Mustard Pickles: The Tangy 2-In-One Condiment You Need To Try

The bright, spicy kick of yellow mustard pairs perfectly with the refreshing tang of pickles — no wonder they're some of the best condiments for a good burger. But in the most easterly Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, they like to go one step further, mixing them to create a beloved canning staple in the region: mustard pickles.

This tangy 2-in-1 condiment doesn't just rely on pickling cucumbers; there are carrots and cauliflower in the mix for some sweetness and pleasing textural variation, with spices coming from the mustard, turmeric, and often peppercorns and coriander seeds, thickened by cooking with a cornstarch slurry. Over time, it's become a pantry staple in the region and a classic accompaniment to Newfoundland's array of Canadian comfort foods, like Jigg's dinner, which combines salt beef, thick split peas, and root vegetables — the mustard pickles cut through all that richness like a dream.

How mustard pickles caused chaos in Newfoundland

Due to Newfoundland's cold climate and lack of farming-friendly soil, early residents reliant on its staple crops and foods of root vegetables, preserved meats, and tubers couldn't rely on a constant supply of sweet or acidic spring and summer crops. They preserved them, creating this zingy condiment with a kick whose zestiness could be harnessed to last all year round. 

In an interview with Atlas Obscura, Newfoundland food writer Julia Roberts said, "It was a way to get a bit of zing in your otherwise salty, fatty, bland meal of root vegetables and salt meat." 

The tradition stuck — so firmly that, in 2016, there was a mustard pickle crisis in Newfoundland. Smucker's of Canada had originally produced three popular mustard pickles brands but discontinued two, leaving locals devoid of their favorite condiment. Thankfully, it preserved the third brand, and, of course, home canners could continue to make the buttercup yellow elixir uninterrupted.

Mustard pickles from around the world

With such a devoted following, it's undeniable that this specific mustard pickle is a Newfoundland and Labrador tradition. But, the combination also has a global history, with many worldwide condiments you need to know about based on combining pickling techniques with the flavor of mustard.

Piccalilli, which uses the same mix of cauliflower, carrot, turmeric, and mustard — but not often cucumber — is a British mustard pickle derived from the historic Indian and South Asian tradition of pickling vegetables and fruits with mustard seeds and oil, broadly known as achaar. German senfgurken combine cucumbers and mustard seeds, while Chinese xuě cài and yá cài and Japanese takana achieve a similar flavor profile — but not the distinctive, mustard-yellow color — by pickling and preserving mustard green plants. So, while mustard pickles are rooted in Newfoundland and Labrador food culture, there are plenty of other opportunities to get a taste of what makes the flavor profile so delicious.