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Must-Have Mustards

A single style simply won’t cut it. From sweet and spicy to bright and tangy, these are the five mustards we always have on hand. 


Published Dec. 17, 2021. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 15: The Cuban Sandwich Show

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What You Need To Know

Most of us have a favorite mayonnaise and are loyal to a certain brand of ketchup, but mustard is different. Our refrigerators are crowded with options, each of which adds something special to a sandwich or a bowl of potato salad. While it is traditional to use specific mustards for certain applications—Dijon in Caesar salad dressing, for example—you can have some fun experimenting at home. You might find that you love the pop of whole-grain mustard in a tuna salad or decide that you like the characteristic tang of yellow mustard on more than just hamburgers. Read on to learn about this incredible condiment and how to use it in new ways at home. 

The Many Styles of Mustard

People have been crushing mustard seeds and combining them with liquid to form a potent paste—both for medicinal purposes and for use with food—for thousands of years, with the earliest recorded instances dating back to ancient Greece and Rome and medieval Cairo. They’ve also been experimenting with ingredients and flavorings. There remains a “constant evolution” of mustards, says Barry Levenson, the curator of the National Mustard Museum. The mustards entered each year into the World-Wide Mustard Competition, which Levenson helps organize, reflect the variety produced by manufacturers. The 2022 competition will include 17 categories, with entries ranging from whole-grain mustards—Levenson notes that manufacturers are producing more and more of these—to mustards with fruit or vegetables added. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet established regulations for specific styles of mustard. Instead, the distinctions are rooted in history and are dictated mostly by consumer expectations and manufacturers. 

We narrowed this discussion of mustard to five categories that we use frequently in recipes and as condiments: Dijon, brown, yellow, whole grain, and honey mustard. The textures of these mustards range from supersmooth to coarsely ground, while their flavors range from mild and mellow to bold and punchy. 

How Mustard Is Made

The production of most mustard begins with mustard seeds. Manufacturers typically crush the seeds and then combine them with liquid, salt, and other seasonings. With the exception of some whole-grain mustards, the mixture is then transferred to a stone mill, where it’s ground to a thick, cohesive consistency. To make different styles of mustard, manufacturers use different types of mustard seeds and customize each step of the process. 

Some names and classifications of the plants in the mustard family have changed over the years, explained Jim Davis of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Idah...

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Kate Shannon

Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.