The origins of mustard

The mustard grain has been known since ancient times, it was cultivated by the Chinese more than 3000 years ago!

It has been a part of the most ancient Mediterranean civilisations. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used it to spice up meat and fish dishes. They crushed the grains and mixed it into their food.

It was the Romans who imported the custom of using table mustard to Gaul. Then later on, King Charlemagne recommended the cultivation of this spice throughout the realm as well as in the botanical gardens surrounding the monasteries in Parisian suburbs. Mustard cultivation gradually spread through Germany then to England. In Northern Europe, it was believed that scattering a few mustard seeds around your house would ward away evil spirits…


Mustard appeared in Spain with the arrival of the Roman legions, then in India with Vasco de Gama.

The origin of the word "mustard" comes from two Latin words (mustum ardens) which means "burning must" because in ancient times mustard was prepared with must (unfermented grape juice). This word then gave rise to the word "mustard" in English.

Others claim that it came from the era of Duc Philippe le Téméraire, Duke of Burgundy, who in 1382 granted the town of Dijon with various privileges, in particular his personal coat of arms bearing his signet: "Moult me tarde" (I am impatient")… but this origin seems unlikely. This explanation proves one thing at least, that Dijon was already famous for its mustard by the 14th century.

In 1390, the manufacture of mustard became regulated and anybody producing a bad mustard was subject to heavy fines.

In cities, street traders, known as "criers" sold their mustard door-to-door under the name of "saulces et épices d'enfer " (sauces and spices of hell).


Apothecaries at the time were said to be making a fortune preparing a mixture made up of mustard seeds, ginger and mint for husbands to give to their wives to stimulate their libido. Two centuries later, the corporation of vinegar and mustard-makers of the town of Dijon was created. Their imaginative recipes are at the origins of the names for the various types of mustard still in use today.

The golden age of spices was the renaissance period, mustard was present at every banquet, even Rabelais was a keen amateur!

Over the centuries mustard became more and more synonymous with refinement and pleasure and it was at this time that fine and aromatic mustards began to appear. At the beginning of the 19th century, manufacturers entered into a race to rival each other's imaginations, creating many new recipes. They were greatly encouraged by the great gourmets such as Grimod de la Reynière, Carème, Brillat-Savarin or even Monselet.

Manufacturing techniques evolved with the industrial revolution. Traditional techniques were gradually displaced by mechanisation: machines were introduced to grind, sieve and crush the seeds.

Production developed very quickly from manufacturing workshop to factory. In the 20th century, regulations became increasingly strict, and the decree of 1937 set out conditions for manufacturing and naming mustards. A regulation completed and signed in July 2000 specifies these names.