Most commonly known for its appearances on hamburgers and hot dogs, mustard is actually one of the most popular and widely used spices in the world. Made from the seeds of the mustard plant, this versatile condiment is a favorite addition to many dressings, sauces, soups, glazes, and marinades.
The first documented use of mustard comes from Ancient Rome. In its earliest iterations, the Romans mixed the ground mustard seed with “must” (an unfermented grape juice) to make a “burning must.” The name given to the creation was mustum ardens, which through the years (and several languages) became “mustard.” The Romans continued to experiment with this creation, adding different liquids, flavorings, and spices.
An actual recipe for mustard appears in Apicius (also known as De re coquinaria), the anonymous cookbook that dates to either the late 4th or early 5th century. The instructions on the recipe call for mixing ground mustard seed with pepper, caraway, lovage, grilled coriander seeds, celery, thyme, dill, oregano, honey, onion, vinegar, oil, and fish sauce. Once mixed, it was recommend that the mustard be used as a glaze for a spit-roasted boar.
Mustard is known for its wide variety of flavors and strengths, both of which are determined by the seed type used, the preparation of the mustard, and the ingredients that are mixed in with the seed. A black mustard seed is considered the hottest of the seeds.
The temperature of the liquid (usually water or vinegar) that is mixed with the seed also plays a role in the spiciness of the final condiment. Hotter liquids affect the enzymes that control the strength of the seed, reducing its intensity. The colder the liquid, the spicier the mustard will be. The hottest mustard possible would involve a black mustard seed mixed with a cold liquid.
Mustard should always be stored in a tightly sealed and sterilized container that is keep in a cool, dark place. Though mustard requires no refrigeration (the antibacterial properties of the condiment prevents molding and mildewing), unrefrigerated mustard loses its pungency at a quicker rate.