There is a vast mustard world out there. Here is a spicy taste.

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For a very long time, yellow mustard was the only version of the condiment I knew. I put it on hot dogs and watched my dad stir it into baked beans. Over the years my palate has expanded to enjoy other members of the mustard family, and now I usually have at least a handful of jars and bottles in my fridge at all times for various uses. But even still, there’s so much more to this ubiquitous condiment.

“Mustard is among the three most used condiments in the world, sharing the stage with salt and pepper. It has been in the pantry of history for at least 4,000 years and written into recipes in Europe since the 2nd century,” writes Demet Güzey in “Mustard: A Global History.” “The name ‘mustard’ originated when the Romans mixed unfermented grape juice, must (Latin unavoidable), with ground mustard seeds and makes a hot wort, mustum ardens.

It’s essentially the same process used today, but by changing the type of mustard seeds, how finely they are ground, the added liquid, and any additional ingredients, you can create a huge range of mustards.

These 5 recipes rely on mustard for their spiciness

It all starts with the seed, which comes in three varieties: yellow, brown and black. Black mustard seeds are mainly used as a spice; the yellow and brown seeds are used to make the condiment. Of the latter two, the brown seeds are more potent, so their use results in spicier mustards. And while the degree to which the seeds are ground obviously impacts the texture and consistency of the resulting mustard, it also affects the flavor.

“Although spiciness is a defining characteristic of many styles of mustard, whole mustard seeds don’t start out spicy. Instead, they’re bitter and a bit nutty,” writes Kate Shannon at America’s Test Kitchen. “When the cell walls of mustard seeds are crushed and liquid added, a significant chemical change occurs. A reaction converts bitter-tasting glucosinolates into spicy-tasting isothiocyanates, eliminating bitterness and creating heat. Thus, the more the seeds are left intact, the less the mustard obtained is pungent and bitter.

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The choice of liquid added to the mustard seeds also plays a key role. More acidic liquids can prevent these spicy molecules from forming, resulting in sweeter mustards. However, while less acidic liquids will result in tangier mustards, the spiciness will fade over time. The temperature of the liquid is also a factor: “Hot water will deactivate the mustard’s enzymes and break down some of the pungent compounds, while cold water will keep them all intact,” writes Joshua Bousel for Serious Eats. “The mildest mustards with the longest shelf life are made with yellow mustard seeds and lots of vinegar, while the hottest mustards are made with black or brown mustard seeds and cold water. “

DIY at every step of the process allows makers to create many different types of mustard. In fact, the National Mustard Museum—yes, such a place exists—has 5,624 different bottles in its collection. Although you may be tempted to try them all, here are five of the most common types you should know about.

Yellow. This American classic was introduced by the French family—yes, that one—at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Made with yellow mustard seeds, it actually gets its namesake color from turmeric. A fairly mild product when it comes to spice – thanks to its high acidity – yellow mustard works as a great all-purpose option, either as a condiment or as an ingredient.

Dijon. I was introduced to this style by advertisements for Gray Poupon, with its air of luxury and sophistication. The name comes from the town in France where it was first made. Produced today with brown seeds and usually with white wine, it has moderate acidity and can pack a punch. Due to its potency, I prefer mixing it with other ingredients to tame its sinus clearing abilities, such as in salad dressings and sauces.

Grocery store. Sometimes labeled “spicy brown” or simply “brown,” deli mustard, as you can probably tell, is great on sandwiches. It consists of partially ground brown mustard seeds, warming spices and a moderate amount of acid, resulting in a flavorful condiment that can certainly live up to the “spicy” moniker.

Whole grains. I usually think of spreads containing whole mustard seeds, but whole grains can also include coarsely ground mustards. Either way, if you’re looking for hints of texture, this is the mustard for you. For this reason, I love using it in different summer salads, such as pasta salad, coleslaw, and potato salad.

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Honey mustard. A sauce usually made with equal parts of the ingredients of its name, honey mustard is a go-to dipping sauce for chicken nuggets and the like. “Since the purpose of honey mustard is to add sweetness to a sauce known for its heat and bitterness, yellow mustard is the most commonly used mustard, as it begins with an already mild flavor that is easy to tame with honey,” Bousel writes. I prefer to make my own honey mustard with Dijon for a more flavorful spicy-sweet sauce.

Recipes that call for mustard will usually specify one type, but understanding their differences will allow you to use different mustards interchangeably while adjusting amounts based on their acidity and spice levels. And while mustards don’t spoil, they do lose potency over time, and flavor and appearance can change due to oxidation. For this reason, it’s best to keep them refrigerated (although not necessary) and you might consider replacing mustards you’ve had for over a year.

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