The range of mayonnaise varieties on the shelf can make our heads spin. Do any of the new formulations really make our favorite condiment better?
Published June 1, 2012. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 6: Get Your Chile Fix
Whether it’s binding a potato salad, moistening a BLT, or holding crumbs in place on a baked fish, mayonnaise is a kitchen staple. Americans spent more than $1.3 billion on it in 2010, making it the nation’s top-selling condiment. Yes, you can make it yourself, but doing so requires careful technique, and the shelf life of homemade mayonnaise is short. That’s why more durable supermarket mayonnaise is a convenient option, and while we didn’t expect to find a brand as creamy, fresh, and, frankly, transporting as homemade, we did demand one that was perfectly respectable in a chicken salad sandwich or dolloped on a salmon burger.
The last time we held a taste test for mayonnaise, almost 10 years ago, Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise won for its classic flavors (if you live on the West Coast, you know it as Best Foods Mayonnaise). With the multitude of variations that have appeared on the market in recent years, is that brand (or any traditional mayonnaise) still best?
We loaded our shopping cart with 15 top-selling jars chosen from a list compiled by Chicago-based market research firm SymphonyIRI Group. We included everything from classic mayonnaise to Miracle Whip, as well as health-oriented olive oil–, omega 3–, or canola-based versions; reduced-fat brands; and even one lime-flavored mayonnaise. (Miracle Whip is 40 percent oil by weight, which means it’s not technically mayonnaise according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But Miracle Whip is so popular that we included it anyway.)
Back in the test kitchen, we held several rounds of blind tastings during which 24 editors and test cooks sampled all the mayonnaise varieties plain. The results led us to eliminate eight that our tasters thought tasted artificial, sour, or too sweet. The seven that remained went on to a final round of testing. We tasted these seven in Cook’s Country’s recipe for Creamy Macaroni Salad.
While the home cook slowly drizzles and whisks oil into egg yolks to make mayonnaise by hand, commercial manufacturers vigorously agitate ingredients by machine, creating hundreds of gallons of mayonnaise in minutes. To extend a product’s shelf life, they add stabilizers and preservatives, such as potassium sorbate and calcium disodium EDTA. Instead of egg yolks, they use whole eggs to cut costs (no waste, no step of separating the eggs), but since egg whites are less rich and flavorful, manufacturers add other ingredients to enhance the taste.
All that tinkering can produce mayonnaise that’s a long way from homemade. We found that t...
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