Mayonnaise, often abbreviated as mayo, is a thick, creamy sauce often used as a condiment.
It is a stable emulsion of oil, egg yolk and either vinegar or lemon juice, with many options for embellishment with other herbs and spices. Lecithin in the egg yolk is the emulsifier.
Mayonnaise varies in colour but is often white, cream, or pale yellow. It may range in texture from that of light cream to thick. In countries influenced by French culture, mustard is also a common ingredient, but the addition of mustard turns the sauce into a remoulade with a different flavour and the mustard acts as an additional emulsifier. In Spain, Portugal and Italy, olive oil is used as the oil, and mustard is never included.
Commercial egg-free mayonnaise-like spreads are available for people who want to avoid animal fat and cholesterol, or who are allergic to eggs.
The sources agree that the origin is from West Europe, published as early as 1642 in La Suite des Dons de Comus, being a kind of aioli.
Other sources place the origin of mayonnaise as being the town of Maó in Menorca (Spain), from where it was taken to France after Armand de Vignerot du Plessis’s victory over the British at the city’s port in 1756. According to this version, the sauce was originally known as salsa mahonesa in Spanish and maonesa (later maionesa) in Catalan (as it is still known in Menorca), later becoming mayonnaise as it was popularised by the French.
The Larousse Gastronomique suggests: “Mayonnaise, in our view, is a popular corruption of moyeunaise, derived from the very old French word moyeu, which means yolk of egg.” The sauce may have been christened mayennaise after Charles de Lorraine, duke of Mayenne, because he took the time to finish his meal of chicken with cold sauce before being defeated in the Battle of Arques.
Nineteenth-century culinary writer Pierre Lacam suggested that in 1459, a London woman named Annamarie Turcauht stumbled upon this condiment after trying to create a custard of some sort.
According to Trutter et al.: “It is highly probable that wherever olive oil existed, a simple preparation of oil and egg came about – particularly in the Mediterranean region, where aioli (oil and garlic) is made.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mayonnaise was in use in English as early as 1823 in the journal of Lady Blessington.
Mayonnaise can be made by hand with a mortar and pestle, whisk or fork, or with the aid of an electric mixer or blender. Mayonnaise is made by slowly adding oil to an egg yolk, while whisking vigorously to disperse the oil. The oil and the water in yolks form a base of the emulsion, while lecithin and protein from the yolks are the emulsifiers that stabilize it. Additionally, a bit of a mustard may also be added to sharpen its taste, and further stabilize the emulsion. Mustard contains small amounts of lecithin. If water is added to the yolk it can emulsify more oil, thus making more mayonnaise.
For large-scale preparation of mayonnaise where mixing equipment is being employed the process typically begins with the dispersal of eggs, either powdered or liquid, into water. Once emulsified, the remaining ingredients are then added and vigorously mixed until completely hydrated and evenly dispersed. Oil is then added as rapidly as it can be absorbed. Though only a small part of the total, ingredients other than the oil are critical to proper formulation. These must be totally hydrated and dispersed within a small liquid volume, which can cause difficulties including emulsion breakdown during the oil-adding phase. Often a long agitation process is required to achieve proper dispersal/emulsification, presenting one of the trickiest phases of the production process.
Homemade mayonnaise can approach 85% fat before the emulsion breaks down; commercial mayonnaise is more typically 70-80% fat. “Low fat” mayonnaise products contain starches, cellulose gel, or other ingredients to simulate the texture of real mayonnaise.
Commercial producers either pasteurise the yolks, freeze them and substitute water for most of their liquid, or use other emulsifiers. They also typically use soybean oil, for its lower cost, instead of olive oil. Some recipes, both commercial and homemade, use the whole egg, including the white.
Uses of Mayonnaise
Chile is the world’s third major per capita consumer of mayonnaise and first in Latin America. Since mayonnaise became widely accessible in the 1980s Chileans have used it on locos, completos, French fries, and on boiled chopped potatoes, a salad commonly known as Papas Mayo.
In European countries, especially Belgium and the Netherlands, mayonnaise is often served with pommes frites, French fries, or chips. It is also served with cold chicken or hard-boiled eggs in France, Poland, the UK, Benelux, Hungary, Austria, the Baltic States and Eastern Europe.
Within Europe there are variations in the composition of products placed on the market as “Mayonnaise”. In some countries legal provisions for the compositional standards are existing, only some of which are based on this Code of Practice.
Commercial mayonnaise sold in jars originated in Philadelphia in 1907 when Amelia Schlorer decided to start selling her own mayonnaise recipe originally used in salads sold in the family grocery store. Mrs. Schlorer’s Mayonnaise was an instant success with local customers and eventually grew into the Schlorer Delicatessen Company. Around the same time in New York City, a family from Vetschau, Germany, at Richard Hellmann’s delicatessen on Columbus Avenue, featured his wife’s homemade recipe in salads sold in their deli. The condiment quickly became so popular that Hellmann began selling it in “wooden boats” that were used for weighing butter. In 1912, Mrs. Hellmann’s mayonnaise was mass marketed and later was trademarked in 1926 as Hellmann’s Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise.
At about the same time that Mrs. Schlorer’s and Hellmann’s Mayonnaise were thriving on the East Coast of the United States, a California company, Best Foods, introduced their own mayonnaise, which turned out to be very popular in the western United States. In 1932, Best Foods bought the Hellmann’s brand. By then, both the mayonnaise had such commanding market shares in their own half of the country that it was decided that both brands be preserved. The company is now owned by Unilever.
In the Southeastern part of the United States, Mrs. Eugenia Duke of Greenville, South Carolina, founded the Duke Sandwich Company in 1917 to sell sandwiches to soldiers training at nearby Fort Sevier. Her homemade mayonnaise became so popular that her company began to focus exclusively on producing and selling the mayonnaise, eventually selling out to the C. F. Sauer Company of Richmond, Virginia, in 1929. Duke’s Mayonnaise remains a popular brand of mayonnaise in the Southeast, although it is not generally available in other markets.
In addition to an almost ubiquitous presence in American sandwiches, mayonnaise forms the basis of northern Alabama’s signature White Barbecue Sauce. It is also used to add stability to American-style butter cream and occasionally in cakes as well.
Japanese mayonnaise is typically made with apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar and a small amount of MSG, which gives it a different flavour from mayonnaise made from distilled vinegar. It is most often sold in soft plastic squeeze bottles. Its texture is thinner than most Western commercial mayonnaise. A variety containing Karashi (Japanese mustard) is also common.
Apart from salads, it is popular with dishes such as okonomiyaki, takoyaki and yakisoba and may also accompany katsu and karaage. It is sometimes served with cooked vegetables, dabbed on sushi or mixed with soy sauce, hot/spicy chilli oil or wasabi and used as dips. In the To-kai region, it is a frequent condiment on hiyashi chu-ka (cold noodle salad). Many fried seafood dishes are served with a side of mayonnaise for dipping. It is also common in Japan to use mayonnaise on pizza. Mayonnaise is also often used for cooking where it can replace butter or oil when frying vegetables or meat.
Kewpie (Q.P.) is the most popular brand of Japanese mayonnaise, advertised with a Kewpie doll logo. It is made with egg yolks instead of whole eggs, and the vinegar is a proprietary blend containing apple and malt vinegars.
Mayonnaise is very popular in Russia where it is made with sunflower seed oil which gives it a very distinctive flavour. A 2004 study showed that Russia is the only market in Europe where mayonnaise is sold more than ketchup by volume. It is used as a sauce in the most popular salads in Russia such as Russian Salad and Dressed Herring and also many others. Leading brands are Calve (marketed by Unilever) and Sloboda (marketed by Efko).
Furthermore, in many Eastern European countries (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, etc.), one can find different commercial flavours of mayonnaise, such as olive, quail-egg, and lemon.
There is no direct translation for the word “mayonnaise” in China. Although readily available in most super-markets, the English label will show the word mayonnaise, but the Chinese label translates as “Thick Yolk Condiment” or “Egg Yolk Sauce” or a variation of that. It is often flavoured.
Base for other Sauces
Mayonnaise is the base for many other chilled sauces and salad dressings. For example:
- Fry Sauce – A mixture of mayonnaise, ketchup or another red sauce (e.g.Tabasco sauce, Buffalo wing sauce, or one of many smoky barbecue sauces popular in the Northwestern United States), spices, and sometimes a strong tasting salty liquid (such as Worcestershire or soy sauce) is added to balance out the sweeter red sauces. Commonly eaten on French fries in Utah, Idaho, eastern Washington and rural Oregon.
- Marie Rose Sauce – Combines mayonnaise with tomato sauce or ketchup, cream, flavourings and brandy. In North America, a processed version of Marie-Rose, called “Russian Dressing” sometimes uses mayonnaise as a base. However, most homemade varieties and nearly all commercial brands of “Russian dressing” use little or no mayonnaise as a base. They are very dark red and sweet dressings made with vegetable oil, tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, and a variety of herbs and spices (often including mustard).
- Ranch Dressing – Made of buttermilk or sour cream, mayonnaise, and minced green onions, along with other seasonings.
- Rouille – Aïoli with added saffron, red pepper or paprika.
- Salsa Golf – Created in Argentina is mayonnaise with ketchup as well as spices such as red pepper or oregano.
- Sauce Rémoulade – In classic French cuisine is mayonnaise to which has been added mustard, gherkins, capers, parsley, chervil, tarragon, and possibly anchovy essence. An industrially made variety is popular in Denmark with French fries and fried fish. It is quite different from most of the remoulade sauces that are frequently found in Louisiana and generally do not have a mayonnaise base.
- Tartare Sauce – Mayonnaise spiced with pickled cucumbers and onion. Capers, olives, and crushed hard-boiled eggs are sometimes included. A simpler recipe calls for only pickle relish to be added to the mayonnaise.
- Thousand Island Dressing – A salmon-pink dressing that combines tomato sauce and/or tomato ketchup or ketchup-based chilli sauce, minced sweet pickles or sweet pickle relish, assorted herbs and spices (usually including mustard), and sometimes including chopped hard-boiled egg — all thoroughly blended into a mayonnaise base.
- Fancy Sauce – A mix of mayonnaise and tomato ketchup.
- Certain variations of Honey Mustard are based on mayonnaise and are made by combining mayonnaise with plain mustard, brown sugar, and lemon juice.
Common Commercial Additives
Commercially made mayonnaise may contain sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, thickeners, emulsifiers, EDTA, flavour enhancers, and water. Such mixtures allow for the production of products which are low in fats and/or sugars. Commercial mayonnaise is also readily available without these additional ingredients.
A typical formulation for commercially made mayonnaise (not low fat) can contain as much as 80 percent vegetable oil, usually soybean but sometimes olive oil. Water makes up about 7-8 percent and egg yolks about six percent. Some formulas use whole eggs instead of just yolks. The remaining ingredients include vinegar (4%), salt (1%) and sugar (1%). Low-fat formulas will typically decrease oil content to just 50 percent and increase water content to about 35 percent. Egg content is reduced to 4% and vinegar to 3%. Sugar is increased to 1.5% and salt lowered to 0.7%. Gums/thickeners (4%) are added to increase viscosity, improve texture and ensure a stable emulsion.
There are several ways to prepare mayonnaise, but on average mayo is approximately 700 kilocalories (2,900 kJ) per 100 grams of product.
There are egg-free mayonnaise-like spreads available for people who want to avoid animal fat and cholesterol, or who have egg allergies. These are also suitable for vegans, and for religious vegetarians who abstain from egg consumption (such as followers of Hindu vegetarianism). A popular substitute for mayonnaise is a mashed avocado with a squeeze of lemon; for example, tuna salads and egg salads are often made using avocado instead of mayonnaise.
Sauces for salads are often called “dressings”. The concept of salad dressing varies across cultures.
There are three basic types of salad dressing:
- Creamy dressings, usually based on mayonnaise or fermented milk products, such as yoghurt, sour cream (crème fraîche, smetana), buttermilk
- Cooked dressings, which resemble creamy dressings, but are usually thickened by adding egg yolks and gently heating.
Vinaigrette is a mixture (emulsion) of salad oil and vinegar, often flavoured with herbs, spices, salt, pepper, sugar, and other ingredients. It is also used as a sauce or marinade.
In North America, mayonnaise-based Ranch dressing is most popular, with vinaigrettes and Caesar-style dressing following close behind. Traditional dressings in France are vinaigrettes, typically mustard-based, while sour cream (smetana) and mayonnaise are predominant in eastern European countries and Russia. In Denmark, dressings are often based on crème fraîche. In southern Europe, salad is generally dressed by the diner with oil and vinegar. In Asia, it is common to add sesame oil, fish sauce, citrus juice, or soy sauce to salad dressings.
Common Salad Dressings
The following are examples of common salad dressings:
- Blue Cheese Dressing
- Caesar dressing
- Extra virgin olive oil
- French dressing
- Ginger Dressing – Sweet and tangy ginger dressing is wonderful on a simple shredded lettuce salad or as a coleslaw dressing.
- Honey Dijon
- Italian dressing
- Louis dressing
- Ranch Dressing – A type of salad dressing made of some combination of buttermilk, salt, garlic, onion, herbs (commonly chives, parsley, and dill), and spices (commonly black pepper, paprika, and ground mustard seed), mixed into a sauce.
- Russian Dressing – This classic creamy and tangy salad dressing melds smooth mayonnaise and ketchup with a little Tabasco and horseradish for kick.
- Tahini –
- Thousand Island Dressing – Thousand Island dressing is the favoured accompaniment to many dishes, including crisp salads, seafood cocktails and crudités. It also makes a fine condiment for spreading on burgers and sandwiches.
- Wafu dressing