Whatever we want to create in the kitchen, mayonnaise seems to wait on the shelf like an edible WD40, able to fix anything. A bland surfactant that adds elegance, universal acceptance and just a smidge of thrilling fear to any room temperature picnic buffet. There are reasons to hate it.
But I don’t. I adore the stuff.
In fact, for me sandwiches are always excuses to pile in more mayo. The tart creaminess, the luscious unctuous texture. It’s quietly addictive and I have been hooked ever since I could unscrew the lid of the wide mouthed jar.
In college, our cafeteria would receive cartons labeled “heavy-duty mayonnaise.” It was viscous and chalky, like a desk-top bottle of White-Out, and very different from the creamy translucent blue ribbon mayo we had in our home fridge. Since mayonnaise is 100% fat calories, maybe the “heavy duty” had surpassed 100% fat, and had somehow broken the condiment space-time continuum, or perhaps had its own gravitational pull. I was impressed.
Mayonnaise is at once ubiquitous, yet mysterious. Where did it come from, and how did it get its name?
I did a little research, and internet wisdom tells us that it was named after the port of Mahon, in Spain, where there was an important battle. Many important battles, in fact. I say humph. This oversimplified explanation of origin seems only semi-plausible. I have a hard time believing that after massive bloody battle, a chef thought “Hey, I think I will invent an olive oil based emulsion that will taste great on ham sandwiches.” Comfort food after the clash? I don’t know. Check out the convoluted story here.
Some sources credit the French for inventing mayo. There is the traditional aioli from Provence which is so very close to the recipe for mayo, although aioli usually has garlic (mayo doesn’t), and no citrus juice (mayo does). Again, seems plausible, but not conclusive. And the French word aioli comes from the Catalan term al i oli which means garlic and oil. It seems like the history of mayo ping pongs from Spain, to France and back to Spain again.
As for the name mayonnaise, there is much debate. The French word for “stir” is manier, which could have turned into the name mayonnaise. But in Spanish, something from the town of Mahon would be called (you got it) Mahonesa. We are back to square one. There is more research for me to do.
So, is mayonnaise a French or Spanish invention? My opinion is that mayo is a French culinary development, in the tradition of other fine sauces created by the French, such as Béarnaise, Hollandaise, and Béchamel. But seeing as Spain is the top producer of olives and olive oil in the world, chances are the French used Spanish olive oil when creating this condiment.
Also, I wonder if citrus shipments were processed through the ports of Mahon, as lemon or lime juice is one of the elements in a true mayonnaise, and not an element of aioli. Since citrus juice is used in most mayo, it would be interesting to head to the island of Minorca, the location of the port of Mahon, to do some research on what commodities processed through that port. Seville and Spain along the Mediterranean are still major producers of citrus, and traditionally mayo uses lemon juice. If lemon juice is a key element in mayonnaise, then perhaps mayo was developed in Mahon where there was a bustling trade of lemons.
I think this calls for a research trip to Spain. Sweet!
Roasted Potatoes for the Non-Cooks For my buddies that don’t cook all that often (and, you know who you are…) my message to you in this post is that the biggest trick to good cooking is…good shopping. And I am not talking about packaged products. When you find the right fresh produce, cooking from scratch […]
Mole Poblano is Mysterious and Delicious From the Mexican city and state of Puebla, Mole Poblano is one of the most revered, mysterious and treasured recipes in Latin American cuisine. Many attribute the sauce’s creation to Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz, a cloistered nun that lived in Puebla in the late 1600’s. Legend has […]
Making Ranch Dressing at the Ranch If you are ever at a party with a bunch of chefs, and you need some sort of ice breaker comment, just make a joke about ranch dressing. It’s a guaranteed laugh… sort of an inside joke with food service professionals. Ranch dressing started it’s rookie career on top […]