Saturday, 9 August 2014

Know Your Ingredients: Mustard

Three types of mustard from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 Jessica Spengler, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
There’s a zillion kinds of mustards on the market these days. You can chose from hot and spicy to a mild honey mustard -- beer, wine or deli mustard. It’s actually one of the most widely used condiments in the world. It can be made from the ground seeds of the yellow mustard plant, brown (Indian) mustard plant or black mustard. These seeds, either ground cracked or sometimes whole, are combined with lemon, salt, lemon juice, wine or other liquids to make that familiar paste that we use to spice up our hotdogs, salads, soups and marinades. Mustard preparations are found in cuisines around the world including India, Africa, the Mediterranean, the Americas and Europe.

The first recipe we have for mustard comes from the famous forth (or fifth) century Roman cookbook “Apicus”. It calls for ground mustard seed to be mixed with unfermented grape juice, also know as “must”, along with pepper, caraway, dill, celery, thyme, onion, honey, vinegar fish sauce and oil. This “burning must” – mustum ardens in Latin – was eventually shortened and gave us the word “mustard”. Romans considered it a great accompaniment to roast boar but also found it useful to cure toothaches, stimulate appetite and digestion, clear the sinuses and increase blood circulation. Try to get all that out of a bottle of ketchup!!

Dry yellow mustard powder is actually very mild in taste. The heat of a mustard preparation doesn’t come about until it’s mixed with a liquid. Ground yellow mustard makes for a milder preparation than either black or brown Indian mustard. Additionally, the temperature of the preparation makes a difference. Really fiery mustards are made with cold water and small amounts of mild acids, such as vinegars. Milder mustards are made with hot water and stronger acids that break down the “heat” of the sauce.

Commercial “yellow mustard”, also known as “American mustard” has a large amount of turmeric added to give it its characteristic yellow colour. Dijon mustard was first made in the Dijon region of France in the mid 1800s when a cook substituted verjuice (an unfermented grape juice) for vinegar in a classic recipe. Today, Dijon mustards are mostly made with white wine over verjuice and very little of it is produced in Dijon France anymore. Interestingly enough, even the mustards made in Dijon are made almost exclusively with Canadian grown mustard seeds. Canada produces between 70 and 80 percent of the world’s exported mustard seed, mostly in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In addition to being a great and versatile condiment, mustard also performs the useful task of being an inexpensive emulsifier. 

Mustard has an extremely long shelf life, both in seed, powdered or prepared form. Mustard has natural antibacterial properties and does not require refrigeration as it does not support molds, mildews or harmful bacterial growth. Prepared mustards will lose their pungency over time. The flavour elements that were released with the addition of liquid can evaporate so keep your mustard in a tightly sealed container and out of direct sunlight. 

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