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What Exactly Is Mayonnaise? No, It’s Not Pure Fat

A spoon sits next to a jar of mayonnaise.
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Mayonnaise is a controversial condiment. For many, it’s a love it or hate it kind of feeling. But if you’ve ever found yourself wondering what mayonnaise actually is, you might be surprised.

While some (aka me when I was a child) might think mayonnaise is just pure fat. It’s not. It’s a careful blend of oil, eggs, and vinegar.

While there are a variety of mayonnaise brands available, they’re all made from the same key ingredients: oil, egg yolks, salt, and an acidic element like vinegar and lemon juice. Many brands have various levels of these ingredients as well as core spices and seasonings that they add to create uniqueness, but if you’ve ever wondered what mayonnaise actually is, that’s it.

Slideep Plastic Round Lazy Susan

Allows keep your mayo (and other condiments) handy with this lazy susan.

So what gives mayonnaise that creamy texture if it’s, well, not made from cream? It’s a process known as emulsification. When you combine oil and vinegar, it separates, but when the egg gets whisked in, that’s when the magic happens.

The egg yolk contains lecithin, a fat emulsifier, and when you add it to the oil and vinegar, it creates a colloid, a substance made from tiny particles from one substance spread throughout a second substance crafting a permanently combined mixture. That’s what causes the texture.

If you’re wondering if you can make mayonnaise at home, the answer is yes! Thanks to mayo’s simplicity, there are tons of recipes online, and you can customize them as you wish. Add dijon for tang, and incorporate garlic for some extra flavor, the possibilities are endless.

If you’ve ever been curious about this condiment, you know now exactly what mayonnaise is.

Shea Simmons Shea Simmons
Shea Simmons is an Atlanta-based writer who has written about everything from whether Crisco is a good moisturizer to how to KonMari your space. Her work has appeared in Bustle, My First Apartment, and Make It Grateful. Read Full Bio »
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