spice advice: brown vs. yellow mustard seeds
First impressions aren’t everything. Mustard seeds, for example, are fairly lackluster in both appearance and smell. Add a little heat and/or water to the mix, however, and they becomes quite the charismatic, wildly pungent spice. Beyond the yellow squeeze-bottle condiment and pickling recipes, mustard seeds aren’t used frequently in American cooking, especially when compared to its heavy presence in Indian, European, and Asian cuisine.
A member of the Brassicacea family (a.k.a. in the cabbage patch fam), mustard has over 40 different varieties, but only three are commonly used for cooking: Brown, Black, and Yellow Mustard. We’re really just here for the former and the latter though—the two versions we carry at Spicewalla: Brown and Yellow.
Transported to France in medieval times by the Romans, brown mustard seed was often grown alongside wine grapes. In fact, the Romans have been noted to be one of the first to use turn mustard into a condiment by mixing mustard seeds with grape juice. This was termed mustum ardens or “burning must" —and likely to be the root-word for mustard. In France, the seeds were turned into a paste, becoming a popular accompaniment to the sausages and potatoes served in the region. It’s also the basis of Dijon mustard—named after the region where it got its start.
That spicy brown (Dijon) mustard you know and love is all thanks to a mustard-obsessed Pope back in the 13th century France. Pope John XXII created a “Grande Mustard-Maker” position for his nephew (a.k.a. Nepotism 101) who lived near Dijon, France. And the rest is history.
Yellow Mustard Seed are piquant, marigold-colored seeds packed full of spicy flavor—which, crushed and mixed with vinegar or water, is the basis of the classic yellow schmear we love to slather on pretzels. First introduced to the American people in New York circa 1904, Yellow Mustard gained popularity via the good ‘ol American hotdog. A member of the brassica family (along with brussel sprouts), whole yellow mustard seeds have a mellow flavor (noticeably more so than their brown counterparts) that’s often used in pickling recipes. They add a delicate zing to meat brines, too.
Looking for more Mustard inspo? Check out our recipe for Homemade Mustard and Pretzels!