‘Almost anything is edible with a dab of French mustard on it’
– Food writer, Nigel Slater.
The word mustard comes from the Latin mustum – young wine (must), which was used in Ancient Rome along with mustard seeds to create a piquant condiment. In Old French, the mixture already carried the name mostarde (‘moutarde’ today), which the French brought with them to England, and which entered the English language in the 13th century as mustard. Only in 1848 does the word mustard begin to be used in reference to that specific yellow colour. The surname, Mustard (Colonel Mustard, anyone?) has been in use in England since 1066, brought by the Normans, and given to people who possessed an acrid, uncompromising personalities.
The French began to produce mustard as a condiment from the 13th century in the famous town of Dijon, the world capital of mustard. But the English did not fancy Dijon mustard, possibly because the French add vinegar to their mustard powder, giving it a more acidic taste.
It’s also traditional in England to hate all things French.
Thus the English started to think up something of their own: mixing mustard seeds with ground horseradish and water, make them into small pellets and drying them. The pellets could be sold as they were, to be mixed with wine, beer, ale, water, cider, etc and used as a condiment or to cure illnesses. One of the most famous producers of mustard as early as the 16th century was the town of Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire. It received the most privileged product placement of the period from The Bard himself, in Henry IV Act 2 Scene 4, a character is described with “his wit’s as thick as Tewkesbury Mustard.” You can still purchase the mustard at London’s Fortnum & Mason department store.
But it’s not Tewkesbury that made English Mustard world-famous. In 1814, not far from Norwich in Norfolk, one Jeremiah Colman, windmill owner, founded Colman’s of Norwich. He ground and mixed both white and brown mustard seed, which made the condiment spicier and zestier. Queen Victoria liked the mustard so much she granted the company Royal Warrant, which the company proudly carries to this day providing for the mustardy needs of the royal family.
The yellow packaging of Colman’s mustard dates back to the 19th century as well, and you can see all past packaging and mustard history you could ever want in Colmans Mustard Shop and Museum located in Norwich.
As an aside, Jeremiah Colman was also famous for being rather generous to his employees. As early as 1857 he opened schools for children of workers in his factory, and in 1864 the company began hiring nurses to take care urgent medical problems for workers. Probably using mustard baths.