Mustard is one of the condiments that you either use regularly or hardly at all. When I was a child, we always had hot sausage on a Sunday breakfast, and if you’re like me, that dish isn’t complete without mustard. So we would finish every jar of mustard within a few weeks tops. Now I don’t eat hot sausage that often anymore, thus an opened jar tends to sit in the fridge for months on end. And at a certain point, you start to think if mustard can actually go bad. And if so, how to tell if it’s already bad.
Or perhaps you’re trying out different varieties like Dijon, French, or Honey mustard. And you’re wondering if there are any significant differences between these in terms of storage or shelf life. Or if it actually requires refrigeration after opening.
If some of these questions have brought you here, you’re in the right place. Below we go through things like spoilage, shelf life, and storage of mustard. So if you’re ready to learn a bit more about this condiment, read on.
Can Mustard Go Bad?
Like pretty much any food, mustard can go bad. But unlike most foods, it’s quite unlikely to happen. On Wikipedia ([WIKI]), you can read that mustard can stay safe indefinitely due to its antibacterial qualities. And it makes sense if you look at the ingredients list. It usually includes mustard seeds, water, vinegar, lemon juice, and wine, all of which last a long time. Plus vinegar and lemon juice are often used as preservatives in various foods and dishes. And an unopened jar or squeeze bottle protects its contents from the outside world, so it’s not like a bunch of rogue bacteria will get inside and try to multiply in the mustard. In short, an unopened container should easily last many years without ever going bad. But even knowing that, I’d be quite hesitant to open mustard that’s 10 years old, and I guess you would be too.
Once you open the mustard, oxidation and general “access to the outside world” kick in. Oxidation can cause browning ([WIKI]), and the condiment might dry out and lose some of its flavors after an extended period of storage. But unless a bunch of microorganisms got into the jar, it should still stay safe quite a long time.
But even though mustard can stay safe to eat indefinitely, it doesn’t mean it always does. If it’s opened for more than a few months, make sure to regularly check the insides of the jar or bottle for any signs of mold. Giving the condiment a good whiff before pouring it onto your hot dog is also a good practice. If there’s no organic growth inside the container and the mustard smells alright, it should be safe to eat. But safe to eat doesn’t always mean it’s good in terms of quality. Speaking of which, let’s talk about how long mustard keeps well.
How Long Does Mustard Actually Last?
Okay, so you already know that mustard can last indefinitely, at least in theory. And as I mentioned above, it doesn’t mean it will be tasty and flavorful forever. Similarly to other popular condiments such as mayonnaise and ketchup, mustard degrades in quality over time. And while the speed of that process differs a bit between various styles of mustard, the general guidelines are pretty much the same. That means they apply no matter if you have horseradish mustard, American mustard, or you went with the Dijon, French, or Chinese.
As long as the container is unopened, you can easily store it for a year or two past the date (often called expiration date, but it has little to do with it, actually) on the label. In fact, the yellow condiment should still be quite alright even after 5 years, but I understand if you throw out such old mustard without opening it.
When it comes to an open jar or bottle, the condiment should retain quality between 6 and 12 months in the fridge, and about a month or two if you store it at room temperature.
And what if the quality isn’t that good anymore? Should you just discard the mustard? Not necessarily. Some of the typical quality issues can be easily fixed.
Mustard Quality Issues and How To Fix Them
Before we move to the storage section, let’s talk about some quality issues with mustard that’s been opened for a while, and what you can do about them.
Separation is one of such issues, and you can fix it by merely giving he condiment a good stir with a tablespoon or a fork. Just so you know, separation is a natural process and it’s harmless, so it’s not like you’re “fixing” spoiled mustard, or something.
Drying out is another thing that happens, especially if you keep the container unsealed for a long time, or when there’s only a little mustard left at the bottom. To fix it, try mixing some wine or vinegar ([WIKI]). Start with a teaspoon, and add more if required. Give that mustard a taste before using, and if the flavors didn’t blend well, just discard it.
If the mustard has turned bitter, it’s past its prime, and it’s probably best to throw it out.
How To Store Mustard? Do You Have To Refrigerate It?
Once you open the jar, it’s pretty much up to you if you refrigerate it or not. As I mentioned earlier, mustard won’t go bad if not refrigerated after opening, but its quality will degrade quite fast. So if you accidentally left it out overnight, it’s not a big deal. But as a general rule of thumb, keep this condiment refrigerated after opening. Most companies suggest this practice anyway.
In a Nutshell
- Mustard can stay safe pretty much indefinitely, but its quality can’t stay great forever
- As long as the jar is unopened, mustard retains quality for years; once opened, it keeps best for 6 months up to a year in the fridge
- You can fix dry mustard by mixing in some vinegar or vine, and separated mustard by simply stirring it
- [WIKI] Wikipedia: Mustard