Mustards of all styles, colors and flavors — from "apricot" to "Zinfandel" — have become big business. Everybody is getting into the act, in large part, I think, because the prospect of opening pretty little jars that promise such extravagant taste sensations is indeed beguiling.

But have you ever made your own? If your idea for making mustard has thus far consisted of stirring a little bit of water (or wine, ale or vinegar) into powdered mustard, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Even if you’ve taken that concept a step or so further by adding a sprinkling of herbs or sugar or egg yolks, you have yet to savor what a real homemade mustard can be.

I believe in starting with the whole seeds. It’s the only way to achieve the purest, most balanced of mustard flavorings. Otherwise, you’re relying on whatever powdered mustard blend you happen to have purchased. And even if it’s Coleman’s — which most agree is the superior powdered mustard blend on the market — the flavors and textures you can create are limited.

But if you follow my two basic steps, you will truly have something to brag about. Something worthy of sharing with your most persnickety “gourmet” friends and family members.

Step one: The Soak

First, you will combine the seeds with the liquid and let the mixture sit for two days. This simple step — unlike most of the recipes for homemade mustard I’ve encountered, but very similar to the process commercial mustard makers follow — makes all the difference. By allowing the seeds time to absorb the liquid, to soften and plump, before adding other ingredients or pureeing in a food processor, the finished product is creamier and more richly flavored. Depending on the dryness of the seeds — and believe me, they do vary — you’ll notice that your seeds either lap up the liquid very quickly or slowly absorb the liquid over an extended time. It’s something you will need to monitor.

Since the idea is to keep the seeds just barely covered with liquid, if you have a thirsty batch of seeds you’ll be adding additional liquid at more frequent intervals, especially during the first 24 hours.

Step two: The Blend

The thoroughly plumped seeds and whatever liquid is still in solution with them are scraped into a food processor at this point so you can puree the mixture to the desired consistency. This is usually the point when you add any other ingredients, such as shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs or garlic. You may be surprised at how long my recipes instruct you to run the food processor. Generally, you keep the seeds in motion from 3 to 6 minutes, which is a long time by most blending standards. But if you’re patient, you’ll see the mixture transform before your eyes from one with defined seeds and liquid to a somewhat creamy, then very creamy, solution. As the seeds’ crispy hulls crack and break, the pulpy centers are thrown into solution, where they help thicken and flavor the mustard.

Mustard seeds

Mustard gets its kick from three types of mustard seed: black, brown and white (commonly referred to as yellow, because the seeds are actually a pale yellow color). The black and brown seeds contribute the familiar “hot” or pungent flavor of mustard. The yellow mustard, although more mild, also contributes its own character, a distinctive mustard flavor.

Commercially available mustard powder is a combination of yellow and black or brown mustard seeds.

For purchasing your whole mustard seeds, keep in mind that you should locate a store that sells them in bulk form. Those tiny tins from the spice aisle in your supermarket cost a fortune. My three most consistent sources in Corvallis for bulk mustard seed are the Food Co-op, Market of Choice, Winco and Fred Meyer.

The liquids

When using mustard seeds or powder, the ultimate pungency is achieved with cold water, which facilitates enzymatic formation of the necessary essential oils. Acids, such as vinegar — and to a lesser degree, wine or beer — produce a less favorable environment for the enzyme, and thus, a slightly tamer condiment. But remember, “slightly” is the operative word. These mustard preparations are still potent, even after the flavors have improved and mellowed during the two- to three-week aging process.

I really like using vinegar in my recipes, because I feel it helps to create a balance of flavors. When making your own mustards, remember that there are a plethora of vinegars to play around with. Beyond taste, however, you have to keep your ultimate color in mind. For instance, if you want a light, delicately colored mustard, don’t start with balsamic, malt, or red-wine vinegar, or a dark beer or red wine. Any of these ingredients will turn the mustard a dark or murky color.

Also, steer away from boiling-hot liquid. I’ve noticed that subjecting the seeds to temperatures at or near the boiling point tends to make the final product rather bitter, or at the very least, flat. This carries through to the process of cooking with your mustards. The flavor tends to hold better when the mustard is added toward the end of the cooking process.

Storage and a word on food safety

Please store your mustards in the refrigerator. Although it’s hard to imagine any bacterium with half a brain wanting to reproduce in such a fiery potion, food-safety experts caution that it is a possibility. So it’s best to store questionable batches in the refrigerator. Questionable, by my definition, is any recipe calling for liquids other than just vinegar. When this is the case, you should mark your labels “keep refrigerated.” Of course, most of these mustards will safely survive room temperature during the gift-giving phase or a short trip via the U.S. Postal Service.

The following recipes are from "The Mustard Book," by Jan Roberts-Dominguez

 

German Whole Grain Mustard

A classic mustard that would be perfectly at home on a slab of crusty bread with juicy chunks of knockwurst on the side. The turmeric provides the blush of gold, so don’t leave it out.

2/3 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/2 cup brown mustard seeds

3/4 cup cider vinegar

3/4 cup craft beer (choose something with significant malt and hops profile, such as a regional IPA or an amber ale)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

In a nonaluminum pot or jar, combine the mustard seeds, vinegar, ale, garlic and Worcestershire sauce; cover and soak for 48 hours, adding additional vinegar and ale (in correct proportions) if necessary to maintain enough liquid to cover the seeds.

Scrape the soaked seeds into a food processor. Add the salt, sugar, allspice and turmeric and process until the mustard turns to a coarse-grained but creamy mixture flecked with seeds, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add additional vinegar and ale (in correct proportions) as necessary to create a nice creamy mustard; it will thicken slightly upon standing. This is one mustard I can hardly wait to sample, so letting it age, even for a week or two, is always a challenge. However, giving it a little time to develop in flavor before presenting it to a friend does make it even better.

Makes 2-3/4 cups

 

Bordeaux Mustard

A whole-grain French mustard that's delicious with sausage. Very classic. Very delicious.

2/3 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/2 cup brown mustard seeds

1 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cups dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or Syrah

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, crumbled

1 teaspoon dried marjoram, crumbled

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 teaspoon turmeric

In a nonaluminum pot or jar (I use a 1-quart canning jar), combine all the mustard seeds, vinegar, wine and garlic; cover and soak for 48 hours, adding additional vinegar and wine (in the correct proportions) if necessary to maintain enough liquid to cover the seeds.

Scrape the soaked seeds into a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the mustard turns from liquid and seeds to a creamy mixture flecked with seeds; about 3 to 4 minutes. Add additional vinegar and water (in correct proportions) as necessary to create a nice creamy mustard. Keep in mind that it will thicken slightly upon standing. This mustard benefits from several weeks of aging. Keep refrigerated.

Makes about 3-1/3 cups.

 

Whole-Grain Honey Mustard with Pinot Noir

This is a mustard designed to stand up to hearty fare. It's chunky in character, bold and spicy in taste, and simply beguiling in the company of grilled kielbasa

1 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/2 cup brown mustard seeds

1-1/2 cups Pinot Noir (or any medium- to full-bodied, dry red wine, such as a syrah, cabernet or zinfandel)

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dried chervil, crumbled

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

5 tablespoons honey

In a nonaluminum pot or jar (I use a 1-quart canning jar), combine all the ingredients except the honey, cover and soak for 48 hours, adding additional vinegar and water (in the correct proportions) if necessary to maintain enough liquid to cover the seeds.

Scrape half the mixture into a food processor. Process until the mustard turns from liquid and seeds to a creamy mixture flecked with seeds, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add additional vinegar and water (in correct proportions) as necessary to create a nice creamy mustard. Scrape this mixture into a bowl and combine with the remaining whole-seeds mixture. Stir in the honey. This mustard benefits from 2 to 3 weeks of aging.

 

Mustard of Sun-dried Tomatoes and Basil

This has a beautiful, rich, golden-red color and is exquisitely flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and herbs. For a mustard, it's unexpectedly mild, yet zestfully infused with tomato, basil and garlic. Make plenty because as gifts go, this one will be a major hit with every foodie you know.

3/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

1 cup cider vinegar

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon dried basil, crumbled

2 teaspoons salt

In a nonaluminum pot or jar, combine the mustard seeds, vinegar and garlic; cover and soak for 48 hours, adding additional vinegar if necessary to maintain enough liquid to cover the seeds.

Scrape the soaked seeds into a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the mustard turns from liquid and seeds to a creamy mixture flecked with seeds. Most of the tomato bits will eventually puree into a homogeneous mixture, blending splendidly with the mustard; about 3 to 4 minutes. Add additional vinegar as necessary to create a nice creamy mustard; keep in mind that it will thicken slightly upon standing. This mustard can be consumed immediately. Keep refrigerated.

Makes 3 cups.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a cookbook author and columnist in Corvallis. Reach her at janrd@proaxis.com.