Since last spring, France has been grappling with an unprecedented crisis: a nationwide shortage of mustard. The shortage of the country’s favorite spices has sent many French into a state of almost wild panic, with some hoarding and hoarding to secure the stock of their beloved “moutarde”.
In late May, the owner and head-chef of La Reggae restaurant in Brittany, Pierre Grandgirard, headed up his regular morning supply run when he ran into an unusual problem: he couldn’t get his hands on mustard.
“I went everywhere, but they were all out,” he explained. To make matters worse, some shopkeepers told him shocking tales of hoarding. “that’s a deal Papaya [French slang for granddad, eds. note] Came in and filled his shopping career with 10 or more pots at a time.”
to Grandgirard, whose restaurant specializes in seafood platters and whose lunch menu includes traditional Steak Frites SaladThe problem was real.
“We make our own mayonnaise and vinaigrette, and people love to have mustard with their steaks,” he said.
In the end, GrandGirard managed to find a place that still had some in stock, thanks to a newly introduced “one-pot-per-person” policy. The staff sympathized with the desperate chef and let him go with the two.
But GrandGirard, whose restaurant forgoes an average of 5 kilograms of mustard per month, knew the pot wouldn’t last long for him, and posted a public appeal on Facebook, begging people to stop.
The response was massive, at least in terms of donations. “People called me from everywhere, from all over Europe, and offered to send me mustard.” In all, Grandgirard said he received between 35 and 40 pots – supplies that kept him afloat until mid-July, when a fresh French mustard crop shrugged off the worst of the current crisis.
A story of love, war and climate change
The French mustard crisis can largely be explained by a combination of three factors: climate change, the war in Ukraine and the French’s love for the pungent spice.
Although France used to be a major producer of brown-grain mustard seed, known as Brassica juncea and which is the basis of Dijon mustard, this cultivation has since moved to Canada, which now accounts for 80 percent of the French supply. is responsible for. last years Climate-Change-Faulting Heatwaves On Alberta and Saskatchewan, however, that production nearly halved, leaving France’s top mustard brands – Unilever-owned Amora and Mel – scrambling for the precious seeds.
On top of that, the milder-than-usual winter resulted in many French mustard fields becoming infested with insects, and thus yielding little.
war in ukraine It has also affected the global mustard market, but the way it has affected the French market is surprising, and is mainly due to the mustard consumption habits of other European countries.
Although Russia and Ukraine are both large mustard-seed producers, they mainly cultivate the more mild, yellow mustard-seed – a variety that is generally discarded by the French, but extremely popular in Eastern and Central European countries. Is.
As the war halted most Ukrainian and Russian exports, fans of yellow mustard seeds have turned to other types of mustard, including the much-loved French Dijon mustard, and thus increased demand. Has been.
But the main reason why France has become such a victim of mustard shortages, according to Luc Vandermeissen, president of industry group Mustard of Burgundy, is that the French are simply the biggest consumers of mustard.
“Every French person consumes an average of 1 kilogram of mustard per year,” he told the French daily le figurearo In an interview earlier this summer. “Sales in our neighboring countries are very weak, and so their stocks last a long time. So you can find products abroad that were produced in France long ago.”
‘Bring me mustard!’
The French have reacted to this shortcoming with shock, anger and, in some cases, frustration. Since the start of the crisis, French users on Twitter have posted photos of empty Dijon mustard shelves in supermarkets, and at least one consumer who was lucky enough to have a pot made joked that he missed his rare find. was going to sell. to the highest bidder.
In addition to several reports of hoarding, there have also been some instances of fraud around pot caps put up in many French supermarkets. as reported by Washington Post In late July, a disgraced French consumer turned to TikTok to vent her anger when she learned that someone had checked out with two different sales clerks for one-pot-per-person at a local store. – The rule has been bypassed.
A journalist from France 24, who said she loves Dijon mustard to the extent that she eats it “like butter or jam” on bread, described how, at the height of the crisis, her mother gave her a taste of the condiment. A pot was gifted. “In wrapping paper.”
The shortage has also been fodder for conspiracy theories, with some leading to the belief that large supermarket chains deliberately kept yellow gold off their shelves in order to increase their prices.
The Internet has become a growing platform for creative ways change seasoning In traditional French staples, like mayonnaise, with things like vinegar, wasabi and Worcestershire sauce.
Other French consumers have resorted to importing their all-important Dijon through friends.
Forty-three-year-old Julian Geller of Ruil-Malmaison, a Paris suburb, received such an order when he and his family were returning from their annual summer vacation in Spain in late July.
“We always stop at my friend’s parents’ place on our way home, so I sent them the usual ‘what can I bring’ message if they wanted something from Spain, like olive oil or Spanish. Hmm.”
But not this time. “He just replied: ‘Mustard!’ No ‘hello’ or ‘we look forward to seeing you’ or anything, just ‘mustard!’ And ‘Strong mustard!’,” he laughed as he told of his Dijon mustard hunt in southern Europe.
An end in sight?
After the rain comes the sunshine, as they say. After last year’s disappointing harvests in both France and Canada, the recent French harvest is reported to be exceptionally good, and Canadian mustard-seed cultivators more than doubled their production this year, from 50,000 tonnes in 2021 are expected to do 115,000 tonnes. Most experts predict definite end to French mustard shortage end of this year,
Chef Grandgirard said he’s already started to feel the effects, and no longer needs to rely on charity for his guests to be able to whip up a real mayonnaise.
“Our suppliers have been able to reinstate us,” he confirmed, but noted that it was not without a big sigh of relief.
“France without mustard is like France without wine,” he said.