Can’t Cut It: The French Mustard Crisis in France

Why there is a shortage of Dijon mustard in France

First, find the seeds
The Economist – August 9, 2022

For the past few months, France has been gripped by the mystery of the Dijon mustard shortage.

The sharp pale-yellow condiment, a French household staple, has all but disappeared from the country’s supermarket shelves. When scarce deliveries arrive, some shops resort to rationing purchases to a single pot per person. On social media, amateur cooks swap ideas for an alternative ingredient to Dijon mustard in order to prepare vinaigrette, mayonnaise, or steak tartare, a French dish made of raw meat also seasoned with egg yolk and capers.

The sauce has a long history. In Dijon, the capital of Burgundy and home to the mustard that bears its name, the craft of the moutardier dates back to 1634. Yet even in this town, pots of the stuff are near-impossible to find.

The French consume a kilo of mustard per person each year. Much of it is the Dijon variety, a condiment that comes with a nose-tingling kick, not the milder and sweeter sauce slathered on hot dogs in Britain or America. This distinction is crucial, and the chief reason behind today’s shortages. Under French rules, Dijon mustard must be made from brown seeds (brassica juncea) or black ones (brassica nigra). Usually French manufacturers import from Canada some 80% of the 35,000 tonnes of seeds they need. Last year, however, a drought struck the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where most of the crop is grown. The Canadian harvest was about half of that in a normal year.

Had Russia not waged war on Ukraine, French importers might have been able to place orders for the right seeds from suppliers in those countries instead. They specialise in the yellow variety of mustard seeds used in the blander condiment, and devote a far smaller crop to the brown seeds.

But the war has disrupted exports, put pressure on supplies worldwide, and raised prices. Locally grown seeds in Burgundy cannot compensate, says Luc Vandermaesen, head of the Mustard Association of Burgundy, and director of Reine de Dijon, a French mustard producer based in the region. “The market”, he says, “is completely dry; there are zero stocks, nothing.”

The outlook for Dijon mustard will become clearer after the summer. Burgundy farmers have already harvested this year’s crop of brown mustard seeds, which are currently being cleaned. By the end of September they will arrive in factories, in time for production of Dijon mustard in France to begin again the following month.

But the Canadian harvest falls later, and the quantities anticipated this year are unknown. French manufacturers do not expect to receive imports until December. In short, Dijon mustard is unlikely to return in normal quantities to the shelves of French supermarkets until 2023, at the earliest. ■

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