News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

French supermarkets have been low on mustard. The main cause stems from Canada


For months, shoppers in France have seen a worrying gap in the condiment aisle. A severe mustard shortage has troubled the country, one of the world's top mustard consumers. Emma Jacobs reports the shortage actually has roots an ocean away.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: First, Gabrielle Villais noticed the popular mustard brands had gone missing from Paris supermarkets, then the lesson-known ones. And then even the fancy specialty mustards had sold out. Its absence was jarring, says Villais.

GABRIELLE VILLAIS: It's both cultural. It's a family thing. It's a little bit sentimental. It's also quite reassuring because it's always, always in your fridge.

JACOBS: Luckily, Villais, a translator and political consultant, had a vacation planned to Dijon, the region of France synonymous with the country's favorite condiment.

VILLAIS: We were looking forward to be able to score some mustard because there had been a shortage for a couple of weeks in Paris already.

JACOBS: In Dijon, you can visit mustard producers like some people visit wineries. But she found even their gift shops had run short.

VILLAIS: Even they didn't have anything but very odd-flavored mustard.

JACOBS: Because it turns out, only a fraction of the mustard seed used by French mustard producers grows in Dijon. Most of the seed used by manufacturers actually comes from the Canadian prairies. The country produces half the world's exports of mustard seed.


JACOBS: That's the sound of a combine harvesting mustard on the farm of Kevin Hursh in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. It's a busy time of year for Hirsch, who's bringing in a harvest that's been impacted for a second year by a lingering drought. But things aren't nearly as bad as last year.

KEVIN HURSH: It just refused to rain. And then temperatures ratcheted upwards, especially in early July, getting close to 40 degrees. And crops just couldn't take it. So it's a difficult thing to watch your year's work wither.

JACOBS: Forty degrees Celsius is 104 Fahrenheit. Overall, mustard yields in the province were down by more than half. The war in Ukraine has also worsened shortages because that country also produces mustard seeds. But experts say it's climate change and not war that is the long-term worry. Dave Sauchyn, director of the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, says droughts are a natural part of their climate, but hotter temperatures can make them more severe. That's a worrying prospect for such a big food-producing region.

DAVE SAUCHYN: Mustard was impacted by the drought, and mustard is an important export crop. But in the bigger picture, there's probably more serious threats than just the loss of the mustard crop.

JACOBS: For mustard this year, at least, yields in Canada look a little higher. Farmers also planted more acres this season, so France's condiment shortage should come to an end soon. In Paris, Gabrielle Villais is looking forward to it.

VILLAIS: The next year, barbecues are saved.

JACOBS: Though she says the shortage has reminded her things we take for granted have become more vulnerable. And she did bring something special home from her Dijon vacation, not mustard but harissa, the North African-style chili paste. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emma Jacobs
[Copyright 2024 NPR]