Cutting the Mustard

When Americans think of mustard, they typically envision bright-yellow Ballpark mustard on top of a hotdog. We tend to lose sight of just how many varieties of mustard exist in the world, and unfortunately limit ourselves to yellow mustard and the occasional honey-Dijon mustard. The truth is, there are hundreds of kinds of mustard in the world. Some of the most common are honey, Dijon, spicy brown, coarse, whole grain, and horseradish among many others! Germany has provided the world with a variety of great-tasting mustards, including süß, brown Bavarian, scharf and extra-scharf mustards!

What is Mustard?

This is a more complicated question than one would at first think. Mustard is created from mustard seeds, which are in turn harvested from mustard plants, of which there are a wide variety. These mustard plants are flowers that form beautiful fields where they are grown. The mustard seeds are ground up into a powder that is then mixed with a liquid, typically water, and vinegar. This mixing creates a chemical reaction in the mustard seed powder that releases the enzyme myrosinae as well as various glucosinolates. This reaction is what creates the “heat level” of the mustard, or what many American refer to as the spiciness of it! Interestingly enough, there is a correlation between the color of the mustard seed and its spiciness. The darker the seed is, the spicier it will be, and the lighter it is the milder it will taste!

Mustard in Germany

Mustard has been popular in Germany since the medieval ages! During this dark period in European history, mustard was used for medicinal purposes. However, it was also used to flavor much of the at-the-time bland food in the country due to a lack of available spices. Since then Mustard has come a long way. Today there are three different kinds of mustard that one can buy in Germany. Senfkörner is the whole mustard seed that can be used to season sauces or meat. Senfpulver is dry mustard powder that is often used in cooking as it is easily mixable with other ingredients. Finally, Senf is the most common form of mustard. It is the paste that we most often call ‘mustard’ in the U.S.

A German Specialty

The two most famous German mustards are Düsseldorf and Bavarian Sweet mustard. The main difference between these two mustards is that Bavarian Sweet keeps with its namesake, while Düsseldorf has more of a sweet-sour taste. Düsseldorf mustard is particularly famous due to its having the first mustard factory in Germany in 1726. Particular to Düsseldorf mustard is the pot that it is served in, called a Mostertpöttche. This beloved mustard jar was even immortalized by Vincent Van Gogh in a well-known painting. Bavarian Sweet mustard is attributed to Johann Conrad Develey in the 19th century in Munich. He created the now-famous concoction by adding vinegar, spices and sugar to yellow and brown mustard and boiling it by sticking hot pokers in the mixture. In 1854 he added brown sugar to the mix instead of white, enhancing the sweetness and creating the brown color that mustard lovers have come to cherish.

Uses for Mustard

Germany’s main types of Senf are spicy-hot, mild, and sweet brown. Each of these three varieties is to be enjoyed in a certain way. Spicy-hot mustards are to be used as garnishes for meats. These are to be eaten with a meat and cheese tray, sausages, or smoked meats. Mild mustards commonly accompany dishes with fish or on top of crackers or a pâté. Sweet brown mustard is served on top of Wurst (sausage) in rolls, and it pairs deliciously with a Bavarian Weisswürst (white sausage) and a Weizenbier (wheat beer)! The beauty of mustard is that it complements the flavor of anything without masking it. It adds dimension and depth to the flavor of any dish, which is why it is one of the most beloved condiments in Germany, as well as the world as a whole!