Exsiccated Mustard Packets

Sinapis alba (Brassica hirta)
Donated by Xiaorong “Jajah” Wu

Weight: 1.5 g (each)
Length: 7.2 cm

Heinz Yellow Mustard packets: 1 front; 2 clear backs showing dried contents

After a nearby Subway restaurant closed down, the donor found herself with some unused packets of yellow mustard, but nothing to spread them on. She placed them in a metal filing cabinet in her temperature-controlled office. (One may wonder—did she file them under ‘M’?) Six months later, the donor found herself with a bland sandwich and retrieved the mustard packets. To her surprise, the mustard was dried, hard, and dark. Unusable! (In the photo, the shininess of the plastic masks the dryness of the actual mustard substance.)

The food industry generally recommends that mustard in packets be used within about six months, though it’s typically usable for a year or two. Refrigeration extends the shelf life of mustard, but is considered optional.

Mustard is primarily a suspension of ground mustard seeds in vinegar and water. Eventually these separate. Vinegar and salt are natural preservatives and contribute to the typically long shelf life of mustard. But this mustard was not typical. Perhaps the temperature in the file cabinet wavered more than was first thought. Or perhaps the seal on the packets was weak enough to allow moisture to escape. Or perhaps the sandwich shop had already stored the packets for an extended period. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps. Reminiscent of an Osvaldo Farrés song sung by Pérez Prado.  NEXT >

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