Mayonnaise: A Minorcan Sauce

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Mayonnaise in its present form did not show up until the 19th century. Some historians believe that it is far older than that; supposedly a similar mixture that featured oil and eggs was around in the time of Ancient Egypt and was consumed later on by the Romans as well.

Mayonnaise as we know it is a French invention. The most credible origin story for it has it coming to France from the Minorcan city of Mahon. It was created for a 1756 banquet celebrating Mahon’s capture. At that time, sauces were made mostly with cream and eggs but the banquet’s chef had no cream and used oil instead. He then named the sauce mahonnaise.

Years later, the famous French Chef Marie-Antoine Careme modified the recipe by making an emulsion of egg yolk and oil. Careme’s version is the version that became popular all over the world. According to some versions of the story, the sauce was not improvised but was learned from Minorcans.

Mayonnaise could be considered one of the five French mother sauces since Hollandaise is essentially the same thing with butter used instead of oil.

By the early 1800s, the word mayonnaise was showing up in cookbooks from Britain and Germany. It became a major food trend with European chefs bringing it across the Atlantic to high-end New York City restaurants of the time like Delmonico’s.

Mayonnaise would become an American staple in the early 20th century, mainly because of Richard Hellman and his wife. The two began one of the most popular brands of mayonnaise in the world. Hellman was an immigrant from Germany who opened a deli in New York City with his wife. Her recipe for mayonnaise was used in the deli’s dishes and was beloved by customers, so much so that they wanted to buy it by itself. Hellman began selling mayonnaise and eventually began packaging Hellman’s Mayonnaise in jars.

The popularity of mayonnaise began with its use in salads. Mayonnaise-based potato salads were extremely popular as were Waldorf and tomato salads. Cooks quickly found that mayonnaise was great for covering up imperfect produce. They also found that it was great for adding moisture to sandwiches. Within a few decades, mayonnaise had moved from being a luxury for gourmets to being a staple in working-class households.

Mayonnaise flavor profile

Mayonnaise has a subtle tanginess from the mustard seed it contains and from its vinegar. It brings a creamy consistency to dishes.

Health benefits of mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is certainly a high-fat food, but it is also a good source of some important nutrients such as:

  • Vitamins: The egg yolks used to make mayonnaise provide significant amounts of vitamin D and vitamin B-6.
  • Healthy fats: Oil makes up a big part of mayonnaise recipes. You can use any edible oil you want when you make mayonnaise at home, including heart-healthy ones like flax seed and olive oils.

When used in moderation, mayonnaise may treat or prevent health issues like:

  • Heart disease: The omega-3 fatty acids found in healthy oils can be beneficial when those oils are used to make mayonnaise.
  • Osteoporosis: The egg yolks used in mayonnaise are high in calcium, which is important for reversing the loss in bone density that characterizes osteoporosis.

Common uses

Mayonnaise is the perfect binding agent for coleslaw, tuna salad, and macaroni salad. It also makes a great addition to sandwiches where it adds moisture and a hint of acidity.


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