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Mayonnaise is a thick, creamy sauce or dressing made with oil, eggs, lemon juice or vinegar, and seasonings. It is not it same as salad dressing, which usually contains no egg and generally is sweeter than mayonnaise.

The History of Mayonnaise

Mayo was invented in 1756, by French chef Duc de Richelieu. After the French beat the British at Port Mahon, he created a victory feast that included a cream and egg sauce. Realizing that the kitchen had no cream, Richelieu substituted olive oil for the cream and a new culinary realization was born. The chef called the new sauce "Mahonnaise" for the victory of the French.

Mayonnaise is an emulsion, which is a mixture of two fluids that normally can not be combined. Not combining oil and water is the traditional example. Emulsifying is done one ingredient to another - slowly adding one to the other while simultaneously rapidly mixing. This spreads and suspends extremely small droplets of one fluid by the other. However, the two fluids would separate rapidly again if a dispersant was not added. The dispersants and the coordination between the two fluids stabilize the mixture. The eggs and gelatin are emulsifiers. In mayonnaise, the dispersant is eggs, which contains lecithin, a fat dispersant. Chemically, the emulsions collide, heterogeneous mixtures are which are composed from extremely small particles which are suspended in another unmixable material. These particles are larger than molecules, but less than one thousandth of an inch in width. Small particles like this do not settle out and will pass right through filter paper. The particles in the emulsion are can be solid, liquid, or gas. The medium that they are suspended in can be a solid, liquid or gas (although gas colloids cannot be suspended in gas).

Emulsions are liquid-liquid colloids, tiny liquid droplets suspended in another liquid. Emulsions are usually thick in texture and satiny in appearance.

Emulsions are used in many different ways:

  • by pharmacists, as a vehicle for medication
  • in photography, to coat plates, film and paper
  • in explosives, paints, coatings, make-up and detergents
  • in food, including baked goods and confectionery products

Making Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is made by combining lemon juice or vinegar with eggs. Eggs (containing the dispersant lecithin) bind up the ingredients and prevent separation. Then, oil is added bit by bit while the mixture is rapidly mixed. Adding oil too rapidly (or having an inadequate, fast whisking method) will prevent the two fluids from combining (emulsifying). But once the sauce starts to thicken, the oil can be more rapidly added. Seasoning is mixed in after the oil has been added. Blenders, mixers and food processors make it easy to make homemade mayonnaise, which many gourmets feel is far superior in taste and consistency to commercial mayonnaise. Since homemade mayonnaise is uncooked, be sure to use the freshest eggs possible, and ones that you are reasonably sure are free from salmonella. Homemade mayonnaise will last three to four days in the refrigerator. Commercial mayonnaise, which will last up to six months in the refrigerator, contain at least 65-percent oil by weight (except reduced-fat and fat-free mayonnaises). The standard of identity law also requires that all commercial "real mayonnaise" use only egg as an emulsifier. Reduced fat mayonnaise, which isn't considered real mayonnaise, usually contains modified food starch, cellulose gel and other thickeners and emulsifiers.

Mayonnaise is used as the base for other sauces, such as tartar sauce and thousand-island salad dressing. Aioli is garlic-flavored mayonnaise. Another classic emulsion sauce is hollandaise, which is a cooked mixture of butter, egg yolks and lemon juice.