By the time I was in my late teens, I'd easily eaten hundreds of sandwiches with mayonnaise on them, but I never really knew what mayonnaise was until I got my first job in a restaurant and had to make it from scratch. I was surprised because I had only seen mayonnaise in jars at the store, and the idea that I could make it myself didn't even occur to me. Mayonnaise is used in all kinds of cuisines worldwide, but what is mayonnaise exactly? Unlike me, you're not going to have work in a restaurant to learn what goes into this delicious condiment.

What Is Mayonnaise Made Of?

sandwich, bread, lettuce, tomato, cheese, ham, bacon
Jocelyn Hsu

Mayonnaise is made by mixing oil and raw egg yolks together until the mixture thickens and becomes creamy. After the oil has been thoroughly incorporated into the egg yolks, the seasonings are added for flavor and lemon juice or vinegar are added for acidity.

If the thought of eating raw egg yolks in the form of mayonnaise makes you uneasy, don't worry, mayonnaise is safe to eat. Commercial mayonnaise uses pasteurized eggs in order to kill any salmonella that may be present in the eggs that they use. Additionally, pretty much all mayo, whether it's made commercially or from scratch, is made with ingredients that add acidity to it. The acidity of the mayonnaise has been shown to slow or stop the development of bacteria, which is why it's a shelf-stable product.  

Mayonnaise Substitutes

dairy product, sweet
Lauryn Lahr

For those of you who'd like to be healthier (or just aren't fans of mayo), there are a couple substitutes you can use in place of mayonnaise. Greek yogurt is a good alternative to mayo, and tastes almost like the real thing if you add in a little mustard, salt, and pepper. Additionally, Greek yogurt contains probiotics that are good for your digestive system.

There are also vegan substitutes for mayonnaise. Vegan mayonnaise is made in much the same way as traditional mayonnaise, but instead of using egg yolks as an emulsifier, it uses plant-based products such as soy. Since vegan mayo doesn't use egg yolks, it's typically lower in cholesterol than regular mayonnaise.

Learning how mayonnaise is made was some of the culinary wisdom that was imparted to me as a cook, and I'm excited to pass on that wisdom to you in turn. Even if you don't like mayonnaise for one reason or another, you at least know a few options for some equally delicious mayo substitutes.