What Is Mayonnaise Made of, Actually?

In my opinion, mayonnaise is the most American condiment. When I think back to any family 4th of July picnic, Thanksgiving feast, or South Jersey shore vacation, there were always at least three mayo-based salads on the table. Obviously, the most patriotic thing to do would be to learn about what mayonnaise is, where it comes from, and why we don’t name highways and schools after it.

Where is mayonnaise from?

Mayonnaise is so good, there’s a fight over its origins. Some food historians agree that it is of Spanish origin. In the 18th century, there are records of a mayo-like sauce that was developed on the island of Minorca in the city Port Mahon—hence the name, mahonnaise. Later on, a French chef, who haughtily believed his mother country to be the origins of all good sauces, claimed that mayo originated from the town of Bayonne—thus the name, bayonnaise

No matter the origin, mayo found its way into English and German cuisine and eventually made the jump to its true home, the United States. In as early as 1838, mayo appeared on the menu at New York’s Delmonico’s Steakhouse. Even president Calvin Coolidge raved about his family’s home mayonnaise. Maybe it helped contribute to the Coolidge Prosperity of his time as president. Or, perhaps it was his liberal use of the condiment that ultimately led to the Great Depression during his final year in office. Let’s all just agree that condiments are key elements of government policy and move on.

Commercial mayonnaise became available in 1907; almost simultaneously, Mrs. Schlorer’s brand mayo in Philadelphia and Hellman’s brand mayo in New York hit the shelves. By 1912, Hellman’s was off to the races, and we are blessed to still have their products on our shelves.

What is mayonnaise made of?

The two main ingredients in mayo are egg yolk and oil that go through an emulsion process, which I previously thought was a service you could get at a day spa. As the egg yolks are vigorously whisked, oil is slowly added to it. Much in the way that mayo bonds the innards of a turkey sandwich to its bread, the emulsion process performs some bonding on the molecular level between the oil droplets and the water in the eggs. The protein from the yolks serves as a stabilizer for the entire mixture.

If you are making mayonnaise at home, you could stop right there. But it is very common to add lemon juice to the mixture, as well as a dash of Dijon mustard for a little bit of a kick. Ultimately, it’s the method of production that gets you to that classic mayo taste and consistency.

Commercial mayonnaise will still have that oil and egg base, but often brands vary in the extra ingredients they use, including salt, sugar, undetermined “spices,” and usually some kind of preservative. There’s a wide variety of mayo flavors beyond the traditional Hellman’s we all know and love: Kewpie mayo, Baconnaise, chipotle mayo, and many others have a host of different ingredients, so read your labels carefully.

There are also things like Miracle Whip, which is considered a “dressing” and not officially a mayo, but still has a very similar consistency and taste. Miracle Whip has less eggs and more corn syrup/cornstarch that is mixed with the oil. Vegan mayonnaise also exists, which is often soy-based. 

Is mayonnaise gluten free and dairy free?

Yes and yes. The only box it doesn’t tick is vegan. However, in regards to gluten, there are often sneaky little ways brands get gluten into their products. Most brands have “gluten-free” on the label, though, so you should be fine if you look for that. 

Another thing to consider: Mayo in a jar is highly susceptible to gluten contamination, since people are sticking spoons and knives into it over and over. So, if you live in a home that has different levels of gluten intolerance, a squeeze bottle is probably best. Or, just get two big jars and label them “gluten-free” and “gluten-whee!”

What’s your favorite way to use mayonnaise?

Share your favorites in the comments! For me, it’s deviled eggs, which, if you think about it, is just putting more eggs into eggs. You might say that would be too much of a good thing, but I could eat twenty of them in one sitting. Don’t judge me. It would be un-American of you.

what is mayonnaise

Best Mayonnaise

Now that you know all about mayo, find out what the best mayonnaise is. We ate mayo off a spoon in order to find the best mayo brand.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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