In cooking, mayonnaise is a thick, creamy sauce, usually of a white or light yellow color, which is made and eaten cold. It is a stable emulsion of vegetable oil dispersed in egg yolk, flavored with vinegar or lemon juice (which helps the emulsion), and sometimes tarragon. Other seasonings call for other names (see below).
- Aioli is olive oil mayonnaise combined with garlic.
- Tartare sauce is mayonnaise spiced with capers and chunks of pickles.
- Russian dressing is mayonnaise with tomato sauce or ketchup added.
- Thousand Island dressing is Russian dressing with pickles and herbs.
Mayonnaise is made by slowly adding oil to a beaten egg yolk while whisking vigorously to disperse the oil into the liquid. Egg yolk contains lecithin, which acts as the emulsifier. It is then seasoned with salt or other spices.
Basic recipe for handmade mayonnaise
These steps produce a very basic—and not very interesting—mayonnaise. The Wiki Cookbook has more elaborate varieties, and a more thorough description of the process. The procedure can be done either with an electric blender or by hand with a whisk. Using a whisk, however, involves a fairly large physical effort.
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup of vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons of vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- Separate the yolk and discard the egg white.
- Mix the yolk, vinegar, and salt in a blender at medium speed for 30 seconds.
- Add one tablespoon of oil to the running blender, a quarter teaspoon at a time.
- Continue adding oil, still a quarter teaspoon at a time and still slowly, until about half of the oil is in the mixture.
- Pour the remaining oil in blender, in a slow but steady stream.
Check every 15 to 30 seconds to see if the mixture has emulsified by turning off the blender. While it is still a fluid, the mixture quickly regains a smooth, flat surface. When it has emulsified, ripples on the surface remain even when the blender is off, and a spoon dragged across the surface creates a trough that does not fill in. It may take five- to ten-minutes of blending before the mayonnaise is finished.
Homemade mayonnaise can approach 75% fat before the emulsion breaks down; commercial mayonnaises are more typically 65-70% fat. Commercial products typically replace much or all of the egg yolk with water, requiring the addition of lecithin or another emulsifier from sources such as soy (some commercial mayonnaises may thus be appropriate for vegans). "Low fat" mayonnaise products contain starches, cellulose gel, or other ingredients to simulate the texture of real mayonnaise.
Homemade mayonnaise can also be made using raw egg whites, with no yolks at all, at least if it is done at high speed in a food processor. The resulting texture appears to be the same, and—if properly seasoned with salt, pepper, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, and a little paprika—it tastes similar to traditional mayonnaise made with egg yolks.
Since homemade mayonnaise contains raw egg yolks, it poses a danger of salmonella poisoning. Commercial producers pasteurize the yolks, or freeze them, and substitute water for most of their liquid, or use other emulsifiers. At home, be sure to use the freshest eggs possible, and thoroughly clean them before use. Some stores sell pasteurized eggs for home use. You can also coddle the eggs in 170°F water and remove the hot yolks, which will have cooked slightly, from the whites. Homemade mayonnaise will only keep under refrigeration for three to four days. A lower-fat version can be made with silken tofu.
Commercial mayonnaise sold in jars originated in New York City, in Manhattan's Upper West Side. In 1905, the first ready-made mayonnaise was sold at Richard Hellmann's delicatessen on Columbus Avenue, between 83rd and 84th Streets. In 1912, Mrs. Hellmann's mayonnaise was mass marketed and called Hellmann's Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise.
At about the same time that Hellmann's Mayonnaise was 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. Head-to-head competition between the two brands was averted when, in 1932, Best Foods bought out the Hellmann's brand. By then both mayonnaises had such commanding market shares in their own half of the country that it was decided that both brands and recipes be preserved. To this day, Best Foods Mayonnaise is only sold west of the Rocky Mountains, while Hellmann's is sold east of the Rockies.
Mayonnaise made its English-language debut in a cookbook of 1841, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Mayonnaise is generally said to have been created by the chef of Louis François Armand du Plessis, duc de Richelieu in 1756, to celebrate the Duke's victory over the British at the port of Mahon (the capital of Minorca in the Balearic Islands). It is supposedly from that port's name that the word mayonnaise is derived. But this often-repeated story seems flawed.
Antoine Carême speculated in 1833 that the name was derived from the French word manier, meaning 'to handle, to feel, to ply,' thus possibly in this case 'to stir or blend'. Carême appears to have been straining to come up with an etymology for sauce 'Mayonnaise' . It is inconceivable that Carême—trained by the greatest pâtissier in Napoleonic Paris, creator of French haute cuisine, and chef d'hotel to the duc de Talleyrand—would not know the history of the name, had mayonnaise been created as recently as 1756. Indeed, Talleyrand himself grew up under the Ancien regime (he had already held a bishopric), was a fastidious connoisseur of the table and moved in much the same circles as the Richelieu family. The origin of 'mayonnaise' must be much older than 1756, if it was obscure to Carême.
In fact it may appear more credible that sauce Mayonnaise was originally named for Charles of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne (in northwest France), who presided over the meeting of the Estates General in January 1593 that had been summoned for the purpose of choosing a Catholic ruler for France. The sauce may have remained unnamed until after the Battle of Arques in 1589. It may then have been christened "Mayennaise" in 'honor' of Charles de Lorraine, duc de Mayenne, because he took the time to finish his meal of chicken with cold sauce before being defeated in battle by Henri IV.
- Creative Cooking School website: offers several possible origins of sauce mayonnaise