It stands to reason that Dijon mustard, which originated in the lush, wine-producing Burgundy region of France, got its unique flavor from the juice of grapes. Called verjuice or verjus, the skins of unripened grapes (ver in French means “green”) is what distinguishes Dijon mustard from its cousins, which are made with tart, acidic vinegar. But before we delve into making a Dijon mustard substitute, let’s peek into its storied history to learn about the unique taste of Dijon.
Reaching Back in Time
Originating in the Middle Ages in the town of Dijon and made with brown mustard seeds, the history of mustard actually reaches so far back that a cookbook from Roman times includes the condiment. Fast-forward to somewhat modern times in the story of mustard, when 18th-century mustard-maker Jean Naigeon played with the recipe and found that adding verjuice reduced the acid taste of mustard and made it creamier.
Several years later, industrialization entered the scene when a mechanized grinding mill was introduced, allowing greater quantities of the mustard to be produced. Maurice Grey, moutardier, partnered with financier Auguste Poupon to mass produce the condiment, and the rest is commercial history, as the name Grey Poupon became synonymous with Dijon mustard.
Like French wine, Dijon mustard once held the exclusive title to the specific condiment, with no other mustard allowed to refer to Dijon in its branding. However, as mustard manufacturing moved away from Dijon, other producers in different locations were allowed to use the words “moutarde de Dijon,” referring to the recipe and not the locale.
The name eventually morphed into “moutarde de Bourgogne,” spreading its tentacles farther away from Dijon and into the region. Today, Grey Poupon Dijon mustard isn’t even made in Dijon. In fact, the production facilities are in upstate New York, and the formula uses mustard seeds from Canada. Alors...
You’re laying out all your ingredients for a special recipe and discover that jar of Dijon mustard that’s been sitting quietly in the back of your refrigerator is empty. Do you trash the recipe or come up with a Dijon mustard replacement? Can you use regular mustard instead of Dijon? Absolutely. Since Dijon mustard evolved from regular mustard, just go back in history and experiment.
Using Yellow Mustard
Most often referred to as “American mustard,” the yellow version that we use to decorate hot dogs is a good, basic substitute for Dijon mustard. Yellow mustard doesn’t hit you in the back of your mouth as Dijon does. It’s not as spicy, and the mustard taste is milder. If you’re looking for the kick that only Dijon gives to a recipe, add a dash of white pepper or horseradish to the mix.
The Magic of Yellow Mustard
You don’t often think of yellow mustard as a source of healthy living. However, its sodium content is less than Dijon’s, the turmeric in its formula works against cancer, and it’s a source of vitamin C. While you’re using only a dab of yellow mustard in your dish, every little bit helps when eating healthy is your goal.
A trick that chefs use when they get burned in the kitchen is to swab the burn in yellow mustard, put on a surgical glove to cover the yellow mess, and wait. The pain goes away almost immediately, and you’ll have no blisters. True, you may smell like a hot dog, but it’s worth it!
Substitute With Deli Mustard
The brown mustard often associated with deli meats such as corned beef and pastrami can also be used as a substitute for Dijon mustard. It’s spicier and more robust than Dijon, and not as creamy, but it’ll do in a pinch.
Deli mustard is more flavor-forward and doesn’t have the excess vinegar taste that other mustards do, so it won’t dominate your recipe. Use a little at a time and sample the dish as you go to measure the effect of the deli mustard.
Go Sweet With Honey Mustard
Not all recipes need the sweetness that honey mustard produces, but it’s good in a pinch. Use sparingly and test as you go. You may find that creating an emulsion with the honey mustard and the other seasonings in your recipe gives you more control over the final taste.
Adding canola or olive oil tempers the sweetness, but stay away from extra-virgin olive oil if you want to avoid the oil’s flavor dominating your dish. The pricey extra-virgins will work, but run-of-the-mill extra-virgins give off too strong a flavor and will kill your mustard’s contribution to the recipe.
Watering Down Colman’s Mustard
Almost as spicy as the mustard that comes in packets from the Chinese take-out, the English Coleman’s mustard, in dry, powdered form can be used as a base for your missing Dijon. In its formula, the yellow mustard seeds temper the brown seeds that are also used, but go easy when adding it to your recipe.
Using a little at a time, mix the Colman’s powder with a little dry white wine or even water until your throat can handle the taste. The tiniest bit of mayonnaise calms the mix and makes it creamy. Letting the mustard sit in the refrigerator before using it helps maintain the heat.
Japanese wasabi packs a punch, and if you have any leftover from your sushi takeout, try using it as a substitute for Dijon. But use it sparingly and never in equal measure for the Dijon.
The wasabi you get in tubes from American manufacturers may not even be real wasabi; instead, it may be a mixture of horseradish and mustard seeds. Look for wasabi “made in Japan” for the real deal. Temper it with a little white wine and a few grains of sugar.
On a health note, wasabi’s natural antibacterial properties fight food poisoning (good news for raw fish lovers), and the root contains magnesium, zinc and potassium as part of its nutrient profile.
Mix Mustard From Scratch
That bottle of mustard seeds sitting in your spice cupboard may save your recipe when you run out of Dijon mustard. Become your own mustard master and create the flavor that appeals to your taste. Mix the ingredients in small batches and sample as you go.
To mix your own, you need an equal amount of white vinegar, dry white wine, mustard seeds, a dab of sugar, turmeric, a sprinkle of salt and perhaps some horseradish to give it a punch. Start with a tablespoon of each. If the taste needs tempering, add a drop of water until you reach the level of heat that you like. Grinding the seeds in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle releases the essence of the seeds prior to mixing. The longer your mixture rests, the more intense the flavor and heat.
My seventh grade English teacher didn't realize what she was unleashing when she called me her "writer," but the word crept into my brain. I DID become a writer. Of advertising copy, dialogue and long-term story for several network soap operas, magazine articles and high-calorie contents for the cookbook: Cooking: It AIn't Rocket Science, a bestseller on Amazon! When I'm not writing, I'm cooking!