On Mayonnaise

An exquisite disquisition on mayonnaise from Metafilter’s Nanukthedog:

Alright. I’ve been a high end cook/chef and I’ve also worked for as ‘Big Mayo’ a company as you can in the world. I know mayo inside and out – from making it in small batches, to mass production and sourcing, to which demographics and some indication as to ‘why’ those demographics buy it.

So first I’ll talk about what mayo has in it and why mayo is what it is. It is the quintessential definition of mise en place. There is not a single unnecessary component to make it what it is. It is culinarily perfect – even if you don’t like it. Mayo, like making wheels for a bicycle, is an art form of craftsmanship. The ingredients are simple: eggs, oil, mustard, lemon, water, salt, and spice. You can make it with a ridiculous amount of junk in it like pureed avocado or sriracha or Frank’s (on edit: Hot Sauce), or chopped up pickles, or vinegar or what have you… but if you can’t combine the first set perfectly – somebody is going to taste ‘something off’ and not be able to figure out what it is.

… Here’s the thing: big mayo makes this stuff surprisingly similar these days. There was a period where they stopped, but unsurprisingly folks have come around to understanding that their changes changed both the flavor profile too much, as well as were things that made people walk away from the product. So mayo has largely gotten back to its roots. I am of the belief that mayo requires egg – which means that you can have avegan mayo substitute, but calling something mayo that is vegan is questionably honest and causes me to raise an eyebrow to your understanding… Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that there is anything wrong with a vegan product, its just the misleading equivalent of ‘frozen dairy product’ being equated with ice cream. I think you can get some great tastes with sandwich spreads, but thickening salad dressing emulsifications does not make you a mayo without the base ingredients.

… The numbers didn’t lie. Mayo is a full on red-state established food product. Even ‘light mayo’ is red state. If you want to attract blues – Olive Oil and Organic. Everybody loves squeeze mayonnaise. The quantity consumed will be much lower in the blue states, but – full stop – they don’t consume nearly the same quantity.

The fall-off for traditional, store bought mayo purchase is a death curve aligned to the baby boomers, with millennials purchasing some, but then only the ‘squeeze’ form factor for (assumed) sandwiches. For those that bought, the purchase cycle by unit was uniform across demographics, but looking out actual ounces – the older you were the bigger the containers that you bought and the less-healthy your containers were.

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