Thursday, February 3, 2005
Concern Arises in Late Victorian Era Over Purity of Mustard
By ROGER M. GRACE
Concern was widespread, starting in the late 1800s, over what was being added to foods. A product frequently “adulterated” was mustard, in both powdered and prepared forms.
While the United States Supreme Court in 1986 defined an adulterated food as one “containing a poisonous or deleterious substance in a quantity that ordinarily renders the food injurious to health,” the term “adulterated” was used more broadly at the dawn of the 20th Century. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 declared that a product was “adulterated” “[i]f any substance has been mixed and packed with it so as to reduce or lower... its...strength.” So, prepared mustard was considered to be adulterated if ingredients were added such as flour, commonly included today for sake of reducing sharpness.
“Mustard is seldom sold pure,” an article in the Decatur (Iowa) Daily Review proclaimed on Nov. 17, 1879.
“The greater part of the spices sold in this city are adulterated,” another newspaper, the Coshocton (Ohio) Age, said on Dec. 26, 1885.
Another broadsheet in that state, The Elyria Republican, on March 20, 1884 reported:
“Dr. Cyrus Edson, chief inspector of the Second Division in the Sanitary Bureau, discovered recently that quantities of adulterated mustard were being prepared and sold in the city. The manufacturers had mixed flour with ground mustard and vinegar, in order to produce a preparation for table use which would be cheaper than pure mustard.”
So far, this “adulterated” product sounds like today’s French’s mustard. However, the story continued:
“As flour alone would make the preparation too light in color, a yellow dye had been added. It was the opinion of the chemist that the dye used was poisonous. Dr. Edson fed a dog on cooked meat and some of the mustard which contained the obnoxious dye, and the dog died after partaking of that food for three days. One of the manufacturers attended the meeting of the board of health yesterday, and asserted that the preparation was not unhealthy. The sanitary officers are in doubt regarding the effect of the adulterated mustard on the human stomach when small quantities of mustard are eaten.”
The need for controls over the content of food is illustrated by that report. Too, need for other controls is shown. We pause now to reflect on the utter inhumanity of using “man’s best friend” for the experiment.
The Nebraska State Journal on April 23, 1899, carried a story on adulterated foods. It recited that sawdust was sometimes used in bread. Ginger, it declared, was “highly adulterated,” saying that “[s]and and dirt from the sweepings of the warehouse constitute one form of adulteration, whilst plaster of paris and gypsum are occasional adulterants.”
By contrast, however, the article’s tale of mustard impurity—despite the warning that mustard “is perhaps more adulterated than either ginger or pepper”—would not strike a consumer today as particularly alarming. It said:
“The chief adulterants of mustard now consist of wheat flour and turmeric coloring. It has been said that mustard contains such an amount of oil that if flour were not added to soak it up it would become rancid. Such a contention is probably nothing more than manufacturer’s excuse for adulterating his mustard. After flour has been added to mustard in large quantities, turmeric coloring is mixed in to restore the product to its natural yellow color.”
Turmeric is what makes yellow mustard yellow—or brown mustard less brown.
An ad in the Bucks County (Pa.) Gazette on June 17, 1910, touted a German mustard as follows:
“We want you to try this mustard because it is different from the ordinary kind; it is made different, tastes different and looks different. ROULAN BRAND is the kind which the native German often wondered why he could not get in this country. There is nothing that has been more adulterated than prepared mustard, therefore the delicious flavor of Pure German Mustard is unknown to the American people.
“We guarantee ROULAN BRAND to be absolutely pure and to contain no adulteration, coloring or preserving, matter....”
In the Trenton (N.J.) Evening Times on Jan. 28, 1915, there appeared a column called “Food Query Department” containing this query from one C.M.T.:
“Is it true that cornmeal is used as ground mustard so that the mustard as sold is from 46 to 60 per cent. corn meal?”
The response from Prof. Lewis B. Allyn was:
“The common admixture to adulterated mustard are wheat flour, maize flour, and other starchy matters—mustard hulls, sugar, chemical preservatives and artificial colors. We have no doubt cornmeal is sometimes used as an adulterant....”
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