It could be argued that a dab of mustard can make anything taste better, in fact in one form or another, mustard is eaten the world over from Europe, to Asia to the Americas. Here’s the lowdown all about mustard.

Mustard is made from the seeds of the mustard plant, a member of the Brassica plant family, a family that includes such nutrition powerhouses such as kale and cabbage. Like the rest of the family, mustard seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals and are a healthy food, but we eat them as a condiment in small quantities, so they don’t really register. Mustard seeds can be either brown, white, or almost black depending on the plant variety they come from. They all have a spicy kick though some hot mustards use cayenne and other chillies to up the heat ante. The darker mustard seeds, along with mustard oil, are used whole in Indian cooking to add to the flavor base of certain curries, but the mustards we’re going to talk about here are the ground varieties mixed with vinegar and other spices to make the familiar creamy paste that we use as a condiment.

Here are some of the most common ones.

Dijon mustard is traditionally made from ground white and brown mustard seeds mixed with salt and instead of vinegar with either white grape verjus or white wine, though nowadays white wine vinegar is more often used than wine. Although it originated in the area around Dijon in France, there are no EU controls over its name, so the Dijon mustard we buy here in the US comes from seed grown in Canada that can be ground in New Jersey and so on. Classic Dijon mustard has no flavors added to it, and its tart, uncluttered taste makes it our go-to at Cook for Your LIFE for salad dressings and other cooking needs.

Whole grain mustard. When I lived in France the slightly malty tasting Meaux wholegrain mustard sold in stoneware jars became very trendy, especially served with charcuterie. It caught on, and today this type of chunky wholegrain mustard can be found in some form in most US supermarkets and delis. It is in the Dijon family of mustards with some major differences: it is more coarsely ground, contains whole white and brown mustard seeds, and is blended together with a mix of distilled vinegar, white wine, spices and a little brown sugar. The grand daddy of them all is Pommery wholegrain mustard but there are many other brands that are very good indeed.

English yellow mustard is very spicy indeed. It is a mix of while and brown seeds that are ground into a fine mustard flour which is then packaged in an airtight tin to keep it dry and flavorful. You can use it as needed mixed into a paste with a little water, or you can add small amounts of it dry to say béchamel or cheese sauces to lift their flavor. Powdered English mustard loses its spicy bite with time so unless you use it a lot, buy small quantities.

American yellow mustard is what we put on our burgers and hot dogs. It is made from white mustard seeds ground and mixed with distilled vinegar and flavored with salt, paprika, garlic powder and with turmeric which gives it its familiar bright yellow color. Great as a condiment, the added flavors make yellow mustard less of an all rounder in the kitchen than Dijon.

Spicy Brown Mustard is a mix of white and brown seeds and is more coarsely ground than American yellow mustard. Mixed with distilled vinegar and salt its distinctive spicy tang comes from the blend of spices used to flavor it. Like yellow mustard it makes a great condiment but is less of a kitchen all-rounder, though we do like it to blend 50/50 with creamy honey to make homemade honey mustard.

Wasabi mustard has become popular not only thanks to the sushi bars that serve it but with the crunchy dried pea snacks that seem to be at every checkout – we’ve all had our noses tingle from eating those! Wasabi deserves a mention even though it is not technically a mustard. It is made not with mustard seeds but with a special kind of Japanese green horseradish that is finely grated into a paste to serve as a condiment to sushi and sashimi, also with cold soba noodles or smeared along the rim of hearty hot soups to add at your pleasure. Wasabi can be bought in a tube and adds great spicy flavor to mayonnaise and salad dressings.

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