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Did Ben Franklin invent mustard? June 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here to respond to a query on our blog about whether Benjamin Franklin, our hero and blog mentor, invented mustard. Well, no. But this question isn’t as bizarre as it might seem. (And no, Grey Poupon didn’t invent mustard, either. Neither did French’s. Nor did it originate in Dijon.)

We do tend to think of mustard as being a French condiment, but it’s actually much older. There are reports of Abraham using mustard in the Old Testament. The Chinese used mustard since at least early historic times. So did the ancient Romans, and it was the Romans who spread the use of mustard to France and England as their empire expanded.

This brings us back to Ben Franklin. Ben first visited England not as a diplomat but as a young man seeking a printing apprenticeship. He didn’t find it, but he did apparently find mustard, then as now used as a condiment on beef and other typically English fare. Appreciating its spicy tang, he did in fact introduce it to the American colonies on his return. So even though he didn’t invent mustard, hot dog lovers across the country can say a hearty “thank you” to old Ben for bringing us mustard.

What about ketchup, aka catsup? It, too, has a curious history. Ketchup originated in India as a spicy sauce made from fish. (I don’t actually want to think about this.) When the British came to India, they were captivated by the spicy sauce and brought it back to Queen Victoria’s Britain. But it didn’t become the ketchup we Americans cherish today until it crossed the Atlantic and met the tomato, a New World vegetable. Goodbye fish, hello tomatoes! Today’s ketchup bears scant resemblance to the original condiment that inspired it. But with the rise of lycopene as a super supplement for good health, tomato-based ketchup is more popular than ever.

But which is the most popular? Despite intense online searches, I was unable to find this out. Both are versatile: Mustard is an essential ingredient in many a vinaigrette, ketchup as a topping for meatloaf. There’s no question that mustard is available in more variations, from bourbon-enchanced to artisanal stoneground, but ketchup’s tomatoey tang and sweetness appeals to enthusiasts of all ages, whereas mustard’s pungency tends to be a more sophisticated taste.

If anyone has a definitive answer,* please let me know. Meanwhile, the rest of us can continue to use both (with or without mayo) on our burgers, dogs, and fries.

* Whoa! After endless Googling, I finally got the search terms right and ended up on several general business sites, which collectively gave me the surprising (to me, at least) answer. Unless you’re a kid who likes bright green ketchup, as far as I know, there’s one kind of ketchup and one only: good old red tomato ketchup. But just look at the mustard aisle: Jack Daniels mustard, jalapeno mustard, horseradish mustard, stoneground mustard. The list seems endless. So why is it that Americans consume almost ten times as much ketchup as mustard?!! (Stats showed just 12 ounces of mustard consumed annually per person vs. 1058 ounces of ketchup.) Folks, that’s a lot of ketchup—more than 132 cups of ketchup per person per year!¬†Yowee zowie! Maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about getting more lycopene in our diets, and should start worrying instead about what on earth we’re putting all that ketchup on. I think I’m starting to see the cause of our obesity epedemic…