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A spread of coarse mustards. (Photos: Paul Harrison.)

Mustard: You know it, you love it, you want some more of it. I know. I feel the same way. But if you’re stuck on the yellow stuff, it’s time to change things up. There are a lot of mustards out there, and hopefully this guide can help you figure out which mustards you should be adding to your diet.

Mustard is made by grinding mustard seeds and mixing them into liquid, which helps release the enzymes and oils that give mustard its bite. High-acid liquids, like vinegar, temper the resulting heat but help it keep its pungency, while using something low-acid, like cold water, results in a hotter mustard that can lose its potency relatively quickly.

mustardseedsMustard Seeds (Yellow, Brown, Black)

Yellow mustard seeds (also known as white mustard seeds) are the most common and the mildest in flavor. The brown and black seeds tend to be more pungent and are used in varying degrees with yellow seeds to help create different varieties of mustard. 

groundmustardMustard Powder (Cracked/Dal, Yellow, Chinese, English)

These are just ground mustard seeds. You can find coarse grinds, but most preground mustard seeds are made into powder. Different brands or types will have different blends of seeds to get varying levels of heat. Mix the powder with vinegar or water until you have a paste, wait about 10-15 minutes for the oils and enzymes to work their magic, and boom, you’ve got homemade mustard.

Classics (Dijon, Spicy Brown, Yellow)

Classic yellow mustard

Yellow Mustard: Aka “American mustard,” this gets its characteristically bright yellow color from turmeric. One of the milder mustards, it’s hugely popular in the U.S. and can be found at most backyard cookouts involving hot dogs or burgers. It’s commonly referred to as just “mustard” by most Americans.

Dijon mustard

Dijon: The classic French mustard, it’s been around since the 1850s, and originally it swapped in unripe grape juice for vinegar. Nowadays, dijon is made with “white wine.” While Dijon is a region of France that does in fact produce mustard, the term “Dijon” as it applies to mustard is not a protected food name like Champagne, and most Dijon mustard is made outside of France. A lot of recipes that call for mustard use Dijon, as it has a smooth consistency like yellow but a more complex, sharp flavor.

Spicy brown mustard

Spicy Brown: This uses a slightly coarser grind than yellow or Dijon and includes some of the spicier brown mustard seeds in addition to the standard yellow/white seeds. With more heat and deeper flavor than yellow mustard, this is a favorite in many delis, as well as the common New York City hot dog cart. If you’re having some pastrami on rye, this is the mustard you want.

Pinot Noir mustard

Other Wine Mustards (White Burgundy, Pinot Noir, Champagne)

Similar to Dijon mustard, these use specific types of wine to give the mustard a specific flavor that is unique from standard Dijon (which usually lists the nondescript “white wine” as one of its ingredients). If you like Dijon, I highly recommend giving some of these a try.

Whole grain stout beer

Coarse Mustards (Creole, Stone Ground, Whole Grain Dijon, Whole Grain Stout, Whole Grain Whisky)

Creole, Stone Ground, etc.: These types of mustard use a coarse to chunky grind and usually have some texture in addition to good, deep flavor. Some versions of spicy brown could fall into this category.

Whole Grain: These use whole mustard seeds. Sometimes they’ll use terms like “country” or “old style,” but if this is what you’re going for, you’ll be able to see the whole grains in the jar pretty easily. These have the most texture, obviously, which can add a unique element to sauces and dressings (this is what I like to use in my BBQ sauce).

From left to right: English, German, Chinese
From left to right: English, German, Chinese

Other International Mustards (English, German, Chinese)

English: Nice and spicy, this has a bright yellow color like yellow American mustard, but waaaaaaay more bite. If you want some serious mustard heat on your sandwich, this is what you should go for.

German: A bit like Dijon, but with a little more heat, this is the perfect mustard for your brat and pretzel.

Chinese: Super hot. Like, clear-your-sinuses hot. But I mean that in the best way possible. A little bit of this on your egg roll is highly recommended.

Honey dijon
Honey dijon

Sweet Mustards (Honey, Pecan-Honey, Sweet-Hot, Brown Sugar, Honey Dijon)

These are mustards that have had something sweet added to them, like honey, but you’ll find all kinds of variations. Some are spicy, some are maple-y, some are thick, some are thin, but they’re all a wonderful mix of sweet and tangy. If you’re making a ham sandwich, personally I’d go with one of these.

Habanero mustard
Habanero mustard

Other Flavored Mustards (Horseradish, Sriracha, Balsamic, Habanero)

The great thing about mustard is that you can basically flavor it with anything you want. Horseradish mustard is a popular variation (great for roast beef), but you can find Sriracha, habanero, and other spicy varieties, too. If you’re feeling bold, you can even try mixing some homemade mustard with whatever you want. Just an example: I made a smoked mustard with smoked salt and smoked paprika.

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully it’s a good primer. I hope you go buy something new that interests you, and I really hope some of you go out and decide to try making your own. Mustard is actually a pretty simple condiment, which in this case makes it a bit of a blank slate to play around with. Try different vinegars or liquids, different grinds of seeds, different added spices or flavorings — whatever you want. Just remember that if you make something amazing, try to write down what you did for next time!