeds.
Mustard seeds are ready to be harvested when the plants begin to turn yellow although you need to leave them as long as possible. However, the pods tend to explode when fully ripe. Cut the whole stalks halfway up then hang the plants upside down to dry in a cool, dry place for approximately two weeks. Remove the seeds from the pods and store in glass jars until ready to use.
Mustard in cooking
As well as a condiment in its own right most often used as an accompaniment to meats and poultry, mustard can be used as an ingredient in many savoury recipes where it lends an added dimension and sometimes a good kick to the overall flavour.
In mayonnaise, vinaigrettes and sauces, it has the added benefit of acting as an emulsifier, binding the water/liquid and oil elements together, which helps stop the sauce from separating.
As heat destroys much of the flavour of mustard, it’s always best to add it late on in the cooking. Also, it is unnecessary to use expensive mustards when adding to cooked recipes: reserve these for use as accompaniments on their own.