Sunday Food: Mayonnaise
(Picture courtesy of Paul at flickr.com.)
The final condiment in this three week series, to give it equal time, is more like a salad dressing than the previous ones, mustard and ketchup. While many sandwich eaters will find that a mayonnaise is part of their salad sandwiches, it seems that only a minority put them on those standard hamburgers and hot dogs, or other meat sandwiches. As a kid, I liked mayo on my sandwiches, but somewhere along the way I grew into mustard, and now that is what I prefer.
Sources place the origin of mayonnaise as being the town of Mahón in Menorca, Spain, from where it was taken to France after Armand de Vignerot du Plessis‘s victory over the British at the city’s port in 1756. According to this version, the sauce was originally known as salsa mahonesa in Spanish and maonesa (later maionesa) in Catalan (as it is still known in Menorca), later becoming mayonnaise as it was popularized by the French.
The Larousse Gastronomique suggests: “Mayonnaise, in our view, is a popular corruption of moyeunaise, derived from the very old French word moyeu, which means yolk of egg.” The sauce may have been christened mayennaise after Charles de Lorraine, duke of Mayenne, because he took the time to finish his meal of chicken with cold sauce before being defeated in the Battle of Arques.
Nineteenth-century culinary writer Pierre Lacam suggested that in 1459, a London woman named Annamarie Turcauht stumbled upon this condiment after trying to create a custard of some sort.
According to Trutter et al.: “It is highly probable that wherever olive oil existed, a simple preparation of oil and egg came about — particularly in the Mediterranean region, where aioli (oil andgarlic) is made.”
Mayonnaise can be made by hand with a mortar and pestle, whisk or fork, or with the aid of an electric mixer or blender. Mayonnaise is made by slowly adding oil to an egg yolk, while whisking vigorously to disperse the oil. The oil and the water in yolks form a base of the emulsion, while lecithin and protein from the yolks are the emulsifiers that stabilize it. Additionally, a bit of a mustard may also be added to sharpen its taste, and further stabilize the emulsion. Mustard contains small amounts of lecithin. If vinegar is added directly to the yolk it can emulsify more oil, thus making more mayonnaise.
For large-scale preparation of mayonnaise where mixing equipment is being employed the process typically begins with the dispersal of eggs, either powdered or liquid, into water. Once emulsified, the remaining ingredients are then added and vigorously mixed until completely hydrated and evenly dispersed. Oil is then added as rapidly as it can be absorbed. Though only a small part of the total, ingredients other than the oil are critical to proper formulation. These must be totally hydrated and dispersed within a small liquid volume, which can cause difficulties including emulsion breakdown during the oil-adding phase. Often a long agitation process is required to achieve proper dispersal/emulsification, presenting one of the trickiest phases of the production process.
Commercial mayonnaise sold in jars originated in Philadelphia in 1907 when Amelia Schlorer decided to start selling her own mayonnaise recipe originally used in salads sold in the family grocery store. Mrs. Schlorer’s Mayonnaise was an instant success with local customers and eventually grew into the Schlorer Delicatessen Company. Around the same time in New York City, a family from Vetschau, Germany, at Richard Hellmann’s delicatessen on Columbus Avenue, featured his wife’s homemade recipe in salads sold in their delicatessen. The condiment quickly became so popular that Hellmann began selling it in “wooden boats” that were used for weighing butter. In 1912, Mrs. Hellmann’s mayonnaise was mass-marketed and later was trademarked in 1926 as Hellmann’s Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise.
At about the same time that Mrs. Schlorer’s and Hellmann’s Mayonnaise were thriving on the East Coast of the United States, a California company, Best Foods, introduced their own mayonnaise, which turned out to be very popular in the western United States. In 1932, Best Foods bought the Hellmann’s brand. By then, both mayonnaises had such commanding market shares in their own half of the country that it was decided that both brands be preserved. The company is now owned by Unilever.
In the southeastern part of the United States, Mrs. Eugenia Duke of Greenville, South Carolina, founded the Duke Sandwich Company in 1917 to sell sandwiches to soldiers training at nearby Fort Sevier. Her homemade mayonnaise became so popular that her company began to focus exclusively on producing and selling the mayonnaise, eventually selling out to the C. F. Sauer Company of Richmond, Virginia, in 1929. Duke’s Mayonnaise remains a popular brand of mayonnaise in the Southeast, although it is not generally available in other markets.
In addition to an almost ubiquitous presence in American sandwiches, mayonnaise forms the basis of northern Alabama’s signature white barbecue sauce. It is also used to add stability to American-style buttercream and occasionally in cakes as well.
Most of us have encountered mayonnaise used on french fries, but it’s not something I’ve ever tried. Making potato, macaroni or egg salad is quicker with a commercial mayo, but when I do it up right, I make my own salad dressing and it really is a much better salad.
The legend of mayonnaise as growing out of the Black Plague was one I encountered back in youth, that in order to make dressing without milk, it was whipped up by the palace chefs who wanted to avoid contact with the outside world. I don’t guarantee it as true, but it seemed interesting at the time. Anyone else ever heard that one, or another legend about the origins of these condiments.
(Picture courtesy of Ben Sutherland at flickr.com.)
(Picture courtesy of Robin Corps at flickr.com.)