My husband and I once discussed mustard (as one does). Specifically, he had been on Google Earth and mentioned that he saw rapeseed fields near Dijon; I replied that they were more likely to be mustard fields. He was under the impression that mustard was a bush, or a tree, and we wondered if there might be varieties of the plant that ranged in size, especially if left to grow wild. And thus, a bit of research into the mustard plant ensued (naturally).
First, a bit of history on Dijon mustard: Originating in 1856, the first Dijon mustard was made by substituting green (unripe) grape juice for the more typical vinegar, though today that unripe grape juice is a spade called a spade, white wine. Surprisingly, 90% of the mustard seed used in local Dijon production comes (mainly) from Canada – so those yellow flowering fields near Dijon could be rapeseed after all!
Dijon, France doesn’t just make the eponymous mustard, but has dozens of speciality mustards; when travelling through a few years ago, we picked up jars of orange mustard, fig mustard, lavender mustard and tomato mustard. They often come in hand-painted pots, though plain glass jars are common as well. The word mustard itself comes from Old French mostarde, which comes from Latin mustum, meaning “new wine”. This may also be related to a Swiss-German term Most, meaning apple juice that’s nearly fermented; it’s often sold in the autumn from farmer’s shops, if they have an apple orchard from which to produce it.
Mustard seeds come in white, brown or black. White seeds contain fewer volatile oils and so are milder than brown or black. Years ago I consulted a doctor for remedies I could recommend to singing students who often struggle with sore throat issues; she told me to have them put 1 teaspoon of dark mustard seeds into a hot foot bath and soak the feet for 10-15 minutes; the mustard oils draw out the infection.
Mustard, as a condiment, was likely first made in Rome, appearing in cookbooks as far back as the 4th or 5th centuries. They probably exported the seeds to France (Gaul), and by the 10th century monks were experimenting with recipes. Grey-Poupon was established in 1777 between the partners Maurice Grey and Auguste Poupon.
So were those French fields rapeseed or mustard? Well, actually, both: Rapeseed is a bright-yellow flowering member of the family Brassicaceae (mustard or cabbage family). While both rapeseed and mustard are harvested for their oils, they are as similar as mustard is to cabbage; rapeseed oil is the third-largest source of vegetable oil in the world, while mustard seeds are usually prepared as mustard condiment (though mustard oil is also popular in cuisines such as Indian).
Now we know!