Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Mayonnaise Wars

Apparently I have something to learn about mayonnaise. Which is weird because I was always fairly certain that I had condiments down. Ketchup is Heinz. Worcestershire sauce is Lea & Perrins. Soy Sauce us Kikkoman. And mayonnaise is Hellmans. (Mustard is too tough to call given the number of varieties.) These things aren't questioned. They are constants. Realities. Facts of life like the sky is blue and the Earth is round.

But several recent conversations have caused me to rethink my views on mayonnaise.

The first was with a friend who shops for groceries at Aldi's. Aldi's is a chain from Sweden (I think) that sells a limited assortment of private label products at low prices. I went in there once and the lack of recogniizable brand names made me break out into a cold sweat. Anyways, this friend shops for all of his groceries at Aldi's but he has to have his Duke's Mayonnaise and so he occasionally makes a trip to Bi-Lo.

I asked him why Duke's - why not Hellman's? He laughed. I might as well have suggested he buy ground round over a black angus ribeye. I made a mental note to investigate this issue further.

Then, we were at a friends house for Thanksgiving. Despiter her modern home, she is a traditional country cook who grates her own cabbage for slaw and simmers a big old ham hock with her green beans. The oversize tub of mayonnaise on her counter was Duke's.

I asked her the same question I'd asked before: why Duke's? She said it was a Southern thing. She said it was the only mayonnaise to use and that in fact she used to ship some to a relative who lived in Colorado where Dukes was not available.

Shipping mayonnaise across the country? I felt compelled to learn more.

The thing that kept nagging at me was taste. I mean - how is that 2 mayonnaises could taste different? After all, isn't mayonnaise just oil and eggs? So I started out by comparing ingredients.

Hellman's: Soybean oil, water, whole eggs and egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, natural flavors, calcium disodium Edta (used to protect quality).

Duke's: Soybean oil, eggs, water, vinegar, salt, oleoresin paprika and natural flavors.

Basically the same ingredients although with some noticeable differences - like the sugar in Hellman's and the paprika in Duke's. And as it turns out, these actually contribute to differences in taste.

In a side by side tasting comparing Duke's to Hellman's, Hellman's tasted sweet while Duke's was smoky. In fact, the lack of sugar in Duke's was extremely noticeable seeing as my whole concept of mayonnaise has been built on Hellman's.

As for which one I liked more, I don't know. But now that I am a Southerner, I'll be switching to Duke's.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...