The end of Colombia’s Dijon age

Dijon mustard. Photo: Jessica Spengler/Flickr/Creative Commons

In a historic move to reduce the sodium intake of Colombians, the national government placed Dijon mustard on its list of banned substances, and with this decision, sent the price for a jar of this famous French ingredient soaring. The decision to restrict sales of high-sodium foods quickly evaporated Dijon mustard from supermarket shelves, and given the public health threat that a spoon of mustard can represent to Colombians, travelers who have the opportunity to walk into a Publix or Whole Foods are returning with US$4.99 jars as contraband.

So why are French mustard producers up in arms over Colombia’s decision to wipe-out Dijon from the national diet? Resolution 2013 of 2020, passed during the administration of President Iván Duque, established a ceiling on sodium per-100 grams, and along with 59 other “ultra-processed foods” (including soy, canned sardines, and mayonnaise) the Ministry of Health decided to wage war on Grey Poupon, Maille and Edmond Fallot.

Even though the Colombian kitchen has not suffered as a result of the Dijon disappearing act, the resolution has affected the recipes of French cooking-inspired restaurateurs. In an opinion piece published in El Tiempo by Thierry Ways, the columnist describes “the silent tragedy” Colombian gastronomes suffering, especially when it comes to garnishing pork chops or making a creamier vinagrette.

The much-admired condiment can still be found online, however, ranging in price between COP$130,000 (US$28) and COP$150,000 (US32) per 8-ounce jar. To put price into perspective, a 15-gram spoonful of Grey Poupon costs one U.S dollar.

Given the urgency by the government to dissuade Colombians from consuming salt during the height of a deadly pandemic, and one that during strict quarantine resulted in many altered dietary states, including increased alcohol intake, the fact that Colombians can no longer buy Dijon mustard, has not yet led to a trade war between Colombia and France nor breakdown in diplomatic relations.

The national crisis over Dijon has been exacerbated by a global mustard seed shortage that started with a heat wave that ravaged back in 2021 much of western Canada, and a country that provides 80% of the brown-grain seeds needed for the French industry.

The downturn in the harvests from Alberta and Saskatchewan forced French companies to drastically reduce production. As seed supplies dwindled for a nation that consumes per-capita one kilo of Dijon per-year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also impacted supplies of the “brassica juncea” used in the classic Dijon recipe. As global demand continues for Dijon, and markets begin to supply the Burgundy region of France with its favorite seed, in Colombia, the return of Dijon to the table remains a distant prospect. And a shout-out for those who still have a jar tucked away in the pantry: break open only in an emergency.