Mayonnaise is to a sandwich what peanut butter is to jelly. They just belong together: Imagine a BLT without a creamy doodle on top of that slice of sun-ripened tomato, or a smoked turkey club without a thin mayo mortar on the toast. And what’s a tuna salad sandwich without mayonnaise? Chuck the bread, toss in some green beans and anchovies and make a salade nicoise instead.
Indeed, millions agree about the importance of mayo, making it one of the top condiments in the U.S., with sales for 2016 reaching $1.93 billion, according to Mintel, a market research firm.
Yes, homemade mayonnaise is great on a sandwich — if you want to take the time to make it and aren’t put off by raw eggs (or have pasteurized eggs on hand). For the rest of us, there’s a jar of the prepared stuff waiting in the cupboard or refrigerator.
What mayo though? That’s where the debate begins. People swear by their favorite brands (and, sometimes, swear at all the others). My Connecticut-born mother was a devout Cains fan — and there always had to be a jar in the kitchen when she visited because nothing else was going on her sandwich. We decided to put top mayonnaise brands up against each other in a blind tasting.
In advance of this mayo comparison, I posted a photo on Facebook showing six different mayonnaise jars. No explanation — just one of those slice-of-life things you find on social media. The reaction was immediate, particularly from those wondering why their brand wasn’t there. (Don’t worry, Duke’s fans, I got a jar.)
The Feds are very serious about what’s sold as mayonnaise in the U.S. There’s a very precise definition, that you can read here but, in short, for a mayonnaise to be sold as mayonnaise, it must be made with oil, an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, and egg yolks or “egg yolk-containing ingredients.” After that, makers can add salt, sweeteners, spices (except saffron or turmeric or anything that mimics a yolk-y color) and monosodium glutamate, among other ingredients.
For the tasting, I purchased 13 brands, not all of which are technically mayonnaise under the government definition — that’s why you’ll find Kraft Miracle Whip Dressing and Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo Spread & Dressing, a vegan brand, here. Their popularity and widespread use called for their inclusion.
I bought 10 of the brands at Chicago supermarkets that cater to the general public and do not require membership for admission (no membership-only club brands). Three brands were ordered via Amazon.com because they are more regional products not necessarily found here — and I wanted them in the tasting. Prices listed are what I paid (Amazon.com orders are duly noted) or the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (also noted).
This was a blind tasting, meaning that those who participated didn’t know which mayo was which. Each taster had the option of trying the mayo as-is or spreading it on Pepperidge Farm white sliced bread — just as one might do at home. They were asked to assess the mayonnaise in terms of appearance, aroma and flavor and to rank it on a score from 1 to 9, with 1 being poor, 9 excellent and 5 average. While there was a clear winner among the brands, most rated relatively close together, so there were multiple ties.
For the rankings, see the photo gallery.