13 Spicy Facts About Mustard

KVLADIMIRV/iStock via Getty Images
KVLADIMIRV/iStock via Getty Images

Mustard may have truly come alive for Americans in the early 20th century when it was introduced to the hot dog, but its history is even longer and spicier than you might have guessed. In honor of National Mustard Day (August 3), here are some facts about the popular condiment.

1. First things first: mustard is a plant; prepared mustard is a condiment.

Although it’s rarely necessary to specify “prepared” mustard when referring to the spicy spread, it only seems fair to acknowledge mustard’s true roots.

2. Broccoli is mustard's not-so-distant cousin.

As members of Brassica or Sinapis genera, mustard plants are close relatives to a surprising variety of common vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, and cabbage.

3. Mustard goes way, way back.

By some accounts, mustard was the first condiment humans ever put on their food. Egyptian pharaohs stocked their tombs with mustard seeds to accompany them into the afterlife, but the Romans were the first to grind the spicy seeds into a spreadable paste and mix them with a flavorful liquid—usually, wine or vinegar. French monks, who mixed the ground seeds with "must," or unfermented wine, inspired the word “mustard,” which stems from the Latin mustum ardens (roughly meaning “burning wine.”)

4. The Ancient Greeks and Romans used mustard as more than just a condiment.

Pythagoras endorsed a poultice of mustard seeds as a cure for scorpion stings. Hippocrates praised mustard paste as a miracle remedy capable of soothing pains and aches; and ancient Roman physicians used it to ease toothaches. They weren’t alone. Over the years, mustard has been used for appetite stimulation, sinus clearing, and frostbite prevention. It’s now touted as a weight loss supplement, asthma suppressant, hair growth stimulant, immunity booster, cholesterol regulator, dermatitis treatment, and even as an effective method of warding off gastrointestinal cancer, so ask your doctor if mustard is right for you.

5. Most of today’s Dijon mustard isn’t from Dijon.

When the Romans conquered the Gauls, they brought mustard seeds with them, and these seeds took root in the fertile soil of France’s Burgundy region. By the thirteenth century, Dijon had emerged as a hub of mustard production, which laid the foundation for the invention of the region’s signature “Dijon mustard” in 1856. A simple ingredient swap added a new tang to old mustard recipes when Jean Naigeon thought to use verjuice, the acidic juice of unripe grapes, instead of the traditional vinegar—a change so easy to replicate that the recipe couldn’t be contained to a single city. Today, Dijon mustard can be made anywhere in the world.

6. King Louis XI didn’t travel without mustard.

The French monarch considered the condiment so essential to his culinary experiences that he kept a pot with him at all times, so as not to be disappointed if he were to be served a meal in a household that wasn’t fully stocked.

7. Mustard has many, many faces.

Dijon isn’t the only place with a favorite local mustard. Other common regional mustard varieties include American (the familiar yellow squeeze-bottle stuff), English, so-called “French mustard” (actually invented in England as a less-spicy alternative to English mustard), Bavarian sweet mustard, Italian fruit mustards, Midwestern beer mustard, Creole mustard, and so many wildly different German mustards that the phrase “German mustard” is essentially meaningless.

8. The famous Grey Poupon ad turned the mustard market on its head.

The upscale mustard brand’s iconic 1984 Rolls-Royce TV commercial sparked a boom in sales for Grey Poupon, which had been lagging far behind the reigning American favorite, French’s “Classic Yellow” mustard. By marketing the more expensive spread as one of “the finer things in life” that even an average shopper could afford, Grey Poupon broke buyers’ previously unquestioned devotion to a plainer sort of condiment. Moreover, many test audiences only needed one taste of Grey Poupon to immediately switch their allegiance.

9. It’s said to be America’s silver-medal spice.

Peppercorns are the most used spice in the United States; mustard comes in second.

10. Two countries (Canada and Nepal) are responsible for most of the world’s mustard.

In addition to their main ingredient, most mustards have one thing in common: the ingredients' country of origin. Together, Canada and Nepal's crops account for more than half of global mustard production. Thanks, guys!

11. “Mustard yellow” is a lie!

The particular shade of yellow to which mustard lends its name owes its hue not to mustard seeds themselves, but to the vibrantly colored turmeric added for an extra kick of spice and brightness. Crushed mustard seeds alone vary from a pale yellow to a dark brown depending on their variety, but “turmeric yellow” doesn’t sound quite as good.

12. Middleton, Wisconsin is for mustard lovers.

Can any foodstuff call itself beloved if there’s not a museum established in its honor? Southern Wisconsin is proud to call itself the home of the National Mustard Museum, which boasts “more than 5566 jars, bottles, and tubes from all 50 states and more than 70 countries.”

13. That jar of mustard in the back of the fridge is probably fine.

Despite its creamy texture, mustard is fundamentally nothing more than a blend of spices and acidic liquid, none of which have the potential to truly spoil. Refrigeration is advised to keep mustard’s spicy kick from dissipating too quickly, but it isn’t strictly necessary. The mustard’s flavor will decline over time, but unless rogue food particles have gotten into the container, there’s nothing to worry about—except mediocre mustard, of course.

10 Frank Facts About the Wienermobile

Business Wire
Business Wire

This year marks the 83rd anniversary of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, that effortlessly charming, street-legal marketing tool on wheels. The next time you’re in the vicinity of one—a fleet of six makes up to 1400 stops annually—take the time to reflect on the past, present, and future of history’s most famous locomoting hot dog.

1. The Wienermobile started as a kind of land sub. 


Oscar Mayer

In 1936, Carl Mayer, nephew of hot dog scion Oscar Mayer, suggested a marketing idea to his uncle: build a 13-foot-long mobile hot dog and cruise around the Chicago area handing out his “German wieners” to stunned pedestrians. Crafted from a metal chassis, the vehicle was operated by Carl, who could usually be seen with his torso sticking out from the cockpit.

2. The Wienermobile was once driven by "Little Oscar."

Throughout the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, Oscar Mayer enlisted various little people to portray “Little Oscar,” a company mascot sporting a chef’s hat. Little Oscar soon assumed piloting duties for the Wienermobile, waving to crowds and dispensing wiener whistles that kids could use to alert other children to the presence of the car in their neighborhood. Performer George Malchan portrayed the character from 1951 to 1987.

3. The Wienermobile disappeared for decades.

While novelty automobiles were all the rage circa World War II, Oscar Mayer saw interest wane in the 1960s and 1970s, as kitsch gave way to more contemporary advertising campaigns. But when the company put a Wiener back on the road for its 50th anniversary in 1986, they discovered a whole generation of consumers who were nostalgic for the car. The company ordered six new models in 1988.

4. Wienermobile drivers train at Hot Dog High.

Since resurrecting the marketing campaign, Oscar Mayer has trained aspiring Wienermobile drivers at Hot Dog High in Madison, Wisconsin. The company receives 1000 to 1500 applications for the 12 available positions annually, typically from college graduates looking for a road trip experience. Those selected for duty are given 40 hours of instruction and assigned a different region of the country. The company tracks their routes with a GPS.

5. Wienermobile passengers ride "shotbun."

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Wienermobile motorists—a.k.a. Hotdoggers—typically ride in pairs, with the driver keeping an eye on the road and the passenger acknowledging and waving to passersby who want to interact with the vehicle. This is known as riding “shotbun,” and the greetings are mandatory. Some occupants have reported that even after going off-duty, they’ll keep waving to other drivers out of habit.

6. The Wienermobile interior is just as delicious.

Wienermobile fans who are invited to board—and promise to fasten their “meat belts” before rolling—are treated to a rare peek inside the vehicle’s interior. Ketchup- and mustard-colored upholstery surround the six seats, with condiment "stains" dotting the floor; for parades, occupants can wave from the “bunroof.” Two accent hot dogs are parked on the dashboard.

7. The Wienermobile once crashed into a house.

Though it can be challenging to pilot an enormous hot dog, most Wienermobiles log mileage without incident. A rare exception: a 2009 accident near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when a driver attempted to back the vehicle out of a residential driveway, thought she was in reverse, but shot forward and bored into an unoccupied home.

8. Al Unser Jr. drove the Wienermobile for laps at the Indy 500.

While one might expect the Wienermobile to have the handling of a tube-shaped camper, some models were surprisingly nimble. Race car driver Al Unser Jr. took to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1988 and drove it for laps. The dog reached an impressive 110 miles per hour.

9. There's a version of the Wienermobile called a "Wienie-Bago."

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile WIENIE-BAGO
Oscar Mayer

Super Bowl attendees who couldn’t snag a hotel room in San Francisco for the 2016 showdown between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos had a pork-based solution: Oscar Mayer auctioned off two nights in their Wienie-Bago, an RV that sleeps four. Missed it? If you're in Chicago, you can rent a Wienermobile that sleeps two for $136 a night. A bed, outdoor dining area, and a fridge stocked with hot dogs are all included.

10. You can buy a miniature Wienermobile.

For the 2015 gift-giving season, Oscar Mayer issued a limited-edition, remote-controlled version of the Wienermobile. The 22.5-inch-long mini-dog sent collectors scrambling on Cyber Monday, when the company released just 20 for purchase at a time. The Rover is able to hold two hot dogs for transport across picnic tables. You can still find them on eBay.

Autumnal Dessert Spices and Cubed Meat Collide: Pumpkin Spice SPAM Now Exists

David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

Does sipping on a pumpkin spice latte ever make you think: “Man, I wish this were cubed meat”? Soon, it will be. According to NBC News, Hormel will start selling Pumpkin Spice SPAM on September 23.

It all started back in October of 2017, when Hormel announced via its Facebook page that pumpkin spice SPAM was coming—as a joke. The post clearly stated that it wasn’t real, but that didn’t stop scores of people from making comments about how it would probably taste delicious and asking where they could purchase a can.

Now, a Hormel publicist has confirmed to NBC News that the limited-edition, fall-themed flavor will soon be available to order online from Walmart or Spam.com.

"True to the brand’s roots, SPAM Pumpkin Spice combines deliciousness with creativity, allowing the latest variety to be incorporated into a number of dishes, from on-trend brunch recipes to an easy, pick-me-up snack,” Hormel told NBC News.

While Pumpkin Spice SPAM might not yet be accepted into pumpkin spice canon alongside lattes and muffins, it’s far from the strangest product that has been imbued with the mysterious, cinnamon-y spice blend to date; we’ll leave automotive exhaust spray and light bulbs to duke it out for that designation. And the Facebook commenters might have actually been onto something when they dared to suggest that Pumpkin Spice SPAM had palatal potential. After all, ham recipes often include sweet ingredients like maple syrup, brown sugar, and honey. And, according to TIME, the word spam was invented as a portmanteau of spiced ham.

Wondering what other SPAM innovations you might be missing out on? Check out these recipes from around the world.

[h/t NBC News]

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