What's with the chinese takeout mustard disparity?
April 24, 2014 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I love the sinus-clearing flare of the mustard at chinese restaurants but it seems unique to what's on the dine-in table. The packets at the same restaurants are never truly hot and what gets sold in most groceries around here from the "Asian Gourmet" brand also is only barely hot (despite its claims on the label). What gives? And where do I get the stuff that really nukes my nasal passages?

This doesn't seem like it should be all that tough, and maybe it isn't; I haven't gone and tried someplace like an H-Mart or a specialty bodega. But I've bought enough disappointments that I'm now tired of failure and kind of perplexed by the phenomenon.

So one, purely philosophical question - why would so many businesses have such a disparity in what they provide you in-house versus your to-go condiments? It seems weird to me that anyplace would source things so differently, but I have never gotten a to-go packet of mustard that had much in common with what's on the table.

Two, am I going to be happy with any old hot mustard provided in specialty shops or is this going to be similar to my experience buying the stuff sold in most chain groceries? Do I need to look into restaurant supply or something if I want the truly hot mustard experience that seems common to dine-in?
posted by phearlez to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The mustard you see at Chinese restaurants is simply mustard powder plus water. It's quite easy to make yourself if you want. The longer you wait after you combine the two, the less spicy the mustard will be. As a result, the packets are significantly less spicy. I assume that the preservatives in the packet (vinegar?) also reduce the heat level.
posted by saeculorum at 10:23 AM on April 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

This is a great question. I've wondered about this issue myself. I'm also curious why the "soy sauce" in those little plastic packets seems to be nothing more than colored salt water.
posted by alex1965 at 10:24 AM on April 24, 2014

I never use the crap in the packets. Who knows what that junk is.

nthing, the mustard loses its kick as it ages. So if you want the sinus clearing jolt, make it fresh yourself.

Soy Sauces are different. I buy mine at the asian market, SO much better than regular supermarket. I use light for some dishes and dark for others.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:27 AM on April 24, 2014

Mr. Kitty and I buy Kame Mustard which definitely is a sinus clearer and we get it from a supermarket chain near us (Shoprite). Mr.Kitty is pretty serious about his hot sauces/mustards and he is a fan. (if you are looking for alternatives to specialty shops).
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 10:35 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always assumed the mustard in Chinese restaurants has horseradish in it, no?
posted by jbenben at 10:35 AM on April 24, 2014

Colman's powdered mustard should let you make a good approximation.
posted by mkultra at 10:37 AM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cook's Illustrated did a study on mustards a while back and found that the active spicy ingredients break down fairly rapidly in storage - that for true spiciness, you NEED a nice, fresh mustard. To ensure this, you can whip up micro-batches from mustard powder (or grind the seeds yourself!) and vinegar.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:41 AM on April 24, 2014

An alternative is Proper English Mustard. A brand like Colman's does the trick for me, and should be easy for you to find in your area.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:48 AM on April 24, 2014

Another benefit to mixing your own is that dry powder never explodes or leaks in your lunchbag.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:56 AM on April 24, 2014

Sorry no clickey - turns out Chinese dry mustard powder is made with stronger tasting seeds, and Coleman's brand uses those seeds, but dilutes the hotness with less spicey seeds, too -


Meanwhile, no horseradish in there at all! Who knew!!
posted by jbenben at 11:05 AM on April 24, 2014

Response by poster: I don't care what it says on the bathroom wall, you people are the best.

So the general thought is that I'll get the result I am looking for with any old straight mustard powder (subject to the usual old-spices-suck rule) then? Certainly that seems like it would get the appearance I'm used to in restaurants, vs the colored with tumeric stuff on the shelves.

I'll keep an eye out for the Kame mustard (I see their prepared food on the shelves sometimes but for some reason this other brand seems to have the condiment market sewed up around here) for simplicity's sake; thanks SK.
posted by phearlez at 11:23 AM on April 24, 2014

What you want, my friend, is Penzey's Oriental Canadian Mustard Powder. That stuff will half-kill you and tastes exactly like a good version of what comes in the packet-- to me it's slightly but distinctively different from regular mustard powder. (Penzey's has brick and mortar stores too, so if you're near a metropolis you might want to check their locations.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:35 AM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was gonna mention Penzey's! It's impossible to go in there without dropping $50, but you'll be insanely happy you did. They ALSO offer powdered horseradish, and I'll bet a generous pinch of that would REALLY liven up your mustard.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:41 AM on April 24, 2014

Dynasty is another common brand that turns up in supermarkets. They have an "Extra-Hot Chinese Mustard" that's as good as Kame's, I think.
posted by heatvision at 12:25 PM on April 24, 2014

What you're lookin' fer is Wasabi... it's in the horseradish family, but is not horseradish.
You can get the good stuff in most oriental food stores. Look for the powder form and mix it yourself just before use, and use it sparingly until you get used to it!
from Kitchenhacker
japan guide ref
posted by drhydro at 1:52 PM on April 24, 2014

I am going to tell you how to get the burn; the wasabi burn. Buy the Hime powdered brand which is basically, horseradish. The heat of the final wasabi is based on the temperature of the water. You want vapor rise from your wasabi? Boiling water it is. Need it mild? Then room temp or cold is the answer. Now, hot wasabi needs to be eaten promptly because it declines in fire with the passage of time. Oh yeah, this works with other mustards.
posted by jadepearl at 6:11 PM on April 24, 2014

I think this is what you might be looking for.
posted by tealeaf522 at 10:05 AM on April 25, 2014

Response by poster: As a big sushi fan I am well familiar with wasabi, but it's not really the same thing. I suppose you could add it to mustard but it certainly does not have the mustard taste.

There's a Penzys not far from here; I'll give their powder a try.
posted by phearlez at 1:14 PM on April 25, 2014

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