Mustard is a popular condiment made from the seeds of a mustard plant. Commonly used in various food items such as meat, vegetables, and cheeses, mustard has been suggested to have existed during ancient Greece as a spice. The popularity of the condiment began gaining traction when the Romans brought mustard to France where the condiment began being mass-produced (1). Nowadays, mustard is commonly associated with hot dogs, salads, pasta, and so on.
The ingredients of mustard are relatively simple and are practically vegan. Specifically, yellow mustard can be made with mustard seeds, vinegar, salt, turmeric, paprika, and other herbs and spices for flavor. However, there are other types of mustard that can have different ingredients. For example, honey mustard cannot be considered vegan since it contains honey. Other kinds of mustard are made with wine. Though wine is conventionally made with vegan ingredients, there can be animal products involved in the production process.
The principal ingredients of mustard, regardless of the type of mustard, are mustard seeds. However, it should be noted that different types of mustard use different mustard seeds. For example, Dijon mustard would be made with the seeds of the brown mustard plant (Brassica juncea) while yellow mustard would be made of white mustard (Sinapis alba). Aside from the difference in mustard plant seeds used, different kinds of mustard can also have different ingredients and processes involved.
In yellow mustard production, the first step is to mix the ingredients in a large tank. Typical ingredients for yellow mustard include mustard seeds, turmeric, paprika, salt, vinegar, and water. All the ingredients are mixed for a certain period of time, such as an hour, to make sure all the ingredients are properly mixed.
The contents of the tanks are then transferred to stainless steel mills where synthetic stones will grind the seeds. Although modern mustard production involves sophisticated machinery, the processes involved are relatively similar to the traditional ways of making mustard. At this point, the manufacturers then grind the seeds until the preferred particle size of the product is achieved. After the seeds are satisfactorily ground, the mustard is then transferred to mixing tanks where it will be mixed overnight to remove the air and keep the condiment well-blended.
After everything, the yellow mustard gets bottled and shipped with an estimated shelf life of about 15 months.
On the other hand, Dijon mustard would have a slightly different narrative. Firstly, the ingredients that are mixed to make Dijon mustard can include brown mustard seeds, vinegar, white wine, and salt. Some can include additional ingredients for flavor. Traditionally, the ingredients are all added together and left to stand for about 12 hours for fermentation. After which, the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and transferred to a stainless-steel mill for grinding as well. Dijon mustard is made with twice as many seeds, but with less water than yellow mustard, making its consistency thicker and denser.
Mustard can be considered vegan, especially since the traditional ingredients that are used to make mustard are practically vegan as well. However, vegans can still benefit from checking the labels when choosing mustard products because some companies might include ingredients that do not agree with vegan lifestyles.
Honey is the first thing to look out for when looking for mustard because some products can include this sweetener for taste. Since honey is directly obtained from bees, it cannot be considered vegan as it is an animal product.
The primary reason why vegans avoid honey is due to the stand against animal exploitation. Bees produce honey to feed the members of the colony. Thus, it is considered inhumane when the bees are knocked unconscious with smoke to have their honey taken from them.
Another big reason why vegans avoid honey is due to environmental concerns. It has long been documented that bees are important members of the environment due to the sheer amount of plants they are capable of pollinating. However, it has come to light that beekeeping can be more detrimental than good (2). Unfortunately, honeybees kept for honey production can aggressively outcompete the native bee populations in the area, thus contributing to the overall decline of the bees worldwide.
While it may not be blatantly non-vegan, natural flavors are a common ingredient that many vegans are wary of. Mustard can be made with traditional ingredients such as turmeric, paprika, mustard seeds, vinegar, water, and salt. However, it is not uncommon for condiment companies to add additional ingredients to add flavor and make their product stand out. By today’s standards, these additional ingredients can all be hidden away under the ingredient “natural flavors” – as long as the ingredients satisfy a few requirements.
Natural flavors primarily serve the purpose of adding flavor and nothing more. Additionally, all the substances that can be included under natural flavors should be obtainable from natural sources. Specifically, the FDA defines natural flavors as (3):
“The essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”FDA.gov
From the definition, it becomes clear why many vegans consider natural flavors a gray area ingredient. The definition encompasses both plant- and animal-derived products. Thus, consumers have no definite way of knowing if a product that contains natural flavors is truly vegan or not unless it is specifically stated in the label as well.
Wine is a commonly used ingredient to make Dijon mustard, although not all recipes for Dijon mustard call for wine. It can be easy to assume that wine is a vegan product since wine is nothing more than fermented fruits or vegetables. However, it has been documented that wine uses a surprising amount of animal products in the production process.
One process in particular that can include animal products is the fining process. Traditionally, wine is left to mature over a long period of time which allows the sediments and other residues to sink to the bottom – creating a clear and fine wine. However, advancements in winemaking have found that certain substances can help hasten the fining process. Unfortunately, many of these processing aids are animal products.
The animal products used for fining can include egg whites, casein (milk protein), gelatin (protein from boiled animal parts), chitosan (crustacean carbohydrate), or isinglass (gelatin from fish bladders). These are all animal products that have been found to help remove unwanted substances during the winemaking process.
However, wines that have been processed with these products can no longer be considered vegan since animal products were involved. It is difficult to determine whether animal products are used because the fining process can also make use of plant-based processing aids as well. Thus, it would benefit vegans to look into brands of wine that are truly vegan or not.
However, this makes it difficult to trace if whether wine used as an ingredient for a consumer product such as mustard is vegan or not.