In my fridge, I have a bottle of what is labeled “Irish mustard.” How it got into my refrigerator is not important; suffice it to say that this came from a neighboring state, with a sterling recommendation from some residents of said neighboring state.
I won’t bring up the name of the company that sells this mustard because there’s no reason to drag them into the discussion, but there is a story on the side of the bottle. According to this legend, the recipe originates with a local with an Irish surname, who made homemade mustard that was locally famous.
You can find a lot of foods, especially condiments, with similar stories on the side of the bottle; they are the ones that are on the top shelf at the grocery store and generally cost at least 50% more than the most widely sold version of the same condiment. The stories are plausible without sounding true, like a campfire story.
This “Irish mustard” is fine, tasty even, but it doesn’t really taste like mustard. It certainly doesn’t taste like American mustard, the kind that comes in a big yellow bottle and tastes like a little like mustard and a little like turmeric. It also doesn’t taste like brown mustard or Dijon mustard or whole-grain mustard or any other familiar mustards.
What it does taste like is sugar. In this, I suppose it’s most comparable to honey mustard, though even honey mustard is probably more tangy than this “Irish” mustard. It tastes like if Sweet Baby Ray made a mustard barbecue sauce, and also didn’t care whether one tablespoon had more sugar than an entire can of Mountain Dew.
The thing that really has made me ponder about this mustard is this: why “Irish”? Though I am not a mustard expert, the Irish mustard in my fridge doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Emerald Isle. If anything, the Internet says that Irish mustard is whole-grain mustard that’s whiskey- or Guinness-infused; this mustard is neither of those things.
Technically speaking, almost any regionalism could have gone on the bottle, as long as you came up with a plausible surname to plug into the story. And given that mustard is pretty close to a worldwide condiment, one of those spices that connect the cuisine of Europe and Asia and the Americas and Africa, almost anything is technically in play.
However, knowing that this one is being sold in the north-central United States, it’s interesting to consider the regionalisms that wouldn’t work. “French” suggests either Dijon mustard or French’s yellow mustard and so must be eliminated. “German” is too associated with the type of whole-grain brown mustard that you get if you order a bratwurst at a German restaurant. “Canadian” is out because this mustard doesn’t taste like maple syrup.
When you consider the whole range of worldwide cuisines that use the mustard seed, the surprising part is probably just how few regionalisms could even be considered for a Midwestern mustard like this one. It almost certainly would have to be “from” a Northern or Eastern European country. It probably couldn’t be Scandinavian, because Midwesterners would assume it was a thinly-disguised cream sauce. It probably couldn’t be British, because we’d assume that it was something else entirely, given the Anglo-American differences between (for example) pudding.
And so, I give you the following ranking of potential regionalisms for theoretical Midwestern mustards, based on how delicious I think they would theoretically be.
- Polish mustard
- Hungarian mustard
- Ukrainian mustard
- Irish mustard
- Czech mustard
- Belgian mustard
- Bulgarian mustard
- Dutch mustard
- Slovakian mustard
- Romanian mustard
- Swiss mustard (ranking dropped significantly thanks to existence of Swiss chard)
- Icelandic mustard
- Austrian mustard
- (tie) (any other former Soviet republic) mustard