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The Best Yellow Mustard

By Emily Phares Published

Mild but not dull, this ballpark classic is a punchy addition to any mustard collection.

In the condiment world, yellow mustard is often considered the Robin to ketchup’s Batman, relegated to a supporting role on burgers and hot dogs. But it’s much more than a sidekick. Yellow mustard’s pungency and relatively low spice level make it highly versatile, ideal for adding tang and flavor to a variety of foods, including hot dogs, potato salad, barbecue sauce, marinades, salad dressings, and more.

When we heard that our favorite yellow mustard from our last tasting had been reformulated, we decided to retest. We selected seven top-selling, nationally available products, priced from $1.30 to $5.95 per bottle ($0.08 to $0.44 per ounce). One product, from Boar’s Head, was a low-sodium mustard; we included it since it was the brand’s only yellow mustard offering. We tasted each mustard plain and on pigs in a blanket, noticing an array of textures—some were foamy, others creamy—and flavors, from bold and pickle-y to delicately sweet and tangy.

Besides tasting the mustards plain, without food, tasters also sampled them on pigs in a blanket. In our blind taste tests, samples are assigned numbers so that tasters don't see brand names.

From Seed to Serving: How Mustard Is Made

Mustard seeds are a cool-weather crop that thrives in a short growing season. Canada is the world’s largest producer, so most mustard manufacturers in the United States and around the world use seeds grown in Canada, according to Allen Sass, president of Wisconsin Spice, the largest miller of mustard seeds in the United States. “While there are other growing regions (such as eastern Europe and Asia), manufacturers in these markets still source at least a portion of their mustard seed from Canada,” Sass told us.

According to the Canadian Grain Commission, the regulatory agency tasked with grading mustard seeds, there are three seed types grown in Canada: brown, oriental, and yellow (sometimes referred to as white—they can range in color from pale yellow to darker beige). Brown and oriental seeds are used in spicier mustards, and yellow seeds—flavorful but with less heat—are used in yellow mustard. (Of note: This condiment’s sunny color doesn’t actually come from the seeds, which are typically a more muted hue—it’s from the addition of turmeric.)

The seeds become prepared mustard through a straightforward mechanical process. The ingredients (typically mustard seeds, water, vinegar, salt, and spices) are stirred together and then milled, or ground, between two large stones. According to Sass, milling serves two purposes: It extracts mucilage (a thick, gelatinous substance) from the seeds and combines all the ingredients. Once milled, the mixture is bottled.

We Liked Moderate Tang

Mustard is often paired with fatty meats, as its characteristic tang can help cut the richness. Some products went heavy on the acidity, while others were more subdued. We learned that vinegar strength can play a part in this. Some of the mustards added relatively more water and others more vinegar, which we know by looking at the order of ingredients on the label. But experts explained that vinegar can have different concentrations, so quantity didn’t necessarily explain why certain mustards were tangier than others. Some tasters appreciated the tartness—“love this one; it tastes like pickles and is nice and bright,” remarked one panelist—but overall the majority preferred mustards that were mellower, with a moderate acidity that didn’t dominate.

Tasters sampled the mustards on pigs in a blanket and recorded responses on iPads.

Mild Sweetness Provided a Nice Balance

One key difference between our top two mustards and the rest of the lineup was sweetness. These two products had a sweet, fruity flavor that nicely balanced their acidity. But interestingly, there were no signs of sugar in their ingredient lists or nutritional information.

These two slightly sweeter mustards did include “natural flavor,” though, whereas most others did not. This is a catchall term used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and food manufacturers don’t have to specify which natural flavors they used. These mustards’ ingredient lists also included “spices,” which don’t have to be disclosed. It’s possible that these unspecified ingredients contributed to the perceived sweetness.

These two products had a sweet, fruity flavor . . . But interestingly, there were no signs of sugar in their ingredient lists or nutritional information.

Saltier Mustards Tasted Better

Among the products in our lineup, sodium levels ranged from 25 to 80 milligrams per serving, with the former being the low-sodium option from Boar’s Head. While none of the mustards tasted strikingly salty or underseasoned, this low-sodium product fell to the bottom of our rankings, as tasters found it less flavorful, spicier, and sharper than a typical yellow mustard. The dullness of flavor may be due to the lack of sodium, since salt both seasons food and enhances other flavors. Overall, tasters liked higher-sodium mustards, calling them bolder and more flavorful. Our top-ranking product had 60 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Differences in Yellow Mustard Texture

Flavor was most important to our tasters, but texture also varied widely. It’s determined by the mill’s grind settings: the distance between the two stones that crush and grind the mustard seeds. As Sass told us, “The further away the stones are, the less mucilage extracted (and coarser product); vice versa when stones are close together.”

One product’s grainy, thick texture reminded us of whole-grain mustard; we noticed that it didn’t have water in its ingredient list. Sass told us that mustard without water (with only vinegar as the liquid) would be expected to have relatively more solids (mustard seeds), which could make it thicker. On the opposite end of the spectrum, an “ultrasmooth” mustard seemed aerated and foamy to some tasters, which might have been due to processing conditions. According to Sass, yellow mustard seeds contain approximately 30 percent protein, and processing them aggressively can lead to aeration.

The majority of tasters found all mustard textures acceptable, but our favorite products had a moderately creamy texture and enough body to cling nicely to pigs in a blanket.

Our Favorite Yellow Mustard: Heinz Yellow Mustard

While we recommend every product, tasters particularly loved the “classic” flavor profile of our winning mustard from Heinz: tart and tangy, with a faint sweetness balanced by moderate acidity. It had a “good old-fashioned mustard flavor” that conjured up images of ballparks, and it was “smooth in texture and taste,” with “some zing” and a “hint of sweetness.” As one taster said, “It tastes like mustard should.”

Taste Test Yellow Mustard

Mild but not dull, this ballpark classic is a punchy addition to any mustard collection.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.