What Is Chinese Hot Mustard?

A Guide to Buying, Using, and Making Chinese Hot Mustard

Mustard seeds and mustard powder

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Many Chinese appetizers are accompanied by Chinese hot mustard, a condiment that will provide a real bite. You'll definitely feel the sinus-clearing heat with just a touch of this potent spice. You'll find this mustard served at Chinese restaurants both in the U.S., China, and Taiwan.

What Is Chinese Hot Mustard?

Chinese hot mustard is a condiment that can be bought premade or made fresh for each use by mixing a dry mustard powder with water, causing a chemical reaction that produces a sharp, spicy taste. Some recipes call for the addition of cooking or vegetable oil, which reduces the effect somewhat; sesame oil and rice vinegar may also be added. Mustard powder is vegan, vegetarian, and does not contain gluten. However, check the ingredient list of any premade Chinese hot mustard sauce for ingredients that might contain gluten.

Chinese Hot Mustard vs. Prepared Mustards

You may wonder how regular mustards are not just as spicy as Chinese hot mustard. In the case of prepared mustards, the enzyme reaction is toned down by using additives such as flour. The actual flavor of prepared mustard will depend on a number of factors, including the type of seeds used, how they are processed, and what spices are added. The brown mustard seeds used in Chinese hot mustard are stronger than the black and white mustard seeds used in some other types of mustard. By comparison, Dijon mustard is made with strong brown or black mustard seeds, verjuice (the juice of unripened grapes) and/or white wine or wine vinegar, cloves, cinnamon, and other seasonings.

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Mustard has been grown in China for thousands of years, with the brown mustard seed plant (Brassica juncea) being native to the Himalayas. The first use of mustard powder and prepared mustard in China is not recorded.

What Is It Made Of?

Chinese hot mustard powder is simply ground brown mustard seed without any additional spice. The mustard seeds have been dried sufficiently so that when crushed they form a powder. To make mustard sauce, you follow the directions on the can and add liquid.

If you are buying premade Chinese mustard sauce, check the ingredient list to see what is included. One typical brand includes the following ingredients:

  • Mustard
  • Starch
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Turmeric

What Does It Taste Like?

There is really one standout taste when it comes to Chinese hot mustard: heat. If the mustard has been stored properly so the spice level has not diminished, you may only experience the burning sensation of the mustard and not really taste anything else. However, there are elements of tanginess behind the fire, similar to the flavor of regular mustard.

You may be surprised to learn what gives China's most popular table condiment its strong bite, especially considering its seemingly simple preparation. The answer lies in the chemical properties of mustard seeds. Mustard seeds come from the mustard plant, a member of the cabbage family, and contain two sulfur compounds—myrosin and sinigrin—as well as an enzyme, myrosinase. When the seeds are broken and water is added, the enzyme breaks down the sulfur compounds. The result is the sharp tasting oil that gives mustard its pungency and helps explain why the name mustard comes from the Latin words mustum (must) and ardens (burning).

Chinese Hot Mustard vs. Prepared Mustards

Since Chinese hot mustard does not include any additional spice, you may wonder how regular mustards are not all spicy. In the case of prepared mustards, the enzyme reaction is toned down by using additives such as flour. The actual flavor of prepared mustard will depend on a number of factors, including the type of seeds used, how they are processed, and what spices are added.

Cooking With Chinese Mustard

Powdered Chinese hot mustard is not usually used in cooking, although the whole mustard seeds and mustard greens are found in various Chinese dishes. Instead, it is served as a condiment to spice up appetizers and meat. One typical presentation in a traditional Chinese-American restaurant is a small dish with half Chinese mustard sauce on one side and half tomato-based sauce on the other side.

Recipes With Chinese Mustard

Hot mustard's raw bite goes well with most Chinese appetizers and is the perfect accompaniment for egg rolls and spring rolls. It is also an ideal condiment for Chinese shrimp balls and baked chicken wontons.


If you can't find Chinese mustard powder, you can use English Colman's dry mustard powder as a perfectly acceptable substitute; it is made by blending the flavorful brown seeds with the less pungent white mustard seeds.

Where to Buy Chinese Hot Mustard

This condiment is sold in cans and jars ranging from about 3 ounces to 9 ounces. You will find it in the Asian section of most grocery stores, as well as Asian markets and online. The labels will range from "Chinese-style hot mustard" to simply "hot mustard" to "Chinese mustard sauce."

How to Make Your Own Chinese Hot Mustard

To make your own Chinese hot mustard is dry mustard powder and cold water. Mix the powder and water together, cover, and let sit for about an hour. After about 15 minutes, the reaction will fully develop. Just remember that after the mustard reaches its peak strength at this point, it slowly begins to decline.

If you want hot mustard that's not quite as strong, adding a salad or cooking oil to the mustard powder and water tones down the process somewhat, as does adding boiling water, but it also changes the taste.

  1. Place 1/4 cup dry mustard powder in a bowl.

  2. Gradually stir in 1/4 cup of cold water.

  3. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon of salad oil if you would like the heat toned down a bit.

  4. Cover the bowl and let it stand for at least 1 hour.

  5. Use immediately, or transfer the mustard to a small jar, cover, and place in the refrigerator.


Jars of Chinese hot mustard should be refrigerated after opening where it will last up to 1 year. Unopened jars can be kept in the pantry for one to two years.

When it comes to homemade Chinese hot mustard, it is ideal to use it right away, but if you're not using it immediately, adding an acid such as vinegar or rice wine will stop the reaction and prevent the mustard from losing its sharp edge. However, some people argue that the acid hides some of the mustard's flavor. While the effect is subtle, it does exist, so as an alternative you may want to store the hot mustard in a sealed container in the refrigerator, as refrigeration also stops the reaction from progressing.

how to make chinese mustard
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