Making your own mustard is dead simple and delicious! Here’s how to do it.
My wife loves mustard. Not the vinegary yellow liquid you get in packets at the hamburger joint, but the spicy, seedy brown stuff that’ll make your eyes water and sinuses clear along with the tongue tingling goodness. If we don’t have 10 different varieties on hand at all times, she’ll claim “we’re out of mustard!” and carry on like we’d run dry of one of life’s necessities like fresh water, oxygen or beer.
Knowing how important mustard is to my wife’s culinary health, I wasn’t all that surprised when she came home from the farmer’s market a while back with a bag of brown mustard seed. The size of the bag, 5lbs, was, however, worth an eyebrow lift.
“Are we going into the mustard business?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “But you’re going to make some mustard. I’ve looked it up on the Internet and it’s not that hard. I know you can make better mustard than them.”
I knew that last part was obvious flattery intended to make me say ‘yes’. I had never made mustard and I had no idea what the process involved. Fortunately for her, I also knew that most of the Internet isn’t all that bright, so she was probably right in this case — I could make better mustard than them.
“Ok,” I said. “I’ll make some mustard.”
Turns out if you can make Kool-aid, you can make mustard (a win for me. I make good Kool-aid). All you need are some mustard seeds and water. Mix, let sit for a few, and, taaa daaaa… you’ve got mustard.
Of course, mustard that fresh is a fiery combination of lighter fluid and rubbing alcohol — and can literally cause burns — so it has to sit for at least a day to mellow before you start slathering your food with it. But even then, it’s just a hot mustard without much subtly to it. Fine for salty snacks or adding a little kick to your sandwich, but not really the kind of thing you’d use for seasoning a pork roast or adding some high-classed zing to a charcuterie and vegetable tray. For that you want a flavored mustard where the hot mustardy goodness is balanced with something else — honey, horseradish, peppers, Belgian beer, wine, etc. — to make a tongue tingling condiment that tastes far more sophisticated than it really is.
Fortunately, creating mustard varieties isn’t any more complicated than making plain mustard. Even more fortunate for you, dear reader, a five pound sack of mustard seed and I have spent plenty of time perfecting a basic, dead simple brown mustard recipe as well as four or five variations, that you’re more than welcome to use as a starting point in your own mustard explorations. (A warning: once you make your own mustard, you’re going to be disappointed by most commercially prepared mustard).
Mustard has a couple of compounds that start a chemical reaction when parts of the plant are crushed or damaged. The product of this reaction is the oil that gives mustard its pungency and heat (Check Wikipedia for details). Mixing crushed mustard seeds with water kicks the reaction up a couple notches so the mustard releases more oil over a shorter period of time.
Once mustard has been mixed with water, the heat and pungency will peak within 60 minutes and start a slow fade after that. Mustard seeds are white, brown or black. White is the mildest and the basis for your yellow American mustards. You can make this kind of mustard in the afternoon and enjoy it that night. Brown and black mustard seeds are considerably hotter than white mustard (fresh-made black mustard can actually cause chemical burns), so they need to sit a minimum of 24 hours before eating.
Left to its own devices, even the hottest mustard will eventually lose its kick. To prevent that you mix in an acidic liquid like vinegar, wine, beer, etc. to “fix” the mustard at a specific heat level. You can also add other ingredients like horseradish, honey, brown sugar, peppers and herbs to change the heat and flavor profile of your mustard. When you add your additional ingredients is really a matter of trial and error to match your personal preferences. I’ve found that I like to add a 75/25 mix of water and acid up front to keep the mustard from going full nuclear hot, and then add a little more a day later to fix it at the desired heat and pungency. Same goes for additional ingredients like honey, horseradish, and peppers.
Here’s my basic brown mustard recipe:
- 1 cup brown mustard seed (or ½ cup seed and ½ cup mustard powder for a milder, creamier mustard)
- ½ cup cold water*
- ¼ cup vinegar (regular, cider or wine) OR ¼ cup beer OR ¼ cup white wine
- Salt (to taste)
*Make sure it’s cold water. Warm water doesn’t work well. Also, if you’re using tap water, let the water sit out for a while for the chlorine and minerals evaporate out of it. Otherwise you can get off flavors.
- Crack your mustard seed using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle (I use a repurposed coffee grinder). No need to grind it to powder, just cracking the seed is enough.
- Dump the cracked seed (and mustard powder if you’re using it) into a bowl or jar large enough to hold all your ingredients. (I use a pint jar with a lid.)
- Add a pinch of salt to the mustard
- Add your water and mix well (I just put a lid on the jar and shake it). Let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Add your vinegar/beer/wine (the later you add it, the mellower the mustard will be) and mix well again.
- Now put the mixture in the fridge and let it sit for at least a day. Don’t worry if it seems dry and lumpy at this point. The mustard seed will soften and become creamier as it sits.
- Once your mustard has rested for a day, stir the mixture again. It should be just a little dry at this point. Taste it. If it’s too hot for you, add a little water. If you like the heat where it is, add a little vinegar/beer/wine to keep it there.
Your mustard is now ready to eat! It will keep in the fridge for several months, but the heat and pungency will fall off over time. When it does, make more!
You can make an endless variety of mustards simply by adding ingredients after you’ve mixed the mustard seed with water. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Sweet honey mustard — Add ¼ cup of honey
- German sweet mustard — Add ¼ cup brown sugar
- Horseradish mustard — Add 3 tablespoons of fresh horseradish
- Hot pepper mustard — Add 3 tablespoons of dried, ground hot pepper or hot pepper seed
- Sage mustard — Add 4 tablespoons of freshly diced sage leaves
You can experiment and come up with your own recipes too just by changing the the grind of your mustard seeds and the amount and type of the acidic liquid you use to fix the heat and pungency. The combinations are pretty much limitless.