Mayonnaise – one of the most popular dressings – is an emulsion consisting of egg, oil, an acid (vinegar or lemon juice) and different spices added after taste.
Some culinary historians have discovered that a mixture of eggs with olive oil, like mayonnaise, was used since ancient times, by Egyptians and Romans. But the mayonnaise that we know and use today, as an emulsion, was developed much later – in the nineteenth century, by a famous French Chef (Marie-Antoine Carême).
It is said that the original name was „mahónnaise” and by a printing error the „h” was replaced with the „y” and thus in a cookbook published in 1841 appeared the word „mayonnaise„. At least that is the explanation given by the Oxford English Dictionary. Others argue that this mixture of egg yolks, oil and spices was created to celebrate the capture by the French – led by Louis-Francois-Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu and the godson of King Louis XIV – of the Mahón city from Menorca Island (Spanish territory) in 1756. Duke’s personal chef invented mayonnaise, on the occasion of a feast dedicated to this victory. The menu on this feast included a sauce that was supposed to be prepared from eggs and cream. Realizing that he had no cream in the kitchen, the chef replaced it with olive oil – and thus a new recipe was born. It is assumed that the chef (who unfortunately remained anonymous) named this dressing „mahonnaise” (from Mahón – which was the name of the new conquered city) in honor of the victory of the Duke of Richelieu who, besides being a military leader with obvious skills, was also a bon vivant renowned for his odd habit of inviting his guests to dine in the nude.
The French brought back home from Menorca Island a sauce made from lime juice, egg yolks, olive oil and seasoned with a little pepper, sea salt, garlic and fresh herbs.
A bit later, the famous Chef Marie-Antoine Carême (founder of the concept of haute cuisine), pretended that „mayonnaise” derived from the word „magnonaise” – „magner” meaning „done by hand” or „mixed”. However, many historians say that mayonnaise recipe that we know today was created by Carême, who whipped eggs with oil into an emulsion. Until then the basic ingredients of mayonnaise were only loosely mixed.
The French cities of Bayonne and Les Mayons claim, each of them, that they are the birth place of mayonnaise. Les Mayons is a commune in the 83th Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in south-eastern France and the inhabitants of this village are called „Mayonnais” . Bayonne is a city and sub-prefecture of the 64th department of Pyrenees-Atlantic in south-western France and its inhabitants are called „Bayonnais„. They claim that „mayonnaise” would be an alteration of „bayonnaise” sauce – that otherwise exists and is known as a mayonnaise seasoned with Espelette peppers (a variety of spicy red peppers grown in France).
Other historians believe that „mayonnaise” derives from the word „moyeunaise” or „moyeu” which means „yolk” in Old French.
In 1910, Nina Hellman, a German immigrant in New York City, prepared a dressing that her husband, Richard Hellman, put into the sandwiches and salads which he used to sell in his delicacy shop. Richard Hellman began to sell the sauce separately in some baskets which he used to weigh butter. Originally Hellman sold two versions of this sauce, and to distinguish them, he tied one of them with a blue ribbon. In 1912, it was such great demand for the „blue ribbon” that Hellman decided to sell the sauce in larger jars labeled with the „Blue Ribbon”. The business went so well that Hellman purchased a fleet of trucks for distribution and he even built a factory. That’s how the brand Hellman’s was born. Meanwhile, another company named Best Foods Inc. did the same. In 1932 Hellman’s and Best Foods merged (in fact Best Foods bought Hellman’s) and in 2000, after almost 70 years, both of the companies were absorbed by the Anglo-Dutch corporation Unilever. However, Hellman’s brand has been so successful that we still find on the market sauce jars (including mayo) labeled Hellman’s and „blue ribbon”.
So, mayonnaise is a thick, creamy sauce which chemically is a stable emulsion of oil, an emulsifier, and an acid. The emulsifier is the lecithin from the egg yolk. The acid can be vinegar or lemon juice. There are vegan versions in which egg is replaced by avocado, potatoes or flour, but their taste is far from the real mayonnaise.
|In countries influenced by French culture, mustard (especially Dijon mustard) is a normal ingredient in mayonnaise, but the addition of mustard turns the mayonnaise into a remoulade sauce, which has a different flavor, and mustard acts as an additional emulsifier.
Like the culinary dictionaries say, the classic mayonnaise is made from egg yolks. I haven’t found detailed information about the original recipe, I do not know if they used raw or cooked eggs. The fact is that we can use the yolks cooked, raw or mixed. I usually make my mayonnaise using both cooked and raw egg yolks – about 3:2 in proportion. For me, the cooked egg yolks make mayonnaise more consistent, more dense and tastier. Mayonnaise made only with raw egg yolks is more translucent. Also the cooked egg yolks help incorporating the oil and decreases the risk of mayonnaise to break. The mayonnaise version with whole egg (i.e. including egg white) is reserved for those who need a small quantity of sauce to be prepared quickly, and have a blender.
Regarding the proportion of eggs and oil, habits vary. Some prefer to put eggs as few as possible and oil as much as possible – probably due to urban legends about the cholesterol in eggs. But the classical, ideal mayonnaise contains more eggs and less oil.
So, I present to you my recipe for mayonnaise, which I’ve known since forever, it’s a family recipe and it never failed.
- 3 hard boiled egg yolks, at room temperature
- 2 raw egg yolks, at room temperature
- cold fresh juice squeezed from a medium sized lemon
- 300-400 ml of vegetable flavorless oil (sunflower oil or canola oil) – at room temperature
As you see from above, all ingredients must be at room temperature except lemon juice which must be cold (from the fridge if possible).
Put all the egg yolks (the cooked ones and the raw ones) into the mixer bowl, mash them with a fork and homogenize.
Turn on the mixer at highest speed and after a few seconds add a little oil (about 2 tablespoons). When the oil is completely incorporated, add some lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon). Then add gradually oil, little by little, pouring it slowly down the side of the bowl – not just into the middle of the mixture! – and from time to time add one or two tablespoons of lemon juice. Taste the mayonnaise to see when it reaches the sourness that you like and after that do not add more lemon juice.
This is a very important tip: never add an ingredient before the mixture is perfect homogenized.
Also, from time to time, stop the mixer and scrape the bowl with a silicone spatula.
If mayonnaise is too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of cold water. If it’s too runny, continue adding oil down the side of the bowl. Finally the mixture must be just the way you like it.
- First add a little bit of oil, and when the oil is completely incorporated, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Then continue to add oil gradually, and from time to time add some lemon juice.
- The most important tip that keeps mayonnaise from breaking: don’t add anything before the mixture is completely homogenized!
- Another tip: mix on high speed!
- Watch carefully the emulsion. If it starts getting grainy, add immediately 1-2 tablespoons of cold water while mixing on highest speed and it will fix. This tip works perfect if you intervene promptly.
- If you want mayonnaise to be more sour, you can use a concentrated solution of citric acid (lemon salt) instead of lemon juice.
- Salt, pepper or any other spice is added at the end.
- Theoretically, you can add as many vegetable oil as you like. But the perfect mayonnaise contains maximum 100 ml oil for each egg yolk.
- If you need a larger amount of mayonnaise, you can increase proportionally the quantity of eggs and oil. For example, 5 hard boiled egg yolks + 3 raw egg yolks; or 6 cooked egg yolks and 4 raw egg yolks. I use 1 liter of vegetable oil for 10 eggs.
- The classic mayonnaise used olive oil for the emulsion, but it tastes a little bitter. Sunflower oil and canola oil are neutral and they don’t affect the flavor of mayonnaise.
Myths, superstitions and curiosities:
- An old superstition said that women should not attempt to prepare mayonnaise during menstruation time, because the mixture would not blend together 🙂
- Many people still believe that mayonnaise should be whipped in a single direction, otherwise it would break. That’s not true.
- Many believe that mayonnaise should not be contaminated with any speck of egg white, because it would break. It’s not true. You can make mayonnaise using the whole egg. The difference is that mayonnaise made only with egg yolks is more consistent and dense; and the one in which are used whole eggs is more aerated.
- They say that oil must be added in very small amounts every time. If you mix on the highest speed and pour oil slowly down the side of the bowl, you may add up to 50-75 ml of oil at a time. At least that’s what I do and my mayonnaise never broke up 🙂
- They say that if you add some mustard from the beginning, the mayo would never break. It’s true that mustard is itself an emulsifier, but the mayo may still break, because others are the mistakes which may ruin a mayonnaise. Anyway, if you decide to use mustard, choose a thick one, because a runny mustard would not help at all.
- The wold’s largest consumer of mayonnaise is Russia; closely followed by other Eastern European countries, such as Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus.
- The greatest mayo consumer from Latin America is Chile.
- What’s Cooking America
- The Nibble – Great Food Finds
- Insider Monkey
- Larousse online
- Bon Appétit
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