Do you Dijon?

by | Nov 12, 2007

Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: DIJON MUSTARD

Hailing originally from Dijon [dee-ZHOHN], France, this pale, grayish-yellow mustard is known for its clean, sharp flavor, which can range from mild to hot. Dijon mustard is made from brown or black mustard seeds, white wine, unfermented grape juice (known as must) and various seasonings. The best-known maker of Dijon mustard is the house of Poupon, particularly famous in the United States for its Grey Poupon mustard. To many people, Dijon-style mustard is regular mustard and the common yellow mustard is known as “prepared” mustard, but any fluid mix of crushed or ground mustard seeds with seasonings and vinegar, wine, water, beer, or must is a prepared mustard.

When making the very first mustards, seeds were ground and mixed into a thick paste with vinegar. A chemical reaction would occur when oils in the ground seeds were mixed with liquid. This reaction is what gives mustard its zing. (If you were to take a whole mustard seed and place it on your tongue, it wouldn’t taste like mustard at all.) It was in Dijon, France, located approximately 195 miles southeast of Paris, that Jean Naigeon first created, in 1856, what would become known as “Dijon Mustard.” What Naigeon did, that proved to be so successful, was that he substituted verjuice, a sour juice made from unripe grapes, for the usual vinegar. The result was a less acidic and smoother tasting mustard. In fact, the term “Dijon Mustard” refers to this recipe and not to the city itself.

Today, authentic Dijon-style mustard can be made anywhere in the world as long as it follows the original recipe established in Dijon. Specifically, Dijon mustard must be prepared from brown or black ground mustard seeds. The seed coats must be filtered out and no coloring agents, stabilizing agents, or fillers may be used. These days, however, instead of using verjuice Dijon mustard is more commonly made using vinegar, wine, or green grape juice.

Along with this new and improved mustard recipe several other factors led to Dijon’s claim to mustard fame. First, it was here in Dijon, in 1853, that Maurice Grey invented a machine that automated the processing of mustard seeds. This invention allowed large quantities of mustard to be made quickly and at low cost. Second, the soil in the Dijon area was very potassium rich and thus provided the perfect conditions in which the mustard plant could thrive. (Today, however, almost all of the world’s mustard is made with seeds from plants grown in Canada.) Lastly, since Dijon is located in the famous Burgundy wine region of France, this meant that there was an abundant supply of grapes from which to make the verjuice.

Grey had earlier teamed up with Antoine Poupon, establishing the famous Grey Poupon mustard company. The original Grey Poupon store, which opened in 1777, still stands today in downtown Dijon. Step inside the oak-paneled interior and you’ll be transported to a time when “moutadriers” roamed the streets selling freshly made mustard right out of barrels. Here you’ll also find reproductions of antique mustard pots. These pretty, hand painted, earthenware pots were used to store mustard in the days before refrigeration. Though it’s safe to keep mustard at room temperature, nowadays mustard is kept cold to help preserve its flavor.

Today, Dijon mustard comes in many different flavors including walnut, blue cheese, raspberry, and champagne. Mustard is still as popular as ever and is enjoyed by people of all cultures throughout the world. It is even considered good for your health, as it is low in both calories and cholesterol but high in protein and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and niacin.

For some great recipes, click here or here or try this simple vinaigrette:

1/4 c vinegar (red wine or balsamic are my favorites)
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp brown sugar or honey
1 c extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a small bowl, stir together the first 3 ingredients. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream and whisk until mixture is emulsified (doesn’t separate). Salt & pepper to taste and drizzle over your favorite mixed greens, cheese, vegetables, or as a dressing for sandwiches.


I’m Dina R. D’Alessandro, MS, RDN, CDN. I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in New York City, and I provide nutrition counseling to women.

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