In the world of mayonnaise, everyone knows that Hellmann’s has a presence on the East Coast, while Best Foods is what you’ll find on the West Coast. Regardless, they’re made by the same company and are the same product. Or at least that’s what has long been taken for granted about these two mayo heavyweights. The products even feature the same ingredients in the same listed, quantitative order. So, they have to taste the same … right?
Just a brief recap here: Hellmann’s and Best Foods feature the same lettering, font, blue ribbon packaging, and, heck, even the same tagline, “Bring Out The Best.” Both products are made in the same factory. But how did that come about? Well, Richard Hellmann made the iconic Hellmann’s mayonnaise way back in 1905 after opening up his own delicatessen in New York City. The mayonnaise had so much success that he eventually had to quit the deli and open up his own factory to mass produce the stuff.
Eventually, Hellmann became a packaged food bigwig, serving on the board of General Foods for a number of years. By 1932, after a few mergers and whatnot, Hellmann’s mayo and popular West Coast mayo brand Best Foods were owned by the same company. Best Foods adopted Hellmann’s popular blue ribbon packaging for its own in 1968, and, to this day, Hellmann’s reigns supreme east of the Rockies, while Best Foods is what you’ll find on grocery store shelves west of the Rockies.
Now, this is where things get tricky. Some people claim that Best Foods kept each brand’s mayonnaise recipe unaltered, while others suggest that they assimilated into one singular recipe. We attempted to get to the bottom of this the old fashioned way: We tasted them side by side. What did we find? Unless our palates deceive us, these two mayos taste different.
I brought in Mythical Kitchen’s Chef-in-Chief Josh Scherer for this taste test, and I was delighted by how much it broke his brain. At first, Josh said they tasted exactly the same. But then he (correctly, I think) ascertained that Hellmann’s was like an “eggy pudding” and Best Foods had more tang to it. We all found, through a blindfolded taste test, that the two seemed to have distinct flavors and textures. Although the ingredients listed are the same, these two mayos don’t taste alike. Hell, they even look different. Unscrew the cap to both a jar of Best Foods and Hellmann’s, and you may notice that Hellmann’s has an eggier, more custard-like texture, while Best Foods is smoother. Why is that? I have an idea.
Here’s what the FAQ section of Best Foods’ website said back in 2003:
What is the difference between Hellmann’s® and Best Foods® Mayonnaise?
The products are basically the same. Both trademarks evolved simultaneously – Hellmann’s® in the East and Best Foods® in the West. Taste preferences vary; some people find that Best Foods® Mayonnaise is slightly more tangy.
Some people find Best Foods to be more tangy? To us, Best Foods is absolutely more tangy. To see if I could get more current info on the matter, I called up Hellmann’s/Best Foods and spoke to a mayonnaise representative (loved typing that out). “For proprietary reasons,” she told me, they don’t have to disclose the exact formula for each mayonnaise, and they chose not to. Instead, the mayo rep, a very nice woman whose name I forget, listed off each ingredient for both products, which are exactly the same. When I said, “Yes, but they taste noticeably different,” she said, “Well, taste is pretty subjective.”
That’s true, but I do this for a living, pal. And to my mind there’s nothing subjective about the contrast in flavor between these two mayonnaise icons. Here’s my theory: With Hellmann’s, you get more of the savory, eggy umami because less lemon juice is used. Hellmann’s is tangy but not so tangy that it feels brightly acidic. Best Foods, on the other hand, presumably uses more lemon juice, which makes it taste different and gives it a consistency that differs from the custard-like texture of Hellmann’s.
But which is better? Okay, that might be subjective, but we have to go Hellmann’s on this one. With less acid, you get to absorb more of that fatty, glorious decadence that is iconic to Hellmann’s mayonnaise. It’s why Hellmann’s landed at number one in our mayonnaise taste test, while Best Foods didn’t rank.
We obviously can’t say for sure whether the products are different (and the brands aren’t giving away any secrets), but it would certainly make sense if the company preserved the individual recipes. Best Foods’ parent company bought out Hellmann’s, kept the name, and eventually adopted the blue ribbon packaging—why on earth would they change Hellmann’s recipe? If their plan was to keep selling the popular Hellmann’s mayonnaise, changing the way it tastes wouldn’t make sense. Feel me? You don’t switch up the recipe for a dish everyone loves, right?
Here at Sporked, we get to the bottom of flavor. And as far as mayo goes, we say Hellmann’s is the king of flavor.