The first time it dawned on me there were two distinct camps regarding mayonnaise was one afternoon at a restaurant. I was having lunch with a good friend, and she was interrogating the waitress about the chicken salad plate, asking her, “This doesn’t have any of that horrible Miracle Whip, does it?” The waitress assured her it was pure mayo that held those little morsels together. My friend seemed relieved and ordered it, but I ordered something else. I am in the Miracle Whip camp, and I make no apologies.
I admit I come by it honestly. I grew up in a Miracle Whip household, and I inherited my mother’s dislike for mayonnaise. early. To this day, I buy only MW and so does my sister. But mayo holds top honors in the condiment world, at least in the U.S., tied only with ketchup in popularity, and a must-have on millions of sandwiches daily, as well as in salads and sauces. Some fanatics even put it on french fries.
As a child, I frequently asked my mother why some sandwiches or salads tasted “gross” until I understood that MW had a distinctly different flavor than traditional mayo, which, in my opinion, has no flavor at all. (Please, no hate mail). When it finally clicked in my young mind, and I understood the difference, it was MW all the way from then on.
But let’s travel back in time to learn about mayo, and the French passion that started it all. The creation of mayonnaise is credited to the chef of Duke de Richelieu in 1756. While the Duke was defeating the British at Port Mahon in Menorca, Spain, his chef was whipping up a special victory feast that included a unique sauce made with eggs and cream, staples of French cuisine. Some food historians insist that the Spanish pioneered the rich spread, but it seems more likely that the French did the honors. Word of mouth (and taste buds) traveled across the pond, and Americans quickly embraced the creamy madness. Many residents of French heritage, not to mention chefs searching for new frontiers, introduced it in New York City, and we know that by 1838, the popular restaurant Delmonico’s in Manhattan offered mayonnaise in a variety of dishes. Gourmets were hooked.
Soon chefs were dreaming up different ways to use the wildly popular spread, especially in salads. In 1896, the famous Waldorf salad, made its debut to rave reviews at a charity ball at the Waldorf Hotel, chock full of apple pieces, celery, walnuts and grapes, all held together by that creamy mayo, and diners couldn’t get enough.
As refrigeration blossomed at the turn of the century, hundreds of food manufacturers raced to get their version of mayo in the shops. One such manufacturer was Hellmann’s, a New York City brand which designed wide mouth jars that could accommodate large spoons and scoops, and they soon began to dominate the sector. Mayonnaise, which had heretofore been considered a luxury, was fast becoming a household staple and taking its place at the dinner tables in millions of homes. Many professional chefs and homemakers made their own versions, but jars of the popular condiment were featured prominently on grocery store shelves.
Enter Miracle Whip, created in 1933 by the Chicago-based Kraft Foods Company. It made its debut during the Depression as a cheaper alternative to mayo, and while it does contain the key ingredients of mayonnaise (egg, soybean oil, vinegar, water), it deviates from the standard of mayo with a sweet, spicy flavor that many folks preferred and still do, but is required to label itself as “salad dressing” rather than mayo.
So whether you are a straight mayonnaise user, a renegade Miracle Whip aficionado, or you are frequently heard to state “hold the mayo”, there’s no getting around this wildly popular condiment, and we can thank the French gourmands once again for this creation.