Making Homemade Mustard: Easier Than You Think

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Hank Shaw


"What do you mean you can make mustard at home?"

It was all I could do to say, "Well no shit, Sherlock! How did you think it was made? By mustard elves under a tree?" Thankfully, I am the age I am; a decade ago I might have let that one slip. But I did not. Instead, I said, "Why yes, and it is really, really easy to make."

I had this conversation with another blogger at the annual BlogHer Food conference in San Francisco last week. I will refrain from identifying the person, because s/he probably would not want to be outed as someone ignorant of the mysteries of mustard-making.

But I gotta tell ya folks, it ain't mysterious. If you have mustard seed and water, you can make mustard. It's that easy. And pretty much every nation in the Northern Hemisphere has done so over the years; mustard is a cool-weather crop, to the North what chiles are to the Equator.

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Holly A. Heyser

Mustard is a condiment of a thousand faces. Some are smooth, others almost entirely made from barely cracked seeds. Vinegar is common, but wine, beer, grape must, and even fruit juices are sometimes used to moisten the seeds. Sweetness is usually achieved by adding honey; an American "honey mustard" can be a one-to-one ratio of mustard to honey. A Bavarian sweet mustard, however, uses only sugar and water—no acid, no honey. Italians put fruit preserves in their mustard, a practice I wholeheartedly endorse.

Mustard is one of Europe's few native spices, although mustard also has been used in Chinese cooking for around 2,500 years as well.

Ancient Rome was quite the hotbed of mustard-making, and it is Rome that gives us our name for mustard: It is a contraction of mustum ardens, or "hot must," since the Romans often added crushed mustard seeds to unfermented crushed grapes. I've recreated a different Roman recipe for mustard that uses almonds, pine nuts, mustard seed, and red wine vinegar. The ferocious bite of this mustard—it should be made with black mustard seeds, the hottest variety—is mellowed by the richness of the nuts. It's a great accompaniment to roasted meats.

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Holly A. Heyser

The basic idea behind making mustard is this: Grind seeds and add cool liquid. At its most basic, this is all mustard is. Both Chinese and English mustard (think Colman's) are nothing more than water and mustard powder. But there are some things you need to know to make great mustard.

First, you need cold liquid. What gives mustard its bite is a chemical inside the seeds reacting with cool or cold liquid. You also need to break the seeds to get at the fiery chemical—it's like cutting an onion. Heat damages this reaction, however, so to make a hot mustard use cold water, and warm water for a more mellow mustard. Mustard sauces lose punch when long-cooked, and should always have a little extra fresh mustard tossed in at the end of cooking.

This reaction is volatile, too. Left alone, your mustard will lose its bite in a few days, or in some cases even hours. But adding an acid, most often vinegar, stops and sets the reaction in place—this is precisely what happens with horseradish as well. Adding salt not only improves the flavor, but also helps preserve the mustard, too.

Once made, mustard is nearly invulnerable to deterioration. Mustard is one of the more powerful anti-microbial plants we know of, and, considering it is mixed with vinegar and salt, it becomes a heady mix no wee beastie can survive in. It is said that mustard will never go bad, although it can dry out.

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Holly A. Heyser

You have three choices when it comes to which variety of mustard seed you use: white, brown, or black. White mustard undergoes a different, milder reaction than do brown or black mustards, which are far zingier. American yellow mustard is made with white mustard seed and turmeric, brown mustards are in most of your better mustards, and black mustard is used in hot mustards or in Indian cuisine.

Incidentally, the wild mustard all over California is black mustard. You can thank Father Junipero Serra for that one: He used mustard, which grows like a weed, to mark his travels in Alta California 250 years ago.

The famous Grey Poupon mustard—Dijon has been a center of mustard-making for nearly a millennium now—is traditionally made with stone-ground brown mustard and verjus, the tart juice of unripe grapes. I prefer this style of mustard, and most of my homemade mustards are grainy like Dijon. I grind my seeds with a spice grinder, but you could get all old-school and use a mortar and pestle.

The best mustards, in my opinion, combine brown or black mustard seeds with white mustard powder: The two sets of chemical reactions complement each other and make a more complex mustard.

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Holly A. Heyser

Always add water or a non-acidic liquid first, let the mixture sit for 10 minutes or so, then add the acid (vinegar, verjus, lemon juice, etc).

Add salt to taste, but it's typically about one to two teaspoons per cup of prepared mustard.

Finally, let your mustard set in the fridge or in a cool place for at least a day before you serve it. Bitterness is a byproduct of the mustard reaction, but that bitterness fades after a day or so. Pure mustards can be kept at room temperature, but mustards with other ingredients, like the Roman nut mustard I mention above, should be kept in the fridge.

This is my favorite recipe for country mustard.

So there you have it. Easy-peasy. Now you really have no reason to ever buy mustard again.

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Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.
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