Mustard Musings

By Tom Erd, Spice Boss

What is mustard? It’s that bright yellow condiment you put on hot dogs. It’s that coarse, brown spread you dunk giant pretzels in. It’s that intense sinus-clearing sauce you get with egg rolls. Or, it’s that speckled spicy stuff you slather on a tall pastrami sandwich. All acceptable answers, but ultimately…

Mustard is a seed.

It comes in many forms: whole, ground, crushed, mild, hot, medium, brown, and yellow. Ground mustard has a mild, earthy aroma, and an unassuming appearance. Its flavor is sharp and hot, and it gets even stronger when wet. Brown mustard seed is even hotter than yellow. All the Spice House mustards are dried and need water to be activated. Allyl-isothiocyanate is the compound that gives mustard, horseradish, and wasabi it’s characteristic nose hit. This hit is quite different from the heat from black or white pepper (piperine) and the burn that we experience from chile peppers (capsaicin).                     Mustard will clear the sinuses far more effectively than other hot spices.

The heat levels in prepared mustard can be lowered by inhibiting the enzyme. Typically the Asian-style mustards are very hot, made with water and no other ingredients. An acid such as vinegar, wine, or lemon juice added to mustard will affect the enzyme and make it milder. Physical heat also inhibits enzymes, so some mustards are cooked to mellow them. Mustard powder is also a great emulsifier in oil-based salad dressings and can help thicken certain sauces and gravies.

Prepared mustard is quite easy to make, and is a chance for spicy experimentation. The most basic western-style mustard recipes call for ground seed, vinegar, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Paprika and turmeric are the most popular additions to a recipe like this. Turmeric is responsible for yellow mustard’s sunny hue. The basic recipe below opens the lid to a bottomless mustard jar of flavor potential. You can eat this right away, but fresh made mustard tends to be quite hot and a bit bitter. Luckily, a few days spent in the fridge will fix that right up. Try it for yourself!

From here you can play around with more ingredients and styles of mustard. Try going half ground and half whole seed. Use white wine instead of vinegar, that’s what dijon mustard is made with. Try white balsamic vinegar for sweetness without the dark color of balsamic interfering.  Substitute honey instead of sugar. Include ground chipotle pepper or some smoked paprika. Whisk in some black garlic puree for a sweet allium flavor. Not sure about black garlic? Try some toasted onion powder or toasted garlic powder. Invite ground caraway or coriander to the party for some milder entertainment. For fans of serious sinus-clearing condiments, turn to horseradish, or our pure wasabi powder. If you happen to come across the golden ratio for any kind of mustard, we’d love to know about it.

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