There was a time when many of us knew how to do basic life-maintenance stuff. Sewing on a button, changing an electrical plug, adding 5 + 12 without using the calculator on our phones – all that sort of thing. Making mayonnaise (in those parts of the globe where mayonnaise is a pantry staple) was another such skill many of us had. Nowadays, if we run out of mayonnaise and the shops are closed, we are absolutely sans mayonnaise.
In a way, it’s obvious that we wouldn’t bother with this task anymore, with so many versions of what appears to be mayo on any supermarket shelf. And it’s very freeing for those previously enslaved by the process. A few of these shop simulations even manage to taste not-terrible. What is amazing is how far removed some of the versions are from actual mayo in its make-up. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in all instances, but it does make you wonder how far you can stretch the term before you need to call the stuff something else.
If you’ve ever made your own mayonnaise, (which is a much simpler task than you might imagine), you’ll know that it doesn’t hang around for long, even in the fridge. But in industrial versions, the higher acid and salt plus (often) preservatives, mean that bacterial growth is drastically retarded. Stabilizers, emulsifiers and thickeners ensure that both texture and looks remain intact. Could more be going on? It’s all very suspicious, but we should probably embrace any aspects of industrial mayo which keep us out of the hospital.
Other aspects, such as the fact that the eggs are most usually from battery farming, are less cause for celebration. While the eggs create an ethical issue, on the health front, the issue is the oil. Seeing as mayo is mostly oil, we might want to consider what sort it is. Sadly, in virtually every instance, we’re eating canola, soy or sunflower oils, extracted with the aid of heat and chemicals. Unless the words ‘cold-pressed’ are used, it’s not good stuff, no matter what the manufacturers tell you.
Which is why, oddly, the mayonnaise that’s furthest away from being real mayonnaise might be slightly better. I’m talking about Light Mayonnaise (or ‘lite’, which hurts considerably more). What makes something ‘light’? It has less oil in it. But it still fills up the bottle, right? So, what could be replacing the oil? Water of course. In most light versions, water is actually the main ingredient. And while that almost certainly means big business just gets richer, I reckon that paying them for the privilege of ingesting less of their actual product, is a really good deal.
The Association for Dressings and Sauces (yes it exists!) has more facts about salmonella, preservatives, and why we need an association for dressings and sauces.
Making your own? Once you start, it’s quite addictive. Felicity Cloake is your go-to for clear instruction on matters such as mayo.