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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
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...
Everything We Tested
Recommended - Dijon
The “nasal-clearing” heat of our top-scoring Dijon mustard makes it stand out among other mustards. Because its flavor is also bright and tangy, the bold heat doesn’t overwhelm.
If you prefer a mustard with more moderate heat, look for our second-place Dijon mustard. It’s spicy and salty but not too sharp. We love its rich, thick, creamy consistency.
Recommended - Brown
The bright, briny, and almost fruity flavor of this brown mustard made it our favorite. It’s supersmooth and easy to zigzag over a sausage or stir into a sauce.
Our second-place brown mustard is a good option for people who prefer a bit more heat. Its acidity makes it punchy, and it’s pleasantly thick and creamy.
Recommended - Yellow
The combination of gentle sweetness and bright acidity makes our favorite yellow mustard a crowd-pleaser. Although it’s not spicy, it’s tangy and flavorful.
We also love our runner-up, which strikes a sweet-tangy balance similar to that of our favorite yellow mustard. It’s smooth and creamy.
Recommended - Whole Grain
This coarsely ground mustard is thick and cohesive. It’s ideal for spreading on a sandwich or stirring into a sauce. We love the “tender pop of the seeds” and the tart, tangy flavor.
With lots of whole seeds, this is our top choice when we want to add pleasant pop and crunch to a dish. It’s especially good in vinaigrettes, atop roasted oysters, or simply spooned over roasted or grilled meats.
Recommended - Honey
The thick, almost sticky consistency of this honey mustard is typical of those made with mustard flour (instead of mustard seeds). Nevertheless, it spread easily and clung well to chicken nuggets. Its bold spice is tempered by a deep, rich sweetness.
This smooth, creamy mustard is easy to squeeze onto a sandwich or snack board. The punchy spice and straightforward sweetness reminded tasters of a classic fast-food dipping sauce—in a good way.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.