Taste Test: Mustard

Taste Tests

We taste the leading brands to find the distinct differences and rate them with tasting scores.

Yup. We tried 39 mustards.

20091007-mustard1.jpg

[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Mayo phobia is understandable. Ketchup disdain can be justified (people always have complex relationships with tomatoes). But not liking mustard? Oh, come on. Mustard is just the little somethin' somethin' that sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, salad dressings, and pretzels need. When people say they don't like mustard, alarms sound in my head: This person is not to be trusted.

But even a mustard enthusiast would have trouble stomaching 39 kinds of mustard. We dolloped, squeezed, scooped, and dunked into jars and tubes of all types of the yellow condiment—sometimes it wasn't even yellow.

After visiting four stores and staring at many condiment aisles, freaking out any nearby employees and shoppers, we found mustards to fit into the following categories:

  • Yellow
  • Dijon
  • Deli-Style and Spicy Brown
  • Honey
  • Full of Seeds
  • "Other" (trust me, they didn't fit anywhere else)

The results, after the jump.

20091007-mustard-yellows.jpg

Best Yellow

Plochman's not only came in the funnest-to-squeeze rotund tube (with "25% MORE FREE!*") but it was exactly what every picnic needs. Not offensively vinegary, it offers that sturdy "yellow" flavor that you want on hot dogs and burgers. Plus you have to trust a company that's been around since 1852—a year before Vincent Van Gogh was born, as the website points out.

Guldens vs. French's

"I grew up eating this," was the response everyone gave to either Guldens or French's mustard. This is the Crest vs. Colgate battle of the mustard world. It's tricky to name a winner since you're just going to piss off the other group, and they'll insist you're wrong. "To me, [insert one of them here] is what yellow mustard should taste like. The other one is too metallic, gross, and/or stupid." Sorry to cop out of picking, but this decision was too emotionally strenuous.

Best Organic Yellow

Who knew there was such a competitive market for organic yellow mustards? We tried Annie's, Whole Foods 365, and Eden Foods, but of them all, Annie's tasted the most like the classic yellow. It wasn't complicated. So if you decide you need to organic-ify your life, down to the mustard, this won't compromise the iconic taste.

20091007-mustard-brownsdeli.jpg

Best Deli-Style

Ba-Tampte (means "tasty" in Yiddish) is what you want on your pastrami on rye. "The very essence of mustard," said one taster. Great texture, a bit spicy, and there's a menorah on the label—can you really argue with that? If the Jewish delis approve, bring it on. Plus it was only $1.50 for a 16-ounce barrel.

Best Spicy Brown

There's not much separating the "Spicy Brown" category from the aforementioned "Deli-Style" (alright mustard scholars, come out and correct me, I can take it) but the winner here was Kosciusko. Made by trusted brand Plochman's, this was one of our favorites overall. It's not hot in the sense that it attacks your sinuses, just nudges them, while still having flavor. The ingredients read: White Distilled Vinegar, #1 Grade Mustard Seed, Water, Salt and Spices. (Not sure what #2 mustard seeds taste like, but the #1 is doing the trick.)

20091007-mustard-honeys.jpg

Best Not-Too-Sweet Honey

If you like your honey mustard more mustard than honey, Gulden's will make you happy. Just a smidge spicy with lots of good texture bits, it's not part of the dessert mustard family.

Best Fancy-Pants Honey

If it comes in a hexagonal-shaped jar and costs $5.29 for eight ounces, it's fancy-pants mustard. Honeycup is super thick, almost pasty. It would never work in a squeeze bottle. Spicy and zippy, it's more than just brown sugar (the first ingredient) and honey (the fifth). Take a whiff and your nostrils will gently flare. A little goes a long way.

Most Versatile Honey

Annie's Naturals would be good on nuggets and sandwiches alike. Not oozing with sweetness, it's just an all-around mellow honey mustard.

20091007-mustard-mailleoldstyle.jpg

Most Like Birdseed

If you like to floss after your mustard, you'll love Maille's Old Style moutarde. There's hardly any filler between all those mustard seeds. Slightly sweet and super vinegary, the little seeds pop in your mouth. Good for kicking up a sandwich.

20091007-mustard-dijon.jpg

Best Classic Dijon

Grey Poupon, you've still got it. You're still what I want to pull out of my glove compartment when a polished dude in a Rolls-Royce happens to cruise by. Spicier and more complex-tasting than many other mustards—but still available at any grocery store or Target—this is a mustard that gets your attention. Maille (prounounced "my") was also a favorite. Slightly less up-your-nose spicy, it's creamy and smooth with a more interesting Dijon-y flavor, if that makes any sense.

Bonus: Grey Poupon Mustard Commercial

Super Bonus: Wayne's World Spoof

Most Sinus-Clearing Mustards

Trader Joe's Dijon deserves a category all its own. The "My-Nose-Just-Exploded" category. Geez, put a warning label on that jar. It's like Grey Poupon squared... multiplied by infinity. Also spicy, but somehow more acceptable since it comes in a teeny 3.5-ounce tub: Colman's. My papa always keeps a jar of this in the cupboard—the same jar since I was small. You really just need a dab. He swears it also helps with sore throats and colds. Mister Mustard (look for the chef dude on the label and "HOT" in all caps) might be tougher to find, but is also good.

Least Mustardy Substance

Um. You are 18 other things before you are mustard. Made in Vermont, Fox Hollow Farm's Fox Mustard looks like molasses and is equally goopy. But there's a great progression of flavors happening here—from sweet to spicy, back to sweet again. Made with balsamic vinegar and fresh garlic (and were those curry whiffs?) this should never go on a hot dog, but could be nice on ribs or really specific sandwiches.

Most Disappointing Overall

The Whole Foods 365 line is usually solid as far as generic brands go (they won our last olive oil taste test), but yikes. The dijon tasted like metal. The yellow went way overboard on apple cider vinegar. And did a bee ever go near the honey mustard?

Mustard with the Biggest Cult Following

20091007-mustard-beaver-closeup.jpg

[Flickr: teamperks]

When we asked for mustard suggestions, the love for Oregon-based Beaver brand came pouring in. "Unbelievable stuff!" ... "I'd just squeeze out a little bit on my finger and eat it raw" ... "The favorite in our house."

More commonly known for dams and buck teeth, the beaver is apparently a successful mustard mascot in the Pacific Northwest. You can find Beaver brand mustard all over the West Coast, and according to Beaver Mustard HQ, parts of Chicago, Texas, Florida, and South Carolina too—but beyond that, not so much. "Beaver has always been easier to find on the West Coast and Inglehoffer on the East," said representative Roger Klingsporn on the phone. Inglehoffer is made by the same Beaverton Foods company (replace dam-building rodent with a mustachioed man) and exactly the same recipe for some flavors, including Sweet Hot and Cream Horseradish.

20091007-beavermustard.jpg

[Flickr: passiveaggressivenotes]

Beaver mustards are so delicious, they even inspire passive aggressive notes like this one, which had one person so upset, they even used the verb "absconded."

Mustard Doodles

20091007-mustarddoodle.jpg

Per taste test tradition, Robyn supplied the artwork. When exposed to mass quantities of things, her hand cannot be controlled.