Humans have been trying to enhance, and/or change both the texture and taste of food since the very beginning of culinary arts. Omnivorous that we are, we get “tired” of the same old, same old. This is the very reason for inventing various feeding techniques of domesticated animals, cooking and preserving methods. Ingenious cooks invented flavoring agents to impart yet another taste dimension to old and familiar foods. While both condiments and flavouring agents were very expensive, today most are widely available at moderate prices. Most grocery stores carry a respectable range, while specialty shops stock a large assortment of savoury foods. Mustard is one of the most frequently used flavoring agents. Mustard’s history is long and spicy, since Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese used it for cooking and enhancing the flavour of cooked meats. Egyptians and Greeks used to chew dried mustard seeds with morsels of meat, a rather unusual way of enjoying both.
The English word is derived from the old French word moutarde, which evolved from moust or must (unfermented grape juice). Unfermented grape juice (verjus) was mixed with mustard seeds to prepare mustard.
Dijon, the ancient capital of the Duchy of Burgundy, is justly called the mustard capital of France, if not the world, for it was here that the French technique of preparing mustard was developed well over 300 years ago. French mustard is made from ground seeds of Brassica nigra (black mustard seeds); Brassica alba is employed by American processors. Brassica junica (yellow mustard) is used by French processors for mild mustards.
In Dijon, Grey-Poupon, Amora, Maille, Bocque, Bornier, Pikaroma and Grandiose are only some of the hundreds of manufacturers that supply France and export to many countries.
Bordeaux is another well-noted mustard-city, known for its sweet and sour tasting tarragon mustard.
Recipes for prepared mustard are jealously guarded secrets and never revealed to anyone. Of late, French mustard processors have revived the milder and grainier a l’ancienne (old style mustard). A favorite is , one that contains coarsely crushed seeds, Moutarde de Meaux; it has a speckled appearance, delicious flavor and unusual texture. It resembles medieval mustards, which were made by grinding the seeds in small stone mortars.
The German capital of mustard is Duesseldorf, noted for its mild Loewensenf.
Potent mustard powder originates in England. Mrs Clements had the idea of milling the seeds to a fine powder and passing it through a sieve in order to remove any coarse husk. Today’s Keen’s sharp, and “hot” powdered English mustard is known worldwide.
Italian mustard is unusual. It is called Mostarda di frutta di Cremona and made from whole pickled fruits preserved in a mustard flavoured syrup. Popular in Italy in the 16th century, it is still available in gourmet shops throughout North America.
Swiss mustard is very mild, and preferred there generally served with veal and /or pork sausages.
The American mustard tends to be extremely mild and pale, often the result of liberal amounts of turmeric. French’s mustard, popular American mustard, proves the point.
Canadian popular mustards resemble their American cousins, but there are small companies that produce a range of fine mustards available only in gourmet shops. Prepared mustards are widely available in various packages. Enveloped and almost “flavour-free” mustards are used mostly in “take out” shops or hamburger stands.
Mustard is grown in Russia, most European countries, the USA and Canada.
Pepper, a spice common to almost every table, is a product of the fruit of the tropical pepper tree. Black pepper is the whole, dried immature fruit of the plant. The strength of black pepper ranges from pungent to relatively mild, pending on its region of origin and processing. White pepper derived from the same fruit is much milder, as the berry skin is removed before drying.
All pepper should be stored whole, in airtight containers, and in a dark place. It must be ground just before use in an attempt to extract maximum flavour.
Famous pepper varieties derive their names from their port of export. Malabar is small and very hard, with 1000 fruit corns weighing 460 grams; while Goa-Aleppi is grayish and slightly larger than Malabar. Penang pepper, form Malaysia, is very small (1000 fruit corns weigh 283 grams) and considered inferior.