You know there’s nothing wrong with getting a little saucy, right?

By Betty Gold
Updated July 25, 2019
Credit: Getty Images

There are so many types of mustard—you probably have several in your fridge right now, some of which are getting a lot more attention than others. But what exactly is mustard and how do we know which types is best?

Mustard is one of the world’s oldest condiments. Roman chefs used to grind mustard seeds with grape juice (known as must) into a spicy paste known as mustum ardens, which was shortened to “mustard” when the sauce arrived in the States.

In essence, mustard is a combination of ground mustard seeds and some form of liquid—it’s the type of seeds and liquid that differentiates one variety of mustard from the next. Some are sweet, some are spicy, others are downright astringent. The level of heat in a given type of mustard is largely determined by the style of seed—yellow seeds are mild, while brown or black seeds have a lot more heat. But the liquid is what makes or breaks a mustard’s potency: the natural enzymes found in mustard are only activated in the presence of water. The more acidic the liquid in mustard is, the longer-lasting the burn will be; less acidic mustards tend to be super pungent at first, but lose their punch shortly thereafter.

Here are the top types of mustard you should be serving alongside burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, sausages, and more.

Yellow mustard

The ‘golden child’ of America’s traditional hot dog mustard, yellow mustard is the most widely grown type of mustard seed and has the mildest flavor. The bright yellow color of yellow mustard comes from turmeric, which is combined with yellow mustard seeds, vinegar, and water (and maybe some additional spices) to make a viscous, squeezable sauce. Yellow mustard has a crisp, tart-and-tangy flavor that won’t be clearing anyone’s sinuses with spice. Use it on burgers, dogs, or in homemade salad dressings or sauces.

Dijon mustard

Dijon is a classic French mustard that’s been around since the late 1800s. Though Dijon is a region of France that makes outstanding mustard, the term “Dijon” isn’t a protected food name (like Champagne), and most Dijon is produced outside of France. It’s often made with white wine and brown and/or black mustard seeds. Dijon has a more pungent, spicy flavor than yellow mustard. The sharp taste pairs particularly well with vinaigrettes, sandwich spreads, mayonnaise, or homemade sauces.

Spicy brown mustard

Spicy brown mustards typically use a slightly coarser grind than yellow or Dijon, and many bottled brands combine brown seeds, yellow seeds, and spices like ginger, nutmeg, or cinnamon. Spicy brown mustards have a deeply complex, hot, earthy flavor profile that’s favorited by many delis, New York City hot dog carts, and sandwich stands alike. Why? Because it’s made to stand up against rich, salty meats like pastrami, corned beef, and sausage.

Honey mustard

Just as the name implies, honey mustard is a combination of mustard and honey. The ratio is typically one-to-one, but some styles are sweeter than others. Thanks to its already tame flavor, yellow mustard tends to be the star in honey mustard. There’s little heat and lots of sweet in honey mustard, so you can use this sauce as a dip for kid-friendly foods like chicken nuggets or in salad dressings you’ll be drizzling over bitter greens.

Whole grain mustard

These use whole mustard seeds—simple as that. They have the most texture and pack plenty of deep, rich flavor. Try it in this delicious recipe for roasted chicken with veggies or in our cider mustard glaze.