Mustard, which makes the French proud, relies on multinational supply chains? Burgundy producers are ready to work hard to boost local mustard seed production to improve mustard security for the French.
The influence of mustard in French culture can be described as both deep and wide. For example, the French would use “mustard in their nose” to describe themselves very angry. Bastille Day (French Bastille Day) is proof that when anger sweeps through France, it can have very serious consequences.
On July 14, 1789, the people of Paris stormed the Bastille, kicking off the French Revolution. The mysterious disappearance of mustard from French supermarket shelves in July caused deep unease, if not unrest, among French people.
Deprived of the condiment that adds flavor to steak and chips, life to sausages, layers to vinaigrettes and richness to mayonnaise, the French are desperately looking for alternatives. Horseradish, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, even feta cheese sauce and cream of shallots are options.
But it has to be said that these alternative condiments have no chance of winning. Dijon mustard is indispensable and irreplaceable. Oily sauces in French cuisine can be bland without mustard. In Lyon, eating giblets without mustard is like eating cheese without wine.
Another problem is that most of the ingredients for Dijon mustard do not come from Dijon, the capital of Burgundy. Climate change, the Russo-Ukrainian war, supply problems amid the coronavirus pandemic, and rising costs have left French producers short of brown seeds for mustard.
At least 80 percent of brown mustard seeds are imported from Canada, according to Luc van der Meisen, general manager of mustard producer Queen of Dijon and president of the Burgundy Mustard Association. But last year, Canada’s Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces were hit by a heat wave that cut mustard seed production by 50 percent. Heatwaves in the two provinces are “almost impossible” without global warming, scientists say. Meanwhile, rising temperatures have also severely affected harvests in the smaller French Burgundy region.
“Climate change has created a shortage of mustard,” van der Meisen said. “We can’t respond to the orders we receive. The cost of mustard seeds has skyrocketed, and the retail price of mustard has increased by 25 percent.”
His company now receives at least 50 calls a day seeking mustard, which it has never seen before. People even came to the company’s Dijon headquarters (not a retail store) to frantically buy mustard. French superstore chain Carrefour was also forced to speak out recently, denying rumors on social media that the company is hoarding mustard to drive up its prices. Celebrity chefs such as Pierre Grangerard in Brittany are already asking people online for their mustard surplus.
In most stores, the shelves stocked with mustard are already empty. Wherever there is still mustard, there are signs saying “Limit to one can per person” posted next to it. The retailer “Inter Supermarket” apologized for the inconvenience caused, and explained in a sign next to the shelves that the drought in Canada and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine have caused the “mustard crisis” currently facing the French.
The French, who are proud of their native mustard, are shocked to learn that the vast majority of mustard production relies on multinational supply chains.
The Russo-Ukraine war complicates matters further. Both Russia and Ukraine are major producers of mustard seed, but typically do not produce the brown mustard seeds or mustard greens used in classic Dijon mustard. These two countries mainly produce yellow mustard seeds, which are popular in countries like Germany and Hungary that prefer milder condiments.
As yellow mustard seeds fell victim to war, countries that depended on them had to seek out other types of mustard. “The pressure in the mustard market is generally rising, which is driving up prices,” van der Meisen said.
Each French resident consumes approximately 2.2 pounds of mustard per year, making France the largest consumer of mustard in the world. While other countries, including Germany, have seen mustard shortages, the situation is worse in France, partly because of its heavy reliance on Canadian mustard seeds.
Of course, there are also opportunities hidden in the crisis. Paul-Olivier Claude-Pierre, one of the property owners of “Martin-Pule”, a local supplier of mustard and vinegar in France, believes that the time has come to re-increase local production.
”Many choose to sow the seeds thousands of kilometers away, then transport the harvested mustard seeds to ports, transport them across oceans in containers, and finally process them domestically,” said Claude-Pierre. It costs a lot of money, and the carbon footprint is too high!”
Van der Meisen said that Burgundy producers have begun to make a concerted effort to increase mustard seed production, even if it cannot compete with the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is on par with the super-large production areas in Wenzhou. However, Burgundy producers also face a problem – the European Union has banned an insecticide used to combat the black flea beetle.
For now, it appears that the French will have to learn to live without mustard, though it will be a painful adaptation. It is said that Marie Antoinette, Queen of France during the Great Revolution, famously said “Let them eat cake” when referring to peasants starving for lack of bread. (Whether she actually said this before she was guillotined in 1793 is beyond discussion here.)
Hence, French President Emmanuel Macron is advised not to say “let them eat horseradish sauce”.