13 Spicy Facts About Mustard

KVLADIMIRV/iStock via Getty Images
KVLADIMIRV/iStock via Getty Images

Mustard may have truly come alive for Americans in the early 20th century when it was introduced to the hot dog, but its history is even longer and spicier than you might have guessed. In honor of National Mustard Day (August 3), here are some facts about the popular condiment.

1. First things first: mustard is a plant; prepared mustard is a condiment.

Although it’s rarely necessary to specify “prepared” mustard when referring to the spicy spread, it only seems fair to acknowledge mustard’s true roots.

2. Broccoli is mustard's not-so-distant cousin.

As members of Brassica or Sinapis genera, mustard plants are close relatives to a surprising variety of common vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, and cabbage.

3. Mustard goes way, way back.

By some accounts, mustard was the first condiment humans ever put on their food. Egyptian pharaohs stocked their tombs with mustard seeds to accompany them into the afterlife, but the Romans were the first to grind the spicy seeds into a spreadable paste and mix them with a flavorful liquid—usually, wine or vinegar. French monks, who mixed the ground seeds with "must," or unfermented wine, inspired the word “mustard,” which stems from the Latin mustum ardens (roughly meaning “burning wine.”)

4. The Ancient Greeks and Romans used mustard as more than just a condiment.

Pythagoras endorsed a poultice of mustard seeds as a cure for scorpion stings. Hippocrates praised mustard paste as a miracle remedy capable of soothing pains and aches; and ancient Roman physicians used it to ease toothaches. They weren’t alone. Over the years, mustard has been used for appetite stimulation, sinus clearing, and frostbite prevention. It’s now touted as a weight loss supplement, asthma suppressant, hair growth stimulant, immunity booster, cholesterol regulator, dermatitis treatment, and even as an effective method of warding off gastrointestinal cancer, so ask your doctor if mustard is right for you.

5. Most of today’s Dijon mustard isn’t from Dijon.

When the Romans conquered the Gauls, they brought mustard seeds with them, and these seeds took root in the fertile soil of France’s Burgundy region. By the thirteenth century, Dijon had emerged as a hub of mustard production, which laid the foundation for the invention of the region’s signature “Dijon mustard” in 1856. A simple ingredient swap added a new tang to old mustard recipes when Jean Naigeon thought to use verjuice, the acidic juice of unripe grapes, instead of the traditional vinegar—a change so easy to replicate that the recipe couldn’t be contained to a single city. Today, Dijon mustard can be made anywhere in the world.

6. King Louis XI didn’t travel without mustard.

The French monarch considered the condiment so essential to his culinary experiences that he kept a pot with him at all times, so as not to be disappointed if he were to be served a meal in a household that wasn’t fully stocked.

7. Mustard has many, many faces.

Dijon isn’t the only place with a favorite local mustard. Other common regional mustard varieties include American (the familiar yellow squeeze-bottle stuff), English, so-called “French mustard” (actually invented in England as a less-spicy alternative to English mustard), Bavarian sweet mustard, Italian fruit mustards, Midwestern beer mustard, Creole mustard, and so many wildly different German mustards that the phrase “German mustard” is essentially meaningless.

8. The famous Grey Poupon ad turned the mustard market on its head.

The upscale mustard brand’s iconic 1984 Rolls-Royce TV commercial sparked a boom in sales for Grey Poupon, which had been lagging far behind the reigning American favorite, French’s “Classic Yellow” mustard. By marketing the more expensive spread as one of “the finer things in life” that even an average shopper could afford, Grey Poupon broke buyers’ previously unquestioned devotion to a plainer sort of condiment. Moreover, many test audiences only needed one taste of Grey Poupon to immediately switch their allegiance.

9. It’s said to be America’s silver-medal spice.

Peppercorns are the most used spice in the United States; mustard comes in second.

10. Two countries (Canada and Nepal) are responsible for most of the world’s mustard.

In addition to their main ingredient, most mustards have one thing in common: the ingredients' country of origin. Together, Canada and Nepal's crops account for more than half of global mustard production. Thanks, guys!

11. “Mustard yellow” is a lie!

The particular shade of yellow to which mustard lends its name owes its hue not to mustard seeds themselves, but to the vibrantly colored turmeric added for an extra kick of spice and brightness. Crushed mustard seeds alone vary from a pale yellow to a dark brown depending on their variety, but “turmeric yellow” doesn’t sound quite as good.

12. Middleton, Wisconsin is for mustard lovers.

Can any foodstuff call itself beloved if there’s not a museum established in its honor? Southern Wisconsin is proud to call itself the home of the National Mustard Museum, which boasts “more than 5566 jars, bottles, and tubes from all 50 states and more than 70 countries.”

13. That jar of mustard in the back of the fridge is probably fine.

Despite its creamy texture, mustard is fundamentally nothing more than a blend of spices and acidic liquid, none of which have the potential to truly spoil. Refrigeration is advised to keep mustard’s spicy kick from dissipating too quickly, but it isn’t strictly necessary. The mustard’s flavor will decline over time, but unless rogue food particles have gotten into the container, there’s nothing to worry about—except mediocre mustard, of course.

Why Do We Eat Candy on Halloween?

Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images
Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images

On October 31, hordes of children armed with Jack-o'-lantern-shaped buckets and pillow cases will take to the streets in search of sugar. Trick-or-treating for candy is synonymous with Halloween, but the tradition had to go through a centuries-long evolution to arrive at the place it is today. So how did the holiday become an opportunity for kids to get free sweets? You can blame pagans, Catholics, and candy companies.

Historians agree that a Celtic autumn festival called Samhain was the precursor to modern Halloween. Samhain was a time to celebrate the last harvest of the year and the approach of the winter season. It was also a festival for honoring the dead. One way Celtics may have appeased the spirits they believed still walked the Earth was by leaving treats on their doorsteps.

When Catholics infiltrated Ireland in the 1st century CE, they rebranded many pagan holidays to fit their religion. November 1 became the “feasts of All Saints and All Souls," and the day before it was dubbed "All-Hallows'-Eve." The new holidays looked a lot different from the original Celtic festival, but many traditions stuck around, including the practice of honoring the dead with food. The food of choice for Christians became "soul cakes," small pastries usually baked with expensive ingredients and spices like currants and saffron.

Instead of leaving them outside for passing ghosts, soul cakes were distributed to beggars who went door-to-door promising to pray for souls of the deceased in exchange for something to eat. Sometimes they wore costumes to honor the saints—something pagans originally did to avoid being harassed by evil spirits. The ritual, known as souling, is believed to have planted the seeds for modern-day trick-or-treating.

Souling didn't survive the holiday's migration from Europe to the United States. In America, the first Halloween celebrations were a way to mark the end-of-year harvest season, and the food that was served mainly consisted of homemade seasonal treats like caramel apples and mixed nuts. There were no soul cakes—or candies, for that matter—to be found.

It wasn't until the 1950s that trick-or-treating gained popularity in the U.S. Following the Great Depression and World War II, the suburbs were booming, and people were looking for excuses to have fun and get to know their neighbors. The old practice of souling was resurrected and made into an excuse for kids to dress up in costumes and roam their neighborhoods. Common trick-or-treat offerings included nuts, coins, and homemade baked goods ("treats" that most kids would turn their noses up at today).

That changed when the candy companies got their hands on the holiday. They had already convinced consumers that they needed candy on Christmas and Easter, and they were looking for an equally lucrative opportunity to market candy in the fall. The new practice of trick-or-treating was almost too good to be true. Manufacturers downsized candies into smaller, bite-sized packages and began marketing them as treats for Halloween. Adults were grateful to have a convenient alternative to baking, kids loved the sweet treats, and the candy companies made billions.

Today, it's hard to imagine Halloween without Skittles, chocolate bars, and the perennial candy corn debates. But when you're digging through a bag or bowl of Halloween candy this October, remember that you could have been having eating soul cakes instead.

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Make Your Own Mouthwatering Pizza With Tomatoes From Frank Pepe’s

eugenesergeev/iStock via Getty Images
eugenesergeev/iStock via Getty Images

If you live in a rural area, the hunt for a quality slice of pizza—especially at a late hour—can be enough to make you consider moving to a pizza capital like New York. But what if you had the secret ingredient for a perfect pie right in your own kitchen?

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Italiana, the iconic New Haven establishment recently crowned America’s best pizzeria, is selling cans of its hand-selected tomatoes that you can purchase online or at any of its locations across Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York.

Like any good "secret" ingredient, the tomatoes that Frank Pepe’s chefs use in their critically acclaimed sauces are a little different than your regular grocery store pickings. Food & Wine reports that each year, Frank Pepe’s grandsons (now restaurant co-owners) conduct a blind taste test of several different tomato varieties harvested from farms in Naples, Italy, and decide which ones are worthy of being used in their pizza products. According to the pizzeria's website, “It’s not just a matter of taste, but of the tomatoes’ density, texture, and transition of flavor once they are cooked.”


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Of course, there’s more than one reason Frank Pepe’s pizzas are considered the gold standard in America. To achieve that famous “crisp, charred, chewy crust,” the pizzas are baked in a coal-fired oven rather than a wood-burning one. There’s also the fact that Frank Pepe and his ancestors have been perfecting the Neapolitan art of pizza-making for nearly a century (the pizzeria was founded in 1925). In other words: Don’t be disappointed if your first crack at a heavenly homemade pizza doesn’t come out exactly like the mouthwatering pictures on Frank Pepe’s website. Having said that, the magic of hand-chosen Naples tomatoes is sure to make your creation considerably better than any of its frozen, store-bought brethren.

You can order a pack of three cans of tomatoes for $10 here.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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