In Season: Mustard is more than just the top condiment at restaurants like Toronto’s Black Hoof
The four products are (clockwise, from top left): yellow mustard powder, Dijon mustard powder, whole yellow mustard seeds, and whole brown mustard seeds.
Image: Sai Sumar
Canada is the world’s leading producer of mustard seeds. So this week, we’re veering west of Ontario to talk about how the yellow/honey/hot mustard plastered all over your late night hotdog (often my midday snack) probably started in the Prairies’ mustard fields.
While Southern Alberta was first to the mustard cultivation game, Saskatchewan now dominates the market at about 75% of Canada’s total; Alberta generates a majority of the remaining quarter, while a handful comes from Manitoba.
The dry Prairie climate is ideal for growing the ancient seeds. Warm summers with drying winds help improve the crop, while cold winters are good for preserving the seed quality. As it grows, seed-filled pods line the mustard plant, which are harvested just as the flowers start to yellow and the pods turn brown. Leave them on for too long and the pods will burst, spilling the seeds.
Yellow and brown mustard seeds. (IMAGE: SAI SUMAR)
Canada exports most of its mustard seeds, mainly to the United States and Europe, for processing. Yellow mustard seeds, which are the mildest of the three types, have a variety of applications. There’s dry milling for powder (used in the common prepared yellow mustard), or wet milling for pastes; they’re used in spice mixes, sauces, dressings, and pressed for oil. It’s also a protein extender and binding agent for prepared meats. And if you ever see “mustard flour” in an ingredient list, it’s just straight-up ground mustard seeds.
If you’re into something more hot and spicy, go for brown mustard seeds, or even further to oriental seeds for an extra kick. The brown seeds (at times in combination with yellow ones for heat control) are used for “hot mustard” products: dry milled and mixed with yellow mustard powder for English mustard, lightly crushed for coarse, grainy options, and French-style mustard uses wet milling. They’re also used to pickle and flavor meats like corned beef.
Oriental mustard, which is primarily yellow to dark yellow but smaller and less spherical than yellow mustard seeds, is used in south Asian cooking and to make cooking oils since they have the highest oil content out of the three varieties. Mustard oil pungency varies though, since it’s usually a blend of seeds. I like mustard oil for pickling vegetables.
In Toronto, The Black Hoof’s chef Jayde Burton is spreading grainy Dijon and his homemade pickled mustard seeds—a combination of rice wine vinegar, sugar, mustard powder, and salt—across the menu. A generous spoonful of the grainy mustard sits on the beloved charcuterie board, and a quenelle of pickled mustard is served beside the tongue sandwich. Chef Burton blends the mustard seeds with an aioli for the Hoof’s current headcheese torchon dish. There’s also a vegetable special on the menu—charred rapini, roasted figs, and walnuts on top of fermented onion aioli—with mustard vinaigrette.
As a member of the Brassica family, mustard seeds are great for anti-inflammation and a good source of B-complex vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals such as selenium, copper, and magnesium. Mustard oil has been used for centuries as an appetite stimulant and digestive aid. It's also known to be antibacterial and antifungal, to increase blood circulation, to stimulate hair growth, and to treat joint pain (incl. arthritis), psoriasis, asthma, and congestion. Just to name a few things. However, cold-pressed oil or essential is recommended for topical use.