Fear of Mayo

December 18, 2012 | By | COMMENTS

IMG_8332

Jimmy Fallon likens it to pus. Last night at dinner, the idea of it made Craig’s cousin Katie scrunch up her face in disgust. And me? I used to have nightmares about this female camp counsellor with a hairy lip who ate an egg salad sandwich with dabs of mayo stuck all along the perimeter of her lips. Just thinking about it now makes me cry a little on the inside.

What is it about mayonnaise that provokes such disgust and fear in so many people? And what can they do to get over it? Allow me to speak from personal experience.

As I child, I could think of nothing more repulsive than a turkey sandwich with mayonnaise on it. I still find it kind of gross, though the celebrated turkey sandwich from Parm partially changed my mind:

IMG_4471

[That's them making it at the Serious Eats Sandwich Festival.]

It’s just something bland and creamy on top of something bland and mushy. Like wearing a beige sweater in front of a beige wall. Or stirring marshmallows into your warm milk. Something about it just gives me the willies.

But let’s go deeper: why the willies? As my law school psychology professor Martha Duncan once said in class: “Where there’s great repulsion, there’s great allure.” She talked a lot in class about grime and goo and how children like to play with things like Gak and are greatly amused by green slime, as I was when I used to watch Nickelodeon’s “You Can’t Do That On Television.”

Fear of mayo seems to be tied, somehow, to this childhood fixation on gooey substances that remind us of things that come out of our bodies. (Hence Fallon’s childlike “pus” reference.) And there is something inherently childlike in avoiding something that’s really just a mixture of egg yolks and oil.

In fact, that’s my suggestion for getting over a fear of mayo. Make it yourself! Start with aioli (which is what’s pictured at the top of this post). I made it recently using a stick blender (in 60 seconds) and when you see what goes in it–eggs, garlic, olive oil–it’s hard to find yourself truly turned off:

IMG_8311

Aioli is a good stepping stone towards mayonnaise. It’s got more going on with the garlic and the flavor from the olive oil; it’s more of a golden color rather than a medicinal white. Watching the process itself is a great way to understand why the texture of mayo is the texture of mayo: it’s an emulsion.

But still, despite my efforts here, I can imagine the mayo-averse among you remaining mayo averse. Hey: I understand. In my darkest moments, that female camp counsellor’s face hovers up there in my cranium like the head of Medusa, assuming Medusa took her egg salad with extra mayo. The very thought of it turns me to stone.

Tags: , , ,

Categories: Essays

  • Connie

    Just an FYI- not sure if this is happening to anyone else, but your site loads very slow for me. It gets stuck waiting on “beacon.saymedia.com”. Completely locks up my screen until that loads.
    And– I love mayo, but only on certain things. Ham sandwich=mustard, Turkey Sandwich=Mayo

  • http://www.chimpanzeeteaparty.com/ J.W. Hamner

    Yeah, I didn’t learn to like mayonnaise until fairly recently myself and it was also making my own aioli that made me a convert… though I was just a really picky eater in general growing up, and had spent most of my mid to late twenties conquering bizarre food fears, so I was pretty primed to realize that mayo did not suck as much as I thought it did (in fact it can be quite good). That said, homemade mayo/aioli/rouille is a pretty different beast than Miracle Whip, so even if you aren’t conquering childhood fears it’s worth checking out. Plus it’s pretty fun to make.

  • http://www.amateurgourmet.com/ Adam Roberts

    Thanks for letting me know, Connie. I’ll send this along to my web team.

  • Yasmin

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. I have an aversion to mayo. I wish I didn’t. There are so many things that I’d like to make without thinking of a substitute for the mayo (chicken salad, pimento cheese, cole slaw, etc). My husband thought, that since I love all the ingredients that go into mayo, we should make it ourselves. We did. I still couldn’t get over the taste and texture. Alas, no mayo for me. It makes me feel better that there are others out there!

  • Guest

    I guess mayo aversion is one of those things I don’t get, like the well-documented cilantro hatred. I’m crazy about mayonnaise. The first thing I made as a very young teen was mayonnaise. So glad to read you found a way to work past your aversion. Now if only I could get past my aversion of fish…

  • Anonymous

    I love mayo. One of the first things I made as a young teen was mayo. I think it is fabulous, either on its own or flavoured with garlic and other such inclusions.

  • Morganzaa

    In Virginia (specifically Virginia beach, I’m finding), our Mexican restaurants serve this delicious spicy white sauce along with your chips and salsa. In college, we could find no such restaurant to serve this sauce, so my roommate and I decided to make our own. And do you know what the key/main ingredient is? Miracle Whip. We’d been dipping our chips in spiced Miracle Whip. We may never recover.

  • http://www.mkworkshopblog.wordpress.com/ M.K.

    I have a full-on phobia of ketchup, and most bottled condiments kind of freak me out in general; but I do have a huge weakness for QP (Kewpie) mayonnaise. It is SO good with fries.

  • http://twitter.com/LawStudentsWife Erin

    While I’ve managed to hop aboard the aioli train, mayo still totally grosses me out! Ever since I was a kid, it’s made me queasy. my mom couldn’t even use the same knife to cut my sandwich in half if it had previously spread mayo on my sister’s sandwich! Perhaps their is hope for me yet (though I can’t say I have much desire to change. Stubborn maybe?)

  • http://otm-inthegalley.blogspot.com/ SeattleDee

    Mayo seems a love it or hate it item. I LOVE Best Foods/Hellmans mayo, can’t stand Miracle Whip, and find homemade mayo an interesting base for other flavors (think smokey chipotle).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robin-Scanlon/1228912726 Robin Scanlon

    Love mayo…just sayin’.

  • http://twitter.com/Coffee4Seattle Seattle Coffee Scene

    I love food – but have always disliked mayonnaise for some reason. With so many other great dressings and condiments out there, it’s funny (or odd) that we keep circling back to mayo. Thanks for suggesting an alternative, but still don’t think I can handle it. I suppose I will always be a mustard guy!

  • http://www.facebook.com/donna.y.adams Donna Yost Adams

    Oh, so true! I cannot stand mayo on it’s own; to me it’s repulsive. I have, however come to terms with it as an ingredient. As a personal chef, I often make other sauces and condiments using creamy mayo as a stable, emulsified base. The key to making it palatable to me is to add enough of the other ingredients that it no longer tastes like mayo, but rather tastes of the other ingredients you have added. and yes, a two thumbs up to homemade aioli, which when made properly makes you want to eat it by the spoonful :)

  • Scott

    It’s Mayo on all cold cut sandwiches, Thukey, Ham, Beef, Egg ect.
    Mustard on lunch meat.

  • Flora

    For me, mayonnaise is a purely functional food. I like just the thinnest scraping of it on sandwich bread, to seal the bread from the juices inside. It holds tuna salad together. It takes the edge off sharp-flavored sauces like mustard and hot sauce, and adds a little body.  So yeah, it has its place when used sparingly. As long as it’s not Miracle Whip: all the bland gloppiness of mayo, plus sugar. *Just* what we need more of in our sauces and savories.

  • M. S.

    I love mayonnaise. I’ve been eating it ever since I was a little kid eating plain mayonnaise and bread sandwiches…then again I am also the daughter of a chef who slathers it on all sandwiches so it’s what I’ve grown up with.

  • Dee

    There’s nothing like good mayo on a freshly cooked hard-boiled egg.

  • Eileen Silverstein

    I don’t like mayo on sandwiches, but love it mixed in (as with tuna or chicken salad). The light version is much better than the oily regular mayo!

  • Kath the Cook

    me too. Love the mayo. Need to try it at home.

  • John Bright

    I didn’t learn to enjoy mayonnaise until well into middle age and I think my aversion was due to early experience. When I was growing up in Florida in the 60s, my mom would fix our sandwiches to take to school with butter because she said the mayonnaise would go bad because of the heat….we didn’t have refrigerators in school then. There’s nothing like a turkey sandwich slathered with butter! Anyway, there’s nothing like good homemade mayo…..roasted asparagus dipped (more than once) into freshly made aioli is as good as it gets!

  • bcarter3

    Was it really necessary to start this article with that disgusting quote?

  • Shannon Hilson

    I loathe mayo and probably always will. It’s a texture thing for me. I’m averse to anything creamy, gloppy, or gooey. I don’t like things like ranch dressing, sour cream, or custard either… but it’s extra bad when we’re talking about something that doesn’t really have a flavor.

  • Anonymous

    I absolutely love good mayo!!!!!!!!

  • Katrina

    I’ve always been repulsed by mayo. Growing up, I avoided all things made with it including but not limited to potato salad, salads from KFC, egg salad sandwiches… Only recently have I started to not mind it. I think it was the sweet potato fries at a restaurant with the spicy mayo dip that has started to turn me around. For some reason it doesn’t seem so gross if you start adding things to it like curry powder.

  • AG

    That image about your counselor did not help those of us who are on the fence.

  • Joseph

    My mother used to buy this stuff called
    “miracle whip” and she called it mayonnaise. I hated it. When I grew
    up I first tasted real mayonnaise with French fries. OMG that was good and I
    started using mayonnaise with everything. Now that I am old I can’t eat the things I did when I was
    young because my doctor tells me all sorts of horrible things will happen to my
    body if I do but once in a while I still have myself some good French fries
    dipped in mayo, yum yum.

  • limric

    Love a little mayo, too much mayo makes me gag. I think it’s all about the amount.

  • http://www.facebook.com/danica.radovanov Danica Radovanov

    It’s great for adding moisture to a dry sandwich. Esp if you mix in some flavorings.

  • Nina

    Miracle Whip is the worst. My in-laws use it instead of mayonnaise. I like mayonnaise but I cannot do Miracle Whip.

  • june2

    I’ve never heard of garlic in mayo except as aioli. Maybe you’re an aioli person, and not a mayo guy. The rustic yet still creamy texture of aioli, made with a stone mortar and pestle, is at least half of the appeal.

  • tunie

    Ha, childhood”food fears” were likely justified considering the state of the industrial “food” that we all grew up with. Thank god for all the options available to us now!

  • june2

    Pretty much everyone who hates commercial american mayo LOVES Japanese kewpie mayo – I think its got lemon or something umami in it – maybe msg?! ?

  • june2

    oops – duhh! I wish we had a delete option on our own comments…

  • Mike

    This post was perfect timing. A group of us at work just had a big discussion/debate about mayo vs mustard on sandwiches. I’m a mayo and mustard fan. But, I sending this to my co-workers who detest mayo. The post was a great way to deconstruct it!!

  • Miss J

    Love mayo in everything, honestly don’t know why people hate it. Trouble is finding the right one for you as there’s so many different flavours of mayo. Egg mayonnaise from Best Foods is the best. Aioli is just as good too- delicious on hot chips, sandwiches, just about everything really!

  • jan

    love,love,love mayo. helman’s or home made..I can’t believe how many are horrified by this great condiment. Fallon’s quote was bad, but my best friend’s is worse..he declares it’s Satan’s jiz so sorry

  • http://twitter.com/sasafred Sarah Fredrick

    I hated the stuff till I made my own. Now I put it on everything! I’ve also become quite addicted to making the egg-free version.

    http://www.cooksillustrated.com/howto/print/detail.asp?docid=37660

  • Véronique

    Like most French.people I suppose, I make my mayonnaise with some Dijon mustard and a little bit if red wine vinegar. That way it’s never bland. On the other hand, an aiolli made using only olive oil may be too strong depending on the oil.
    I usually mix sunflower oil in.

  • http://twitter.com/revel_kitchen Jennifer Duque

    Instead of grossing me out, your opening paragraph succeeded in making me crave an egg salad sandwich! Mmm, delicious!

    I think the goopy texture of some mayonnaise and that most people have no idea what’s in there causes the aversion. It’s in lots of things widely loved, like ranch dressing, pretty much any creamy dipping sauces, spinach dip, crab dip, that creamy spicy sauce they put on spicy sushi rolls… These wouldn’t be the same without it!

    Oh, and I totally watched You can’t do that on television, too! Love the quote “Where there’s great repulsion, there’s great allure.” Makes me think of Freud’s theory of psychosexual development — the anal phase. Pretty entertaining stuff. Did you watch Double Dare? Remember the physical challenge where they had to dig in a giant nose full of boogers for the flag :)?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Snooger-Bot/100003174762719 Snooger Bot

    Currently working my way through Best Food Writing 2012. One essay was “Still Life with Mayonnaise” by Greg Atkinson wherein he visits Tom Robbins who happens to reside up here in the Pac Northwest (Skagit County). A North Carolina native, Robbins prefers Best Foods (Hellmann’s) to Duke’s and wasn’t really interested in learning how to make his own mayo.

  • i heart salt ( AND Dukes!)

    Ha! Duke’s is infinitely superior to all other mayos! I used to have it shipped to me when I lived out west. I think in 15 years, I only bought Hellmann’s twice.

  • Anthony

    Duke’s is the real Deal! I only buy Duke’s. I once had a job that allowed me to walk through the Duke’s plant in Mauldin, SC, and it was the highlight of my day back then. Such a great smell!

  • Anthony

    Yes! I eat it out of the jar like someone who might eat peanut butter out of the jar.

  • Anonymous

    so true…rang a bell. my sister used to make me squirm and scream as she would whisper across the table right before dinner…”you are bathing in a tub filled with May-o-naysssee”

  • Anonymous

    LOL! I so don’t get the mayo hate, but my best friend literally cringes every time you mention it. Of course, she thought it was made of nearly all egg for %(&*# years and inherited a dislike for eggs from her dad), but even telling her it’s mostly oil didn’t help. Now when I call it aioli and add lots of garlic and just a bit of fresh herbs, or a little sun-dried tomato, if I go easy on it, she doesn’t ask questions. I love mayo although I’ve cut the quantity I eat, but my DH couldn’t eat a sandwich without copious quantities of mayo and good mustard. And yes, it’s so easy to make and like so many things, so much better than store bought. I sneak it into more things than she thinks. (The woman works 7 days a week in her own small business, we try to take her lunch at least 3 days a week since we are old enough to be gainfully unemployed, lol)

  • Anonymous

    Ketchup is disgusting. I love tomatoes, but not loaded with sugar and salt.

  • Anonymous

    Cilantro hatred comes from a genetic aberration that makes 1 in 4 of us (included the great Julia Child) perceive it as tasting of dish soap. In my case, Dawn. I have however found two recipes I love it in. One for chicken thighs marinated in olive oil, garlic and cilantro overnight and then grilled, and one for a simple red sauce taught to me by an elderly Hispanic gentleman who’s family lived in CA before white explorers ever laid eyes on the place. That stuff is so addictive. We call it Trini sauce