What do you mean you can make mustard at home? It was all I could do not to say, “Uh… how did you think it was made? By mustard elves under a tree?” Instead, I said, “Why yes, and it is really, really easy to make.”
I had this conversation years ago with another food blogger, and I tell you this because for even a food person to not know how to make mustard tells me that it must appear to be magic to most people. But it ain’t. If you have mustard seed and water, you can make mustard.
It’s that easy. And pretty much every culture in the Northern Hemisphere has done so: Mustard is to the North what chiles are to the tropics.
Mustard is a condiment of a thousand faces. Some are smooth, others almost entirely made from barely cracked seeds. Vinegar is often used, but wine, beer, grape must, and even fruit juices are used to moisten the seeds.
Sweetness is usually achieved by adding honey; an American “honey mustard” can be a 1:1 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.
Mustard is one of Europe’s few native spices, although it 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;” the Romans often added crushed mustard seeds to unfermented crushed grapes.
I’ve recreated a Roman recipe for mustard that uses almonds, pine nuts, mustard seed and red wine vinegar.
The basic idea behind making mustard is this: Grind seeds and add liquid. At its most basic, this is all mustard is. Both Chinese and English mustard (think Coleman’s) is 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, sets the reaction in place — this is what happens with horseradish as well. Adding salt not only improves the flavor, but also helps preserve the mustard, too.
If you skip the vinegar and salt, you will still have mustard, but it will not keep for long. Not that it will go bad, but it will lose it’s flavor.
Once made with salt and vinegar, 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.
You have three choices when it comes to which variety of mustard seed you use: White, brown and black. White mustard undergoes a different, milder reaction than do brown mustard or black mustard, 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.
(Note: You can tame black and brown mustard seeds by soaking them in water overnight before grinding.)
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 yellow mustard powder: The two sets of chemical reactions complement each other and made a more complex mustard.
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 1 to 2 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.
So there you have it. Easy-peasy. Now you really have no reason to ever buy mustard again.
Basic Country Mustard
- 6 tablespoons mustard seeds, about 50 grams
- 1/2 cup mustard powder, about 50 grams
- 1/2 cup water or beer
- 3 tablespoons vinegar (cider white wine or sherry)
- 2 teaspoons salt, about 5 grams
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)
- 2 tablespoons honey (optional)
- 1/4 cup minced fresh herbs (optional)
- Grind the whole mustard seeds for a few seconds in a spice or coffee grinder, or by hand with a mortar and pestle. You want them mostly whole because you are using mustard powder, too.
- Pour the semi-ground seeds into a bowl and add the salt and mustard powder. If using, add one of the optional ingredients, too.
- Pour in the water or beer, then stir well. When everything is incorporated, let this sit for up to 10 minutes. The longer you let it sit, the mellower the mustard will be. When you’re ready, pour in the vinegar.
- Pour into a glass jar and store in the fridge. It will be runny at first. Don’t worry, it will thicken up overnight. Wait at least 12 hours before using. Mustard made this way will last a year in the fridge.
- Change the liquid and you change the mustard.
- Grind the mustard seeds a lot or a little and you change the texture — or skip the whole seeds altogether and use just mustard powder. Or skip the powder and just use seeds.
- Want herbs in there? Go for it.
- Like honey mustard? Pour some honey in.
- Want your mustard even spicier? Add chiles or freshly grated horseradish.
John Mac says
This is a good recipe – thank you! I’ve taken to fermenting my mustard seeds for a more earthy flavor. I soak mustard seeds in a jar with an equal amount of still water (tap water that has stood in a sealed container at least overnight so that the chlorine evaporates out). I check the seeds every few days and ad water as necessary to keep the seeds covered. After about two weeks I use the seeds to make a batch of mustard.
David Shelden says
Hank, I read and follow a lot of culinary people and sites. Hands down you are the Bom! Your writing entertaining, intriguing, and informative. Your pallette, superb. The brown on my nose is not mustard…
I followed your mustard tutorial for the most part 6 months ago. Made a big batch and gave most of it away. Including to a Culinary institute trained chef. He was blown away! Tripping on mustard seeds in profuse accolades. Gone. So this morning I am making a gallon, most to give away so I can bask in the light. I find myself back here to bone up and am reminded why I bought your book. I do add egg and double boil. I feel that the extra lecithin and proteins make it creamier, even though it is a pain in the ass extra step. Tomorrow there will be one jar in my fridge and a dozen in others. Thank you. If you find yourself in the great Pacific Northwest ( Puget Sound) you have a steelhead/ mushroom hunt and frosty one waiting. You enrich many lives and make me look good.
Gretchen Schmelzer says
Thanks, Hank, Great Recipe. Can I can mustard in a jar to store? If I water bath it, can it be stored in the pantry? Also, being from Door County, can cherries be added to this, and how many would you recommend?
Hank Shaw says
Gretchen: Mustard doesn’t need canning. You can put it in a jar and it will be fine in the pantry.
Becky Hamilton says
Can I make this mustard with less salt or a salt substitute?
Hank Shaw says
Becky: Yes, you can.
Lovely, thank you! And so easy. Made in a matter of minutes. I added New Zealand Forest Honey and used spicy black mustard seeds. Perfection
Jamie G says
Having a bit of a nightmare with the mustard seeds not softening. Have tried several times… soaking for several days. Almost no improvement. Any ideas? I could boil them, but I suppose I would lose the zing.
Hank Shaw says
Jamie: Weird. I’ve never once had a problem with this, although I’ve never tried to make mustard without at the very least cracking the seeds. Pickled whole mustard seeds do take about a week to be ready.
Jamie G says
Yeah I can’t find another human being who is having this problem. I was doing whole seeds, so now gonna do a good grind first. Thanks for replying.
Jennifer Bower says
Made my first batch last night to go with some homemade venison pastrami. Used 3T brown and 3T black mustard seeds and it’s really spicy (great for me, but maybe not so great for everyone I’m gifting too)! If I made another full batch using only yellow mustard seeds and then mixed them together, would that temper the spiciness? I know it does need I think I’ll give it a shot today and see how it goes. No matter what, I know I’ll eat it! ?
Hank Shaw says
Jennifer: Yes, that will definitely tame the spiciness. Black and brown are the strongest kinds of mustard seed.