Medieval Mustard

Mustard is a standard condiment that has been in use for thousands of years. The first recorded use was by the Romans (Columella, De Re Rustica. XII 57) Its use in the Middle Ages is clearly indicated by the number of times it is referred to in period cookbooks. The Viandier of Taillevent refers to it several times, and gives at least one recipe for making it. Le Menagier de Paris gives a recipe and says to buy it from the sauce merchant (depending on the version). Both The Forme of Cury and Das Buoch Von Guter Spise include recipes for a mustard sauce for preserving fruits and vegetables.


Mustard, after all, was locally grown and was a whole lot cheaper than spices which had to be imported from the Orient. Mustard is a cool season broadleaf crop. The bright yellow flowers look a lot like canola when in full bloom. Mustard is a popular crop in crop rotations, since it enhances yields of wheat and barley, and breaks disease cycles in cereal grains.

Mustard is a nutritious food containing 28% to 36% protein. Mustard does not contain antigrowth factors like those found soybeans or the anti-thyroid compound common to related spices. Its higher protein content is of particular interest when applied to processed meats.  The vegetable oil of mustard is nutritionally similar to other oils and makes up 28% to 36% of the seed.  Tocopherols present in mustard help to protect the oil from rancidity , thus contributing to a long shelf life.  Erucic acid is a significant component of mustard oil.

Mustard is widely known for its sharp flavor. This characteristic flavor is an essential component of many dressings and sauces world-wide. Unlike other "hot" flavors, the flavor profile of mustard does not linger. Rather it presents itself quickly, dissipates, and leaves little or no after-taste. Mustard oils are the characteristic flavor components of whole seed, ground mustard, and mustard flour (powder).  The essential oil in mustard inhibits growth of certain yeasts, molds, and bacteria, enabling mustard to function as a natural preservative.


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