Mustard has been around for thousands of years before Grey Poupon ever came along. Mustard is a member of the Brassica family of plants and bears tiny round, edible seeds and tasty leaves. The English name "mustard" is derived from the Latin mustum ardens which means burning must. This references the spicy heat from the crushed mustard seed and the French practiced of mixing the ground up seeds with "must," the young, unfermented juice of wine grapes. It is interesting to note that the mustard seeds aren't flavorful until they are cracked.
As a condiment, prepared mustard can be traced back thousands of years to the early Romans. They would mix the grounds with wine, making a paste that is very similar to the mustard of today. This spice was popular in Europe before the Asian spice trade and has been a favorite way of seasoning food, long before black pepper. The Romans took the mustard seed to Gaul where it was planted in vineyards along side the grapes. French monasteries cultivated and sold mustard as early as the ninth century. The spicy condiment was for sale in Paris by the 13th century. In the 1770's mustard took a modern turn when Maurice Grey and Antoine Poupon introduced the world to Grey Poupon mustard. Their original store can still be seen in downtown Dijon, France. In 1866, Jeremiah Colman, founder of Colman's Mustard of England, was appointed the official mustard-maker to Queen Victoria. Colman perfected the technique of grinding the seeds into a fine powder without creating the heat that brings out the oil. The oil must not be exposed to air or the flavor evaporates with the oil.
There are 40 species of mustard plants. The three that are used to make mustard are the black, brown, and white mustards. The white mustard originated in the Mediterranean and is the predecessor to the bright yellow hotdog mustard we know today. Brown mustard came from the Himalayas and is known to us as Chinese restaurant mustard. it serves as the base for most European and American mustards. Black mustard originated in the Middle East and Asia Minor, where it is still popular today.
Long ago, 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. A hundred years later, Hippocrates used mustard in medicines and poultices. Mustard plasters were applied to treat toothaches and a number of other ailments. And we mustn't forget mustard's religious history! The mustard seed is a prominent reference for those of the Christian faith, exemplifying something that is small and insignificant, which when planted, grows in strength and power. Pope John XII was so fond of mustard that he created a new Vatican position--grand moutardier du pape (mustard-maker to the pope—and promptly filled the post with his nephew. His nephew was from the Dijon region, which soon became the mustard center of the world.
In modern vernacular, "can't quite cut the mustard" means quitting or giving up...as in can't live up to the challenge. And here's a fact for all you baseball fans. Pitchers apply "mustard" to their fastballs to get those strikeouts. Perhaps that's why hotdogs and mustard are so popular at American baseball parks. And did you know that the disabling and even lethal chemical weapon known as mustard gas is a synthetic copy based on the volatile nature of mustard oils? I sure didn't! Mustard is a culinary favorite and is used as an ingredient in many dressings, glazes, sauces, soups, and marinades.
So go ahead and celebrate the many varieties and uses of mustard this weekend. And if you happen to be in downtown Middleton, Wisconsin be sure and stop by the National Mustard Museum where a huge celebration takes place every year on the first Saturday of August...National Mustard Day. Can't get to Wisconsin? No problem! Slather some of your favorite mustard on a grilled hotdog or hamburger. Yum! And don't forget to post your mustard/cook-out photos on all your social media this weekend, using #NationalMustardDay.
Have a great weekend everyone! I hope to see you all back here on Monday morning. Until then, stay safe.