I thought I bought mustard, but when I put it on a hot dog and ate it, it didn't taste like mustard. It irritated my nose and sent a shockwave through my skull. So I bought a different brand, but there was not much difference. I feel that irritating, tingling sensation rippling through my head whenever I take a bite. I think it's yellow mustard, the label says "table mustard". I don't recall having this reaction when eating mustard from McDonald's.

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    Was is similar to horseradish? I think the two current answers are probably spot on. Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 19:17
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    "Mustard" can mean a variety of things, from cheap yellow McDonalds mustard all the way to a condiment so powerful that people literally likened chemical weapons exposure to consuming it, hence the name "mustard gas." Sounds like you got something closer to that side of the spectrum. Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 20:42
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    Can you post pictures or links to the bottles of irritating mustards?
    – rrauenza
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 23:37
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    I'm not sure McDonald's mustard actually qualifies as such.
    – GdD
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 12:51
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    @GdD Er, why not? I get that you're just making a joke, but McDonald's mustard is certainly mustard. It's standard yellow mustard. Ingredients: Distilled Vinegar, Water, Mustard Seed, Salt, Turmeric, Paprika, Spice Extractive. That's how you make yellow mustard. It's not like they put anything weird in it... it's literally just mustard.
    – user91988
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 17:59

4 Answers 4


As a straight answer to "why" it's the quantity of mustard oil in any given mustard type.

There are many types of mustard, but the two you may find the most confusing visually are English & American.

Though both are a fairly bright yellow in colour, that's about as far as the similarity goes.

Mustard seeds themselves come in many different 'heats' - the mildest generally being pale yellow, almost white & the strongest are dark brown.
Additionally, mixing mustard with vinegar tempers the heat & lengthens the shelf-life.
Mixing instead with pure water increases the punch, but the flavours will dissipate over a much shorter period.

American mustard is one of the mildest available. It starts with a mild seed, pale yellow/white in colour, but the colour is then boosted by using turmeric. The mixture is then diluted with vinegar.
This is your 'standard' mild American mustard, found in many places, including McDonald's. You can slather it in huge quantities on a hot dog with no ill-effects.

Almost at the other end of the scale [Chinese mustard can be even hotter] is English. Made with a mixture of yellow & brown mustard seed, then mixed with water not vinegar, this will take the roof of your nose out if used in injudicious quantities. It can quite literally make your eyes water & your nose run - though if you did it by accident, take solace in the fact that the hit is very short-lived, not like eating a blindingly hot chilli pepper.
The full impact & flavour of English mustard is quite short-lived even in the jar, once made up from powdered mustard. Even ready-made, store-bought has quite a short shelf-life for a condiment. Made at home & mixed with water it will lose its punch in just a few days, so the trick is to buy powder & mix it just 15 minutes before you eat it, for the full experience.

If you're ever uncertain visually which you are about to add - taste it first.

Personally I love English mustard on hot dogs! With ketchup too [one of the only things I will ever put ketchup on]. The balance between the sweet, vinegary ketchup & the hard hit of the mustard is really quite the feast. Bring on the junk food!

There is an in-depth article on the various types at Serious Eats - Mustard Manual: Your Guide to Mustard Varieties

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    I swear English mustard can remove paint, it's good stuff but a little goes a looong way.
    – GdD
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 12:50
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    American? It's Bavarian! ;) Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 13:16
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    Once, many years ago, we had a visitor from the US who asked for mustard to put on his steak. He was unaware of the potency of English mustard and proceeded to put nearly a teaspoonful on a single bite sized piece of meat. We tried politely to warn him of the likely effects but... The effects were spectacular and it required nearly a jugful of water to put out the fire. The hardest part was not laughing as he was an important customer.
    – uɐɪ
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 15:58
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    I never thought I'd eat something that'd make me want a hotdog, but this did :D Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 16:16
  • +1 for this good answer thank you! But you were close to getting a -1 for putting ketchup on hot dogs ... at the last moment I realized that was just a personal comment of yours and not the informative part of the answer so I relented. FYI: The only correct point of view on ketchup + hot dogs.
    – davidbak
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 21:22

"English mustard" is also yellow and very very different from typical American yellow mustard as I've encountered it with hot dogs or burgers (French's, for example). A smear of something like Colman's (a typical hot English mustard) has about as much flavour as a spoonful of hot dog yellow mustard.

What you describe is typical for when you think you picked up a mild mustard and it was actually a hot one. It's a mean trick we pay on foreign visitors in the UK (not deliberately). I suspect you're bought a similar product, though I don't know where you are. The heat is different to chilli heat, felt much more in your nose or sinuses than chillies.

Dijon mustard is somewhere in between. A brand available in the US is apparently "Grey Poupon" (originally from France). The Wikipedia article on mustard has more details.

If it is the case that you've bought something hotter than you expect, you can either use it sparingly or dilute it with something of a similar texture - mixing it with ketchup would work if you like both on your hotdog.

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    How much is a "smear" and how big are your spoons? When preparing hot dogs, I typically take a spoonful of mustard and smear it on the dog, so it's very unclear to me what your first paragraph is meant to indicate in terms of relative flavour.
    – jmbpiano
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 23:26
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    @jmbpiano it was meant to be illustrative rather than a measurement. But let's say something like 1/2 tsp of English mustard on the tip of a knife and spread evenly would be appropriate for a ham sandwich or one sausage, vs a tablespoon of French's (or a generous teaspoon of Dijon). My French's is in a squeezy bottle but if I spoon out similar mustard from a jar I'll probably lick the spoon. Definitely not with the others.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 6:57
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    If you want to dilute it use yogurt. It keeps the colour and texture and makes it much milder.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 11:51
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    @jmbpiano I invite you to downvote if you disagree that in the context of condiments any reading other than "a smear is much less than a spoonful" is daft. You do raise a good point about fo those unfamiliar with Colman's which I'll address
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 15:20
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    @Chronocidal OK, I've never come across "smear" as a noun describing that presentation, let alone the quantity. As a verb "smear a spoonful of sauce across the plate", yes.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 15:38

Here in Germany, mustard is sold in a variety of "grades".

The mildest variety is called "sweet mustard" or "Bavarian sweet mustard" (süß/Bayrisch süß), it is usually dark/brown in color and only roughly ground.

Then come mild - medium hot (mittelscharf) - hot (scharf) - extra hot (extra scharf). These are usually (but not always) also finer ground.

There is quite some variation in color from pale beige over yellow to darkish brown or even with a reddish tint.

  • You can not conclude hotness from color, though.
  • Nor from grinding/grain size.
  • Also, while a few brands are specialized on some end of the hotness scale, many sell a wide variety, e.g. brand Löwensenf has products ranging from sweet and honey mustard all the way to extra strong and chili mustard. Bautzner goes from sweet to strong. And so on.
  • The grade is writting on the package
  • If not, the local default is medium (mittelschaf)

Bonus material:

Spicy hotness/pungencyy in German is called "Schärfe" (literally sharpness) and the same word is also used for images being in focus. There was a IMHO really cool ad a while ago for medium hot mustard (Senf mittelscharf) with a slightly blurry (= not really scharf, only mittelscharf) picture of a mustard tube. Senf mittelscharf

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    Thomy? EGADS. Löwensenf! Careful with their extrascharf, though, that stuff rivals english mustard. Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 22:43
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    @rackandboneman: Well, I admit I do I distinguish between ads that are funny to look at which does not imply anything about mustard brands and varieties I eat and buy... But I do say that Thommy had the ad to look at ;-) Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 22:54
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    I missed an irony smile here :) Though I kind of ... resent the idea of a brand that makes medium quality condiments of all kinds, for brand name prices, to represent german mustard :) Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 22:57
  • mustard comes in tubes?
    – davidbak
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 21:17
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    @davidbak: For quite a number of brands you can choose whether you want to have it in a tube or glass (e.g. the Löwnsenf extrascharf mentioned above). Glass is obviously better if you want to get out the mustard by spoon, but the tube leaves less area exposed to air after opening and you can be sure noone sticks a dirty knife in leaving food rests that spoil soon. The standard medium mustards are also sold in larger plastic bottles and buckets (I've seen up to 10 kg). You'll see them at hot dog/Bratwurst/BBQ stands (e.g. Biergarten) or also at your local sports club near the BBQ place. Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 11:08

Any type of mustard contains poisonous substances, as every plant, to protect it from being eaten by insects and other animals. Some people tolerate more, some less. It depends on ones state of health, specially if one has a lack of body fluid and other substances to cushion aggressive substances, it feels irritating.

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    this is interesting, as for the fact of people downvoting you.... they are clueless. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 13:48
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    @DeerSpotter I downvoted this answer because while it explains why mustard is hot in the first place, it doesn't provide any useful advise for the OP for how to tell how hot different kinds of mustard are. Also "mustard contains poisonous substances" implies that eating mustard is harmful, which is wrong (unless you are an insect).
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 16:05
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    Funny that the most to the point answer is getting down voted :)) plus 1 if chemistry matters
    – Alchimista
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 18:33
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    @Philipp saying that mustards contain poisonus substances and mustard is harmful are two different things. Mustards contain at least a poison but mustards are not harmful. That allyl isothiocyanate is a lachrimator explains the OP symptoms much that listing various types of mustards. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allyl_isothiocyanate
    – Alchimista
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 18:43
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    I don't see anything broken.If a ridiculous extension of Paracelsus principle is carried out then you can be right. However you can't fabricate tear gas granade with sugar but with onions yes. OP dislike mustard not because is English or dijon or whatever. But because that molecule is there, at first The same if coffee gives you tachycardia. Caffeine is there and is quite a poison. I don't want to claim that mustard and coffee are poisonous, tough. I really don't see what is wrong in the answer beside the reference to the current state of health of the taster.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 13:28

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