I’ve been gone a while. And if you were to look in my drafts folder, you’ll see a dozen times I tried to come here to write, but I just couldn’t get the words out. Depression is a bad roommate that robs you when you aren’t looking. Mine robbed me of the joy I took in cooking, writing and photography.
But the other day in therapy I was talking about the last few weeks, about my foodie meetup potluck and all the bizarre foods I’ve tried and my therapist expressed genuine interest in hearing me talk about making Pico-style octopus for my friends and trying chicken feet for the first time, as well as my very first taste of Canada goose (yes, you read that right, Canada goose), an she asked me questions I was excited to answer about food and I realized that my passion is still there. Just numbed. Taking a break. In hiding. Food discovery and education is still something I love.
I mentioned I hated horseradish more than anything else in this world and that it shared the same chemical compound as wasabi, mustard and radishes (Allyl_isothiocyanate) and that the heat from those foods hits you in a totally different way than capsaicin from chili peppers and the piperine in black pepper and I felt excited to share this knowledge with her in a way I hadn’t felt in a while. I’m not even sure I’ve shared it here, so I’m doing it now! 🙂
As I stated above, I don’t really like mustard, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an interesting or healthy food. In fact, mustard is very low calorie and virtually fat free, so it’s a great condiment for someone trying to lose weight. But what makes mustard, well, mustard?
At its most basic, mustard is nothing more than mustard seeds mixed with liquid, but the kind of liquid, and how much you crush the seeds has a lot to do with it. You could swallow mustard seeds whole without feeling the heat, but if you were to chew them, mixing them with your saliva, which is mostly water, it creates a chemical reaction, releasing an enzyme called myrosinase and glucosinolates like sinigrin, myrosin and sinalbin. The myrosinase converts the glucosinolates into isocyothyanates collectively known as mustard oil. The concentration of these mustard oils in a preparation of mustard seeds and liquid is what creates the different heat levels and flavors of mustard.
Mustard seeds come in three varieties: white/yellow, brown and black. The darker the color of the seeds the more pungent and spicy the mustard will be.
The simplest preparation of mustard is mixing crushed mustard seeds with cold water. This creates a very pungent, spicy mustard with peak heat at around 15 minutes after mixing. The heat of the mustard will fall off over time, unless the addition of an acid, usually vinegar in American-style mustard. Acid slows the burn and stabilizes it so it lasts longer. Here’s a quick primer on types of mustard:
Yellow mustard seeds + turmeric + vinegar + water + other spices = clean, sharp, mild mustard flavor in a very smooth texture
Spicy Brown Mustard (Deli Mustard)
Brown mustard seeds (with bran left on) + less vinegar + water = nose scorching heat and coarser texture that stands up to bold meats like pastrami
Brown and/or black mustard seeds + lower acidity white wine = sharp and strong flavor with a super smooth texture
Whole Grain Mustard
Barely crushed brown and/or black mustard seeds + lower acidity white wine = a coarse texture with a little punch
Hot Mustard (Chinese Hot Mustard & English Mustard)
Powdered brown or black mustard seeds + cold water mixed in 15 minutes before eating = super hot, pungent mustard that loses intensity quickly over time
Mustard hits you in the sinuses with its heat and dissipates quickly, unlike chile peppers, which hit you more in the throat, build over time and are slower to “cool”.
If you like your mustard with a real kick, buy it in small quantities and use it quickly, or better yet, make it yourself!
What’s your favorite variety of mustard? (Mine’s whole grain.) Let me know in the comments below!