As if to prove a point, I am sitting in front of my computer, typing with one hand and dipping chicken nuggets into mayonnaise with the other. Admittedly, it’s not even the good stuff – it’s M&S-branded mayonnaise, which is fine but certainly no substitute for a delicious Hellman’s. But to me, all mayonnaise, even not-very-good-mayonnaise, is the good stuff.
This might come as a surprise. As a food writer, I’m often expected to rise above the simple condiments. The circles I run in, usually full of food lovers and taste-makers, tend to decry mayonnaise, which pains me. “God, I hate mayo,” some of them proclaim. This happened to me not long ago while getting chips at Wetherspoons, as if we were even eating at some sort of paragon of British cuisine. “Mayonnaise is boring!” they shout. “It’s got no flavour! It looks gross!” I cringe because I was about to help myself to the squeezy bottle.
I’ve often felt embarrassed by my love for this apparently bland condiment. When the people around me make announcements about the awfulness of mayonnaise, I wonder if my reputation as a gastronome will be tarnished by the sizeable dollop I like to add to the side of my plate. But I’ve noticed a pattern of late, and it’s time to address it: the people who shout obnoxiously about hating mayonnaise are usually white people who are self-described “foodies”, which is perhaps one of the cringiest words of the 21st century. And I’ve had it.
I think it’s self-loathing, really. The same white people who decry mayonnaise see themselves in its milky complexion and feel the need to prove that they are different – exotic, even. Maybe it’s even a way of distancing themselves from the proverbial sins of their fathers. But mayo slander won’t give you a blank slate to reinvent yourself. In fact, it’s been unfairly vilified as plain and dull for too long. It’s one of the UK’s favourite condiments – second only to ketchup – for good reason, and has far more potential than we give it credit for.
How do I love thee, mayonnaise? Let me count the ways. Firstly, the way it’s made is pure magic. Eggs? Oil? White vinegar? Lemon? As they are, they don’t really make any sense. But blending them somehow creates a smooth, thick, creamy emulsion. Who on earth discovered this? There are numerous legends about how mayonnaise was first invented; some food historians say it was the French, others point to the Spanish. The sauce can be traced back to 1756, and has gone through many iterations before arriving as the eggy, almost jelly-like substance we know today.
The other thing I love about mayonnaise is how versatile it is. You can mix it with just about anything – this is something Heinz does with abandon, selling varieties like Mayomust (mayo and mustard) and Mayocue (mayo and barbecue sauce). I draw the line at some of the brand’s more Frankenstein-esque creations – monstrosities such as Creme Egg mayo and hot cross bun mayo. Some things are better left alone. But mayonnaise mixed with other savoury condiments is revelatory, one of my favourites being sriracha mayo. I would highly recommend making your own mixes, as this lets you decide on a ratio that works for you and means you won’t have to stoop so low as to buy anything labelled “Mayoracha”.
Mayonnaise also has far more uses than just dipping. You could mix it with ketchup to make a thousand island dressing for salad (although maybe don’t check any calorie counts if you do this… I certainly don’t). One of the best tips I’ve ever been given is to spread a thin layer of mayonnaise instead of butter over the outside of your cheese toasties before grilling them – the fat in the mayonnaise and its uber-spreadable texture will help you achieve an even browning all over the bread. It has non-food uses, too. You can use mayonnaise, for example, to marinade chicken, which yields tender, juicy meat with loads of flavour.
Finally, trying different types of mayonnaise from other countries has been quite an adventure for me. Japanese mayonnaise – my utmost favourite – is tangier due to the use of rice vinegar, as well as more unctuous in texture than regular mayonnaise. I squeeze squiggles of it over scrambled eggs, freshly steamed rice, fried chicken, anything. Dutch mayonnaise is richer and more flavourful, which makes dipping chips into it feel quite luxurious. While I have yet to try Russian mayonnaise, I imagine it is just wonderful, considering Russia is the only market in Europe that sells more mayonnaise than ketchup.
My love for mayonnaise knows no bounds. Well, there are some bounds; I wouldn’t choose to emulate Kingsman star Taron Egerton, who once told the Off Menu podcast he spreads mayonnaise on his pizza like butter on a slice of bread. That’s taking things a bit too far. And I won’t touch any sweet mayonnaise atrocities. But I urge anyone who’s ever uttered the words “I hate mayonnaise” to give it another chance. Especially if you’re white. Reclaim your condiment! As for me, I’m done with being embarrassed about loving mayo. In fact, I’m off to buy more.