Fear of Mayo

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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:

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[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:

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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.

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