It's not just your hotdog's squirt-bottle yellow mustard anymore. From apricot ginger to sun-dried tomato to mole, mustard is luring in new crowds with a fresh and innovative line of tastebud-tackling flavors.
Amazingly enough, all of these exotic mustards are based on only three types of mustard seeds. Mustard is a plant with small, four-petaled yellow flowers that produce either brown, white or black seeds.
The pungent brown (or Asian) mustard variety orginated from China, India -- and Poland. It's the main ingredient in Chinese and European mustards and is also used for pickling and seasoning. The plant has replaced the black seed variety in most areas due to its similar taste and superior hardiness. The white (or yellow) plant hails from the Mediterranean. The seeds are much larger and milder than brown seeds. It is the main ingredient in American mustards and is blended with brown seeds for British and other mustards.
To create the common spread, the seeds from fields of mustard plants are harvested then crushed to create a flour. The hulls and bran are sifted out for smooth mustards, or left in for coarser spreads. Then liquids -- water, vinegar, beer or wine -- are added, along with any other flavorings. The mixture is then simmered or put directly into large containers to age and to mellow the flavors.
Through the ages, both mustard flour and the condiment have been admired for their contributions to the culinary and medicinal fields. Long purported to be a cure for the common cold, it has been prescribed in many forms, including mustard baths. The magical flour has been recommended to stop hiccups, unstuff nasal passages, treat depression and ward off frostbite and cold feet.
Although lying in a tub of mustard is not so common these days, mustard is still found in a wide variety of foods. Mustard is a staple seasoning for meats, marinades and sauces but, surprisingly, it also crops up in such traditional recipes as apple pie, gingerbread and chocolate cake. Mustard flour is added for depth, richness and a heightening of flavors. Adding the condiment to dressings and sauces also can help to emulsify the liquid and can hold an oil and water mixture in suspension.
So create some experiments in the kitchen, pour a spicy bath or just pop open a jar and grab a bag of pretzels and enjoy the miracle of the mustard seed. And don't forget -- August 1 is National Mustard Day.
For tasting notes on various mustards and a look at the World Wide Mustard Competition, read Sam Gugino's report in the May 31 issue, on sale now.
To try your hand at making mustard, start out with this basic recipe from chef Edna Lewis, coutesy of Food Arts:
Mustard with Brown Sugar
For one cup:
5 tbsps. dry mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
5 tbsps. corn oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
Combine all ingredients and mix well for 4 to 5 minutes. Place mixture in a double broiler over medium heat, stirring constantly for 15 to 20 minutes until smooth. Spoon mustard into a glass jar and let cool. Cap tightly and allow to mellow in refrigerator for at least one week.
Serving suggestions: Excellent with baked ham or roast pork and can be used to baste grilled scallops or grilled shrimp.
To match a wine to your tangy recipe, check Food & Wine Matching.
Beaverton Foods: Beaverton, Ore. (800)223-8076
Mount Horeb Mustard Museum Catalog: Mount Horeb, Wis. (800) 438-6878
Robert Rothschild: Urbana, Ohio (800) 356-8933
Stonewall Kitchen: York, Maine (800) 207-5267
Terrapin Ridge: Freeport, Ill. (800) 999-4052
The World's Largest Mustard Store: www.mustardstore.com
-- Tammy Deckman
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