Special Feature

Mustard: The History of a Condiment

by Michele Anna Jordan


All mustard is made in relatively the same way. The seed must be crushed, its hull and bran sifted out or not depending on type of mustard being made. It then may or may not go through further grinding and crushing. A liquid such as water, wine, vinegar, beer, or a combination of several of these liquids is added, along with seasonings and perhaps other flavorings. The mustard is mixed, in some cases simmered, and then cooled. Some mustard is aged in large containers before it is bottled and shipped to stores and customer.

Although similar recipes for mustard paste appear as early as 42 AD, the use of mustard as a condiment was not widely practiced in either Greece or Rome. The Romans took the seed to Gaul, and by the ninth century French monasteries were bringing in considerable income from mustard preparations. By the13th century, mustard was one of the items offered by Parisian sauce-hawkers, who walked the streets at dinner peddling their savory wares.

For centuries, there was an increase in both the regulation of mustard and its number of makers. Adulteration and contamination persisted until the middle of the sixteenth century, when regulations were instituted governing the cleanliness of all utensils used in production. In 1658, additional laws protected mustard producers, making it an offence for any one else to make the sauce.

In spite of the wide acceptance of mustard and the regulations governing its production, mustard's popularity declined by the early eighteenth century. The House of Maille, founded in 1747, was doing well in Paris, but general interest had ebbed, in part because of spices newly available from the Americas and the Far East. The market was revived, and the city of Dijon secured as the capitol of mustard when, in 1856, Burgundian Jean Naigeon substituted verjuice for the vinegar in prepared mustard. The use of verjuice resulted in a mustard that was less acidic than France had tasted before, and the smooth, suave condiment we call Dijon assumed its place in history.

Although several mustard companies flourished in England, most notably Keen & Sons, founded in 1747, the English mustard producer to make an enduring name for himself did not come along until 1804. In that year, Jeremiah Colman, a miller of flour, began the first of several expansions that would make his name a synonym for mustard.

Today, Colman's mustard is prepared by much the same process that Jeremiah Colman developed. Two types of mustard seed-white and brown-are ground separately and sifted through silk cloth to separate the husks and the bran from the mustard flour. Originally, black mustard seed was used, but it was replaced by brown several decades ago. After grinding and sifting, the two mustards are mixed together and packaged in the famous yellow tins. This blend provides of full range of sensation both on the tongue and in the eyes and sinuses.


Copyright 1996 by Michele Anna Jordan, author of The Good Cook's Book of Mustard. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.


The Good Cook's Online Guide to Mustard

Mustard Recipes


Check out Michele Anna Jordan's latest book: The World Is a Kitchen: Cooking Your Way Through Culture


This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007