Smooth and mild, yellow mustard is a North American thing. In other parts of the world, mustards are hotter, darker, and grainier. But what yellow mustard may lack in worldliness and guts, it makes up for in versatility. Yellow mustard is as much at home on a ballpark hot dog as it is on cold cuts or in potato salad, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, or marinades for chicken or pork. To determine which yellow mustard is best, we bought seven nationally available brands and called 24 cooks and editors from America's Test Kitchen to taste them plain and with steamed hot dogs.
Yellow mustard is made from white (also called yellow) mustard seed, which is flavorful but doesn't cause any of the nasal burn of brown or black mustard seed; these last two are used in Dijon, Chinese, and other spicy mustards. Our tasters wanted to actually taste the mustard seed; the two brands they judged to have the most mustard flavor both list mustard seed second in their ingredients. The other brands list it third (meaning there is proportionally less of it). The amount of salt also proved key. We often prefer saltier foods in our tastings, but this time the mustards with the least sodium tended to score higher. Why the break in preference? Vinegar adds so much pungency, these yellow mustards didn't need extra seasoning; indeed, too much salt threw the flavors out of balance.
Two top-selling, familiar mustards scored well, as we'd expect, but surprisingly they were edged out of the winner's circle by a small organic brand which tied for having the least sodium. Tasters appreciated the heat and tang of our winner as well as its relatively complex but well-balanced flavor.
And here's something else to keep in mind when you're shopping: The molecule that gives yellow mustard its assertive taste (4-hydroxybenzyl isothiocyanate, or PHBIT) dissipates over time, so note the freshness date on the jar.
Annie's Naturals Organic Yellow Mustard
Tasters praised the "good balance of heat and tang" of Annie's, but what truly set it apart was the "richer mustard flavor." Two factors that helped push it to the top of the chart: Mustard seed is listed second among its ingredients, and the sodium is relatively low. As one taster summed up, "Legit."
Gulden's Yellow Mustard
Tasters deemed this "very well balanced" mustard pleasantly "zesty" and "spicier than typical yellow mustard." Its low sodium fit the profile of all our preferred mustards. Tasters also liked Gulden's "slightly grainy" texture and "nice thick consistency."
French's Classic Yellow Mustard
More than one taster likened the "very bright," "sharp" flavor and "silky," "thin" consistency of this ubiquitous brand to "ballpark mustard." It is very acidic; a few tasters favorably compared its briny flavor to pickles.
Westbrae Natural Yellow Mustard
Tasters judged Westbrae "not too strong," and "a good basic mustard for kids." It has a "nice mustard flavor," and the "very smooth" texture is "great." Most tasters praised it as "acidic and bright," although a few found it "too vinegary."
RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS
Plochman's 100% Natural Mild Yellow Mustard
Some tasters disputed the "mild" moniker, finding this "very tangy" mustard "too vinegary." The mysterious "natural flavoring" on the ingredients list might be to blame for the "fruity" flavors a few tasters noticed and found out of place. Still, most rated Plochman's "not bad" with "decent mustard flavor."
Beaver Brand Classic Yellow American Picnic Mustard
"Sweet" and "balanced," according to most of our tasters. Some, however, picked up on flavors that, although not unpleasant, don't belong in yellow mustard: "fennel," "curry," and "caraway." "Complex but not in a good way," said a taster who'd noted those peculiar flavors.
Eden Organic Yellow Mustard
"Very little discernible mustard flavor." "Just vinegar and salt-where's the mustard?" "Sour and winey." "Obviously unbalanced." "It tastes like old pickle water and sweat."
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