Mayonnaise

Published June 1, 2012. From Cook's Country.

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?

Overview:

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… read more

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 the best-tasting brands had the fewest ingredients and the simplest flavors. Tasters downgraded dressed-up variations that used cider vinegar instead of more neutral distilled vinegar, or honey instead of sugar (commercial manufacturers often include a little sweetener). We didn’t like add-ins such as dried garlic or onion either; they turned plain mayonnaise into something closer to salad dressing. Our top-rated brand didn’t even include lemon juice or mustard, though we use both in the test kitchen’s recipe for Homemade Mayonnaise.

Surprisingly, fat levels in the mayonnaises didn’t affect our rankings. Aside from the “light” version, all contained 10 to 12 grams of fat per tablespoon; our favorite had 11 grams. As is often the case at our tastings, what did matter was salt. The top-ranked portion of the lineup had more than the bottom portion; indeed, plenty of salt helped our light mayonnaise make the grade. It had 125 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon; the rest of the lineup averaged 79 milligrams. The preservative calcium disodium EDTA, used in five of the seven brands, also adds a faint salty taste; the two that didn’t use it ranked fourth and sixth.

In the end, we liked all the mayonnaises in our final lineup enough to recommend them, although we had reservations about the bottom two. Our winner nudged aside our reigning champion. Not only did it have the shortest ingredient list, but it was also the only brand that used egg yolks alone (no whites) for a richer, deeper flavor. Unfortunately, while our winner is a powerhouse brand in the South and Southeast, if you live elsewhere, you’ll have to mail-order it. Our close runner-up and former favorite is still a fine option and is available nationwide.

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  • Product Tested

    Price*

  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Recommended - Winner

    Blue Plate Real Mayonnaise

    Tasters praised Blue Plate’s “great balance of taste and texture,” calling it “solid, straight-up mayo” and “a close second to homemade.” But while it’s one of the top-selling brands in the country, you’ll have to mail-order it unless you live in the South or Southeast.

     

    $4.79 for 32 oz (15 cents per oz)

  • Recommended

    Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise

    Our previous favorite, Hellmann’s is the top-selling mayonnaise by a wide margin and is available nationwide (it’s sold as Best Foods west of the Rockies). Tasters praised it as “creamy and tangy,” with a “nice eggy flavor.”

     

    $4.79 for 30 oz (16 cents per oz)

  • Recommended

    Hellmann's Light Mayonnaise

    With about one-third the fat of its full-fat sibling, this light mayonnaise won fans with its “eggy” flavor and “creamy” texture. “Tastes fatty, which you want in mayonnaise,” one taster noted. A few people detected a “fake” aftertaste, but to most, this light product, with plenty of salt to boost flavor and starch for body, seemed like “the real deal.”

     

    $4.79 for 30 oz (16 cents per oz)

  • Recommended

    Spectrum Organic Mayonnaise

    Tasted plain, this mayonnaise was “bright, sweet, eggy, creamy, and real,” with a “pleasant and rich mayo texture” that was only slightly “oily.” In macaroni salad, however, tasters found Spectrum a bit “greasy.”

     

    $5.79 for 16 oz (36 cents per oz)

  • Recommended

    Duke's Mayonnaise

    “Rich, smooth, and velvety,” with a “strong, sharp vinegar taste” and “eggy” flavor—but “the balance is off.” Despite its fanatical following in the South, Duke’s Mayonnaise struck our tasters as merely fine.

     

    $3.50 for 32 oz (11 cents per oz)

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Spectrum Organic Mayonnaise with Olive Oil

    Despite the “olive oil” in its name, this mayonnaise contains less olive oil than vegetable oil (listed as soy/canola on the label). Few tasters even noticed any olive oil flavor. While we liked Spectrum’s “eggy, tangy, creamy, and sweet” qualities, we found it “oily,” or worse (“way too greasy”). Plus, it’s nearly triple the price of our winner and it tasted like salad dressing. Blame too much mustard, vinegar, and lemon.

     

    $6.59 for 12 oz (55 cents per oz)

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Kraft Mayo

    While this mayonnaise was “sweet and tangy,” with “nice mild flavor,” it lacked the “egginess” of our top-ranked brands, and tasters complained of off-flavors, from “sweet onion” to “Kraft mac and cheese powder.”

     

    $5.59 for 30 oz (19 cents per oz)

*PRICES SUBJECT TO CHANGE
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