I recently came across an online news story about how a classic condiment is on the rise.
The article said that mustard is all the rage among many people closely involved in the world of food, and is being embraced in ways that had perhaps not been previously considered. As is always the case with this kind of stuff, I was intrigued. But I wasn’t moved to the point of action.
I mean, I’m OK with people eating mustard custard. Heck, for all I care, go ahead and enjoy a chocolate-dipped mustard ice cream cone and wash it down with a 32-ounce mustard soda.
For that matter, feel free to start the morning with a bowl of mustard flakes or a mustard Pop Tart, and wrap the day up with a couple of mustard cookies and a glass of mustard juice.
But just the same, I plan to continue using mustard in more traditional ways, like on an Oscar Meyer bun-length all-beef wiener, a smoked turkey sandwich or a big ol’ cheeseburger.
Sure, I’ve been known to step outside the box on occasion, and spread some Dijon on a baloney sandwich, or squirt a little Gulden’s on a slaw dog, but I’m stopping short of accepting fruity mustard as a pastry filling. I might even put a drop of that super-hot mustard on a piece of cold pork next time I want to clear my sinuses at a Chinese restaurant, but I’m not likely to take a peanut butter and mustard sandwich with me next time I go fishing at the river.
Apparently, mustard use in the U.S. has recently experienced a significant increase, and nationwide sales have jumped big-time – although mustard is still well behind the king of condiments, ketchup, which regularly has annual sales of more than $700 million.
According to one New York restaurant owner who has hopped aboard the mustard bandwagon, mustard is “the new butter.”
Maybe, but not in my world. Mustard isn’t about to become my go-to topping for baked potatoes, and I definitely can’t say I’ll be spreading it on my next stack of pancakes right before I pour on the Log Cabin syrup.
Of course, mustard as we know it comes from the seed of a plant by the same name. Mustard probably first appeared on the human food radar screen in the Roman Empire, and is known to have been experimented with back then as a condiment and drink ingredient. It even showed up in wild boar recipes during the fourth or fifth century.
But over the years, it has been primarily an additive to savory selections like burgers, dogs and ham sandwiches.
Maybe that’s why I have a hard time envisioning it as a layer in a parfait or a candy bar. Maybe that’s why I don’t see it as a viable base to a pudding recipe or occupying the center of a filled donut.
These days, almost everything is idolized in some way, so I don’t find it surprising that there’s a National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisc., that displays more than 5,500 mustards from all 50 states and more than 70 countries. I guess I’m also not surprised the place hosts a world mustard competition each year, which attracts hundreds of mustard warriors from around the globe who battle it out to the yellowish end.
But I do find it a bit unnerving that someone might be out there serving up a mustard turnover, or throwing back a mustard cocktail. Let’s just say that’s not my style.
Oh well. Next thing you know mustard will be the new wonder drug or cosmetic miracle.
And that’s OK. It’s fine if a handful of trendy folks want to put mustard in their coffee or start using it as a new foot callous softener. But I’ll never view it as anything but a basic condiment; to me, mustard should simply play a supporting role in a bun or bread-mounted package, or maybe be drizzled on a giant soft pretzel.
Don’t get me wrong – when mustard is in what I believe is its rightful place, I’m a big fan. In fact, when National Mustard Day rolls around again on Aug. 3, I might celebrate by hoisting a Ball Park Frank topped with plenty of the yellow stuff. But I doubt I’ll have a slice of mustard cake topped with mustard frosting and sprinkled with mustard chips.
Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I don’t think a lot of these new ideas cut the mustard.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.