What is Old Fashioned Mustard, and What Makes It Old Fashioned?

September 17, 2020 4 min read

Of all condiments around the globe, mustard might be the most fascinating, the most complex, and the most beloved. This may be because of its rich history. But, depending on what part of the world in which it’s made, it may be because the definition of “mustard” tends to change wherever you go…and what ingredients go into it, too!

If you ever become a mustard connoisseur, you’ll find in no time that that there are many different types of mustard. However, long before mustard split off into different categories, flavor profiles, and incarnations, it all started off with one extremely simple mustard preparation: only ground mustard seeds mixed into liquid.

Today, far more ingredients make up the average mustard, whether it’s a tangy Dijon or an American ballpark yellow. But, like most famous and time-honored culinary creations, mustard’s earliest beginnings were much simpler and humbler… and, in the opinion of many, when you’ll find the condiment at its very best.

What is old fashioned mustard?

The mustards popular in delis, at hot dog stands, and in yellow, squeezable bottles have been around for quite some time. But if you want to get to know true old-fashioned mustard that led up to these later creations, it’s an item of a very different breed and background, and with origins far from America’s shores.

Look up “old-fashioned mustard” and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the authentic old-style mustard fashioned by the French. And not just Dijon or similar mustard types: but a whole category made from traditional French skill and knowledge, and more ancient than any mustard concoction in America today.

This category of mustard has a smooth texture but coarse grain, with whole black and brown mustard seeds left intact and true to the original way of its making. Old fashioned mustard is similar in appearance to Dijon and uses some of the same ingredients (except it uses vinegar instead of wine or verjus). But, in truth, it is the more robust, artisanal, and hearty ancestor of today’s more commonplace Dijon mustard….only with a lot more character, and plenty of French authenticity!

History of mustard

Mustard hasn’t changed much over the centuries. But, of all the types of mustard we have today, what we consider “true” old fashioned mustard nowadays is the only category that has honored the condiment’s deepest and most ancient traditions…and more than any other category around the world.

And historical records do show that mustard is indeed ancient! Mustard seeds of some type have been found in artifacts of ancient Egypt, Rome, Sumerian Mesopotamia, and even Stone Age peoples. This suggests mustard was used for culinary flavoring (and most likely medicine, too) during these times….and that even early mustard-like condiments were probably being developed during this period as well.

It was from these early beginnings that the heritage of old-fashioned mustard began. Traditions of creating this spicy, tangy, yet earthy condiment came from ancient Rome and then sprouted across Europe, leading to the cornerstone recipes of today’s modern old-style creations…including those made in French monasteries as early as the 9th Century A.C.E.!

It was even from here, the heart of France, that other countries’ and regions’ gourmet mustards originated, all thanks to global trade and a truly superb original product.

France: the birthplace of modern and old-fashioned mustard

While the birthplace of the very first mustard condiment is still uncertain today, it’s widely agreed that it became an important part of cuisine, culture, and even global trade in Europe first and foremost…and specifically in France. However, strong records do show that the mustard plant was native to India and brought over via trade, later becoming the world-renowned dressing that it is now.

Indian versions of the mustard condiment do exist, though it’s unclear if they came before or after European mustard. What is clear is that mustard’s climb to becoming a worldwide and popular condiment sparked first in Europe and the unique recipes primarily developed there, then spreading elsewhere around the world.

Mustard’s name today comes from Latin and Old French, from the words “must” and “arde” to mean “burning wine.” Once ancient Rome established a culture of preparing and perfecting mustard in the land that was to become modern-day France (Gaul), it was ordered by the French emperor Charlemagne that mustard be created in the French monasteries in the land. It did not become a widely popular condiment right away. Still, by the 11th Century, it was a common product available for sale all over France, including in Paris!

Methods of mustard creation and mustard products traveled from France to Spain, Germany, and then even farther back to India, China, and other parts of Asia, leading to their own cultural trademark mustards. And yes, the most recognizable French mustard “Dijon” (including the famous Grey Poupon) arose from these early French creations and recipes. So did America’s yellow ballpark mustard: each was inspired from the original old-fashioned mustard that started it all!

This ancient style of mustard can still be found today in the corners of French cities and countryside: flavorful, robust, pungent, well-grained, and created using the very same recipes and ingredients in the French monasteries of old. When compared to other mustards, no other is as full of character, richness, and historical significance than one made in the old style.

What about old-fashioned mustard today?

An ancestor of most mustards and an original French creation, old-fashioned mustard is ancient indeed. But does that mean you can’t find or enjoy old fashioned mustard today? Absolutely not! You may have to go a little off the beaten path to find a fully authentic product, and especially one made with the original recipe, ingredients, and centuries-old skill that captures old fashioned mustard in all its splendor.

Still, you certainly won’t find any authentic old-style mustard that isn’t made in France, its true homeland! For this reason, make sure to seek out French products for the best experience. In fact, be sure to visit our own store here at La Merenda to try a bona fide French old-fashioned mustard for yourself, anywhere in the U.S.!


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