Monday, November 15, 2010

The Art of Making Mostarda

Mostarda is an ancient Italian condiment that probably had its start as a way of preserving fresh fruit throughout the year. It is is very tough to find in the United States outside of a few specialty stores which import it directly from Italy.

I tried it for the first time in Chicago at a restaurant called Folia in the West Loop. The owner imports it directly from the town he was born in on Amalfi Coast. I tried it with cheese and salumi and was blown away by the way it complimented the cheeses and meats. The essence of the mustard and the sweetness of the fruit gives this condiment the definition of agrodolce.

Mostarda can be made many ways but it typically has the same base which consists of fresh, or dried fruit, sugar, and either Mustard Essence, or powdered mustard diluted in white wine, or white wine vinegar. For me mustard essence is the only way to go.

Mustard Essence is difficult to obtain in the United States but it can be purchased while in Italy from a chemist/pharmacist. Mustard essence or the essential oil of mustard is a volatile irritant which can be highly toxic if used incorrectly. It is sold in small vials and measured out precisely with an eye dropper when used as a flavoring. A little of this stuff goes a long way. Mustard Essence is a clear concentrated liquid which won't cloud the simple syrup the fruit is steeped in over a four day period of time.

What do I use Mostarda on?

Traditionally Italians used it as a way to spice up boiled meats. It goes very well with a braised or boiled meats such as beef brisket. It also works well with roasted pork loin and porchetta.

Mostarda makes an impressive and easy appetizer when served drizzled over various cheeses which was the way it was originally introduced to me. Your guests have never had anything like it before and they are either going to love it or hate it.

(This recipe was updated 11/22/17)


10 lb Fresh Fruit
5 lb Sugar
Mustard Essence
Fresh Orange Juice

Step One - Select and prepare the fruit

The most magnificent Mostardo is made using whole pieces of fruit. So I usually look for fruit that would look good suspended in the jar by the syrup. Apples, pears, peaches, apricots, kiwi's, tangerines, oranges, mandarins, limes, cherries, quinces, cranberries, strawberries, mangoes, are a few of the choices you can use to make great Mostardo.

I also sometimes add walnuts or hazelnuts to the mixture to add a crunch texture to contrast with the soft fruit. Don't be afraid to experiment with different types of combination's. I sometimes add thinly sliced Jalapeno's to the mixture to kick up a little heat. Some folks might be inclined to add some red chili pepper flakes too.

The first step is to peel and core the fresh fruit. Apples and pears are favorite ingredients which can be sliced in halves or quarters. Berries can be added whole.

When I do limes and oranges I leave the peels on but select varieties with a very thin skin and slice them extremely thin using a mandolin. I like to use mandarin oranges whole because they are visually pleasing and easy to peel.

I've recently experimented with a combination fresh and dried fruits. I really like texture and quality of the product with some dry fruit added to the mix. Pineapple, mango, papaya, kiwi, and figs are dried fruit that work well. They plump up during the process as they absorb moisture from the fresh fruit. Adding a few glazed cherries to the mix is a nice visual option.

Step Two - Steeping the Fruit

Once you have your fruit prepared and loaded into a bowl you then add 1/2 pound of sugar per pound of of fresh fruit to the top of the mixture. Pour four cups of fresh orange juice over the top. You then let it sit uncovered for 24 hours giving it a turn or two to mix the ingredients along the way.

Step Three -
Concentrating the Syrup

After 24 hours the juice in the fruit begins to be replaced by the sugar it is absorbing. All the sugar should now be dissolved. Empty the mixture into a colander to drain it into a sauce pan. Return the fruit mixture to its bowl. Heat the syrup until it starts to boil and reduce for five minutes. Once that is done return the syrup to the bowl where the fruit is residing. Let the mixture sit for another 24 hours once again giving it a turn or two.

Step Four - Concentrate the Syrup again

Repeat step three and let rest for another 24 hours. You should be noticing that your fruit is beginning to shrink which is natural because the sugar is leaching the liquid from the fruit.

Step Five - Concentrate the Syrup again

Repeat step four and let rest for another 24 hours.

Step Six - Concentrate the Syrup one last time

Once again repeat step five but this time we are going to prepare to season and can the mixture.

Step Seven - Sterilize and Pack the jars

Sterilize your jars and lids in boiling water for fifteen minutes. I prefer to use pint jars when making Mostarda. Add the fruit pieces to your jars and fill to the top. Try to be artful in how you arrange and divvy up the fruit. Mostardo just isn't a condiment in Italy it is a work of art.

Step Eight - Season with Mustard Essence

Remove four ounces of the reserved syrup and add approximately 20-30 drops. Be careful to avoid contact any skin contact with this stuff and make sure that you don't get a sniff of it. After adding the fruit pour it in, and then add hot concentrated syrup to cover, tapping the jar repeatedly to dislodge air bubbles as you fill. (Safety note: I use protective gloves, goggles, and a gas mask while handing mustard essence.)

Step Nine - Canning and Storing

Cover the jars, wipe them clean, and put them on a cool dark shelf in your pantry. The Mostarda will be ready in 2 week's time. It is not necessary to heat seal the jars. The sugar content is high enough to prohibit the formation of bacteria.


Al said...

This is one of only two mostarda recipes I found online that gets it right. The other one is Mostarda di Cremona and is at an Italian site. All the other recipes say to cook the fruits in the syrup and that's it. I first tried one of those recipes and was very disappointed. It was like fresh chutney, not the candied fruit that is usually purchased in Italy. That said, I don't know why you would use orange juice. The other recipe uses only sugar to extract the juices from the fruit. Also, if you were lucky enough to find genuine mustard essential oil, why would you add mustard powder? It would only cloud the syrup and would add unwanted flavors. I am trying this basic recipe right now without the orange juice and mustard powder.

Pixie Eleazar said...

You EITHER use mustard oil (described in Step Seven A), OR mustard powder described in Step Seven B).

Pixie Eleazar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fooby Dooby said...

@Pixie Eleazar

Step 7A-right. Step 7B-wrong.

To anyone who has ever tried this delightful condiment, mustard essential oil is mandatory. Mustard powder has other ingredients mixed in to make it into prepared mustard. The flavor is all wrong, not concentrated enough, and as the author, whom you quote, points out: "the advantage of mustard essence is it is a clear concentrated liquid which won't cloud the simple syrup." The pure concentrated oil can be found on eBay.

Unknown said...

I'm making a less traditional mostarda more like a chutney, cooking the fruit in the syrup and hot filling.

I am going to use the mustard essence however for the first time after trying mustard powder with mixed results.

My question is; When would be the best time to add the essence? I transfer the hot chutney to a jug to fill the jars and am thinking that is the best time to add the essence, a few drops to each jug but I'm concerned the hot liquid will ruin the bite of the essence or it will be too intense on my senses to add the essence to a steaming hot liquid.

Should I make a separate syrup, allow to cool, add the essence and add a little essence syrup to each hot filled jar at the end perhaps?

Your thoughts?

Al said...

Heh-heh, so you found out, like I did, from experience, that mustard powder doesn't work.

Your question is one that has hounded me too. First I added the essence to the individual warm, not hot, jars, and then sealed and sterilized them. Upon opening a jar, weeks later, the odor and flavor was completely gone. Destroyed by heat. So that's out. What I did is just add a few drops of essence to each jar as I opened it to use. That works well. So if you are 'canning' the mostarda, don't put any expensive essence in the syrup. Plan on adding it to each jar as you open them. You could just add sulfite , that is used to preserve wine, along with the essence. No sterilization required. I'm thinking of doing that next time.

BTW, where did you get the mustard essential oil?

Unknown said...


Bummer, these need these to be shelf stable, so I don't have the opportunity to open them and add the essence before I give them away. I've thrown the problem out to a food scientist friend of mine about preserving the mustard bite of both essence and hot mustard powder in a hot fill situation. I'll let you know what he comes up with.

Al said...

That sounds great. Please post the results here. Meanwhile, consider sulfite. I'm pretty
sure the commercial product would have some in it.

I bought mine from the same seller. Very friendly and sent me a little extra. This is the real deal. Proceed with caution! Just a whiff of it from arm's length will make you cry… ;)

I transferred mine into these 5ml dropper bottles | eBay. It's the best way to get consistent results.

John Berkowitz said...

Thanks for all the comments. I'm going to be updating the recipe over the next couple of weeks. I'm using a mixture of fresh and dried fruit. I agree with the comments about Coleman's mustard. it just screws the entire recipe up. You can't get mustard essence in the USA but you can get food grade mustard oil. I haven't tried it but it is probably a better option than Coleman's. Another note is that you don't have to heat sterilize Mostardo because of the high sugar content.

If standing over a large hot pot to sterilize empty jars is not enough of a nuisance, conventional wisdom says you also need to boil the filled jars to create a tight seal. Not true! All you need to do is turn the filled jars, while they are still hot, upside down on a wire rack or sheet pan. Then let them cool completely.

When you turn them right-side-up, check the vacuum by giving a gentle push with your thumb in the center of the lid. If you have sealed the jars properly, you will not be able to depress the lid further as you will have already created a vacuum. However, if you have not sealed the jars well, you will hear a slight click and feel a slight depression. You can still forget about the terrifying lessons of your home economics teacher, but I’d stick the preserves in the fridge. Once any preserves are opened, even those that have been sealed properly, they always belong in the refrigerator.

Al said...

If you are talking about Indian mustard oil, it is way too weak. I have tried it, and wasabe, with disastrous tasteless results. There is absolutely no substitute for mustard essential oil if you want to make the real thing. Cheaply available on eBay from India. Nose-rippingly concentrated.

John Berkowitz said...

I agree with you Al. Mine was given to me as a gift after being purchased at pharmacy in Italy. I had no idea you could get it on EBay from India. That is good to know.

Al said...

I started a thread on mustard essential oil:

Mustard essential oil (olio essenziale senape) for Mostarda di Cremona - Food52

that includes where to get it on eBay:

mustard essential oil | eBay

I got it from this seller, who was very helpful, and gave me an extra ml in a 5ml bottle:


The seller warned me about its potency. He was not lying. The stuff is lethal. When I got it, I held it close to my nose, and the fumes burned my eyes, and one whiff made my nasal passage runny, and my nostrils burn far more than Chinese mustard. It's the real deal.

John Berkowitz said...

It's lethal if inhaled. It's nasty if even a little bit gets on your skin. This is what they made mustard gas out of in WWI. I purchased goggles and a gas mask for when I use the stuff. I wear also wear gloves. $9.95 on Amazon

Vktech Industrial Gas Chemical Anti-Dust Respirator Mask Goggles Set

Al said...

You've got to be kidding. Are you THAT sensitive to it? I've found that not getting too close to the vial of oil is enough to avoid smelling it. I store the oil in a 5 or 10 ml dropper top squeeze bottle, in the refrigerator. I add 5 drops of the oil to a 1 pt jar. That way I avoid any contact with the oil as well.