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Sunday Food: Mustard


Many faces of mustard

(Picture courtesy of Jessica Watkins at

Some of us crave that bit of sour, spicy undertaste to go with our bread and fillings, cheese or meat or other sort, and I am among the ones that want it full of pickle lilt as well.   The name tells a bit of the story.

The English word “mustard” derives from the Anglo-Norman mustarde and Old French mostarde. The first element is ultimately from Latin mustum, (“must“, young wine) – the condiment was originally prepared by making the ground seeds into a paste with must. The second element comes also from Latin ardens, (hot, flaming). It is first attested in English in the late 13th century, though it is found as a surname a century earlier.[3]

Yellow or brown is the next choice, and if there’s a darker, browner one, especially with bits of the mustard seed in it, I’ll go in that direction. It’s bearable to use the yellow sort, but in my taste category that’s just baby food, I’m really happier with an earthier taste.

The most commonly used mustard in the United States and Canada is American Mustard sold as “Yellow mustard” (although most prepared mustards are yellow) and commonly referred to as just “mustard”. A very mild prepared mustard colored bright-yellow by turmeric, it was allegedly introduced in 1904 byGeorge J. French as “cream salad mustard”. American mustard is regularly used to top hot dogs, sandwiches, pretzels and hamburgers. It is also an ingredient of many potato saladsbarbecue sauces, and salad dressings.


The mustard plant ingredient itself has a sharp, hot, pungent flavor.

Mixing ground mustard seeds with water causes a chemical reaction between two compounds in the seed: the enzyme myrosinase and various glucosinolates such as sinigrinmyrosin, andsinalbin. The myrosinase enzyme turns the glucosinolates into various isothiocyanate compounds known generally as mustard oil. The concentrations of different glucosinolates in mustard plant varieties, and the different isothiocyanates that are produced, make different flavors and intensities.

Prepared mustard condiment may also have ingredients giving salt, sour (vinegar), and sweet flavors. Turmeric is often added to commercially-prepared mustards, mainly to give them a yellow color.

The preparation in a preservative sort of liquid makes mustard durable, and it does not require refrigeration. Even if it dries out, an addition of wine, vinegar, or your choice of spike, makes it perk right up and spread again.  It has a history as medicinal, and the bite it adds feels right to us mustard spreaders.

At first, mustard was considered a medicinal plant rather than a culinary one. In the sixth century B.C., Greek scientist Pythagoras used mustard as a remedy for scorpion stings. One hundred years later, Hippocrates used mustard in a variety of medicines and poultices. Mustard plasters were applied to “cure” toothaches and a number of other ailments.


Prepared mustard dates back thousands of years to the early Romans, who used to grind mustard seeds and mix them with wine into a paste not much different from the prepared mustards we know today.

Notice I have been partisan in my choice, and I admit it, I don’t like ketchup/ketsup at all. The bitter taste is one side of the table, in my experience, and that’s the side I choose.

French fries with vinegar is another choice, and I’ve been known to take along my own vinegar to make sure I have that instead of what seems to be the popular ketchup/ketsup. It’s the taste, a personal preference, and mustard also adds the bite of choice I’ve come to prefer.  It’s nice to see that they’re health food as well.

Mustard seeds are an excellent source of selenium and a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids and manganese. They are also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and vitamin B1.

The  taste for mustard in my experience doesn’t start early, and yes, I ate ketchup/ketsup as a kid, put it into meatloaf when I was cooking for kids, also. One view of the development of a more sour palate is that our health gets less robust as we age, which develops the taste for purified foods.   Go ahead, enjoy your own choice.  It’s a condiment and you want the most important aspect of your dining, enjoyment, to be the main consideration.

(Picture courtesy of jeffreyw at

Mustard brings your sandwich alive!


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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.