Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What I've Learned About Mayonnaise

Oh, grocery store mayonnaise.  It tastes fine, it is SO easy, and it is SO cheap.  That's the trifecta of grocery store value, isn't it?

Why in the good Lord's name would I ever want to make (from scratch!) something that cheap, easy, and decent-tasting?

I'll tell you why.

The ingredient list.  Horror!

I have looked and looked (and looked), and I just can't find any store-bought mayo (even from the "natural food" aisle) that meets my criteria:

No canola oil
No soybean oil
No mysterious "vegetable" oil
No preservatives
No "flavors" added

There is a very good reason I can't find a product that doesn't contain those first three oils: they are "shelf-stable" (read: rancid, but deodorized and bleached so they will last forever without anyone suspecting), and basically ubiquitous on the American grocery store shelves.

Even the seemingly improved olive oil-type mayonnaise uses canola/soybean/vegetable oil to achieve that shelf-stability and mild flavor that people expect.  And with the recent expose on not-so-virgin olive oil this last year, who knows what that mayonnaise really contains, anyway?

But for me (and maybe for you?), having those old familiar sauces and condiments that were a part of my childhood made eating other real food seem a little less scary, a little more...doable.  There is just something about the taste of normal mayo from a glass jar that makes my frightening and strange homemade soaked or sprouted sourdough taste like a comfort food.

Also, who learns to make and understand emulsions when they are growing up in the kitchen?  Not I.  Ants On A Log?  Yes.  Mysterious oil-and-water-come-together-at-last?  No.

These are all the reasons I was afraid to make homemade mayonnaise.  Oh, and did I mention that I once went all out, gung ho, with my lightly-flavored olive oil, mustard, whey, egg yolks, and trusty, splattered copy of Nourishing Traditions, and started to make mayonnaise, only to have it "split" when I added the oil too fast?  Unfortunately, I didn't know the damage could be repaired, so I just tossed everything in the trash and put that on my list of "Things I really don't want to try again."

We carried on, eating grocery store mayo and trying not to think about it.

But, oh, that ingredient list.
Well, the other day, I just had enough.

I am pleased to announce to the world that I have conquered mayonnaise.  Feel free to applaud loudly and extol my grit and determination.  

I have to thank my husband (again) for motivating me in this department.  He is doing so well with his new Paleo eating, and I so wanted him to have decent sauces to put on his food.  My sour cream ranch was just missing something, so I decided I'd better make mayonnaise to put in it.

It was only a little scary!

And I learned:

  • You can make a mayonnaise-type emulsion with any kind of oil you like, as long as you have an egg or egg yolk to emulsify it.  The egg yolk contains lecithin, which is the secret ingredient that makes the oil and other liquids blend together.
  • Don't make your mayo in the blender if you have to take the lid all the way off to drizzle the oil in.  It will make a mess.  It will get all over your face and hair if you peer in.  I am still cleaning mayo off my kitchen cabinets.
  • If you hand-whisk your mayo in a bowl, it will be easier to see whether the oil is emulsifying, rather than guessing and hoping while it whirs in said blender.
  • If your mayonnaise "splits," or doesn't emulsify, DON'T throw it out.  All that good oil floating on top can be re-mixed with a new egg or egg yolk for a second try.
Have you ever made your own homemade mayonnaise?  How did it go?  Do you have any ideas or advice to share?


  1. Oh my goodness. Just last week I decided to conquer the mayo experiment at home and had similar first time failure. Using a large blender, trying to pour into the top without it splattering all over the place, not having enough in the blender to even hit the blender blades, getting a good emulsion but then adding just a bit more oil and then it separates, ending in a grrrrr moment. But it still tasted oh so good so I put the runny stuff in the fridge telling myself I might still use it. Think it's too late to try to re-emulsify with another egg yolk?

    My advice is to use a small food processor if possible. I also watched a video after the fact of my failure and she tipped the processor so that the blade actually hit the contents instead of it just sitting underneath the blade. Then I would also pour even slower than I thought was humanly possible so it does not split.

    1. More parallel food adventures. :) I think you should definitely try to re-emulsify it. It's worth a try, especially if you would just throw it away otherwise.
      Thanks for the tip about tipping the food processor - that is so smart. Yes, I can't believe how slowly you have to start out!

  2. Homemade mayo is so much better. And it is a nice way to use up excess yolks when you are making an items that only uses whites.

    1. Yes! Although we seem to have the opposite problem of extra whites around our house. :)


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