Some like it hot. Some like it sweet. Some like it sweet and hot, tart and tangy, or fragrant and spicy.
I’m talking about mustard, the condiment.
Whether slathered on a ballpark hot dog or Chinese egg roll or folded into a sauce, mustard in its myriad forms adds its piquant pleasure to foods around the world.
At its simplest, mustard is a paste made of whole or ground mustard seed and water. Recipes for this rudimentary paste date back to A.D. 42 but the condiment truly took hold in 13th-century France, when Parisian sauce makers roamed the streets at dinnertime hawking their fresh wares.
Mustard at its simplest has not changed much since those times. Regulations, of course, have stemmed adulteration and contamination, but nothing has improved upon mustard itself and the way the seeds blossom with heat and flavor.
There are three varieties of mustard seed: White, which makes the mildest mustard; brown, which has the most heat; and black, common in India and no longer widely used.
Many of the world’s mustards are made with a blend of white and brown seeds. Canada is the world’s major producer of mustard seeds, supplying up to 80 percent of the world’s demand.
If you’ve ever traveled across Canada in late spring, you have likely passed through vast fields of mustard, the vivid yellow flowers swaying in the breeze.
Although Huffington Post rates French’s traditional yellow mustard as one of the world’s worst condiments, it is the seventh best-selling condiment in the United States.
Dijon, which Huffington Post names the world’s best condiment, ranks 11th in overall sales, though only Grey Poupon is represented in this figure.
Today, shelves are lined with hundreds of types of mustards, but most consist of ingredients added to a prepared mustard base. Some versions include protein — eggs, bacon, and cheese are common — but this limits the mustard’s versatility and greatly reduces its shelf life.
Others add fruit, wheat, fresh and dried herbs, and other ingredients which, again, compromise the mustard’s longevity and limit its uses.
If you love one of these mustards, have at it. But you can make mustard at home using a good basic mustard that are both better and cheaper than almost anything you can buy.
I have favorite commercial mustards and typically keep at least a dozen on hand. My all-time favorite is PIC Moutarde Forte, a Dijon-style mustard from the south of France that is both bold and suave.
Other current favorites include Banyuls Vinegar Mustard, Espelette Pepper Mustard and Violet Mustard from KL Keller Imports; Maui Onion Garlic Mustard and Pineapple Mustard by Maui Upcountry; and Raye’s All Natural Top Dog Mustard, perfect on a hot dog.
To make mustard from scratch, using either whole seeds, ground seeds — known as mustard flour — or a combination, you’ll need to age it for several weeks before the flavors come into balance. There are two exceptions.
One is best known as Chinese mustard, as it is the one served with egg rolls and certain other dishes in Chinese restaurants.
The other exception is similar to this, but with a couple of additions that boost its heat.