The best mayonnaises you can buy (a nostalgia-proof taste test)

Thirteen brands of mayonnaise bought in the store were put together for a taste test. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
In an Instagram post over the summer, I set out my branding preference for mayonnaise, a seemingly innocent guideline, while making a simple tomato sandwich. Little did I know I was going to get more unsolicited responses than ever before. It sparked a heated debate in my DMs about brand preferences and which mayo was the ultimate “best”.
I wasn't even aware of a lot of the brands that came my attention and thought, "Why do I like the brand I like? Do I know what my favorite is, or do I just cling to the brand that I grew up? ”This has always been my general theory of why most people hold onto one brand over another, and I had to test that theory.
In a purely selfish exercise to figuring out which brand I like the most, damn it, I hired a colleague - food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson, an expert in identifying the best quality of all packaged food - to help me a wide variety of mayonnaises available in the Los Angeles area to try, taking into account any commentators on the brand who are considered their favorites.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
But before we could try it, we had to - like Descartes certainly - think about what mayonnaise is. Is it just a sandwich lube designed to create flavourful, otherwise dry ingredients that would create a choking hazard if consumed normally? Is it just for the purpose of tying potatoes, minced chicken, or other chunky ingredients into a cohesive pie? Or is it a stand-alone ingredient with a flavor that is unique, like ketchup, and best eaten by clinging to the exposed end of a hot french fry? All hypotheses seemed too stupid.
As for the homemade or store-bought debate, there is clearly a reason more people are buying it than doing it: Nobody wants to bother with all of the mopping (although our homemade mayonnaise recipe avoids hand-moping altogether for this one Making arm pain a thing of the past). Rather than insist that you always just make your own mayonnaise - advice I would oppose - we did our best to find the best store-bought mayo that would add to your life as much as the homemade stuff .
The taste test was full of delightful surprises, choking disappointments, and a strange aroma of color. We discovered the following:
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Best Food: Known as Hellmanns east of the Rocky Mountains, this brand of mayo is arguably the most available and popular of all I surveyed. When spooned out of the glass, it has a fluffy, soft meringue texture that gives it a light mouthfeel. It tastes like simple mayonnaise. Neither great nor bad, it's a great choice when you need mayo but don't want its flavor to dominate the dish.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Best Foods Organic: This version was seemingly made with the same ingredients as its inorganic counterpart, and lists dried organic cane syrup as a sweetener instead of the original sugar, which could be responsible for its slightly brown, sugary, sweet taste that put us off. That, and its vaguely gray color, was enough to explain that eating organic for a mayo that could ruin your sandwich or potato salad with such a cryptic taste wasn't worth the feeling of smug superiority.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Kraft: Of all the brands I was brought to my attention, this was loved exclusively by other recipe creators I know in the industry and was the one I looked forward to the most. Reader, it did not disappoint. While most other mayos have variations of a creamy eggshell white color, this one is starkly snow white and its texture is instantly whipped and light and creamy like pudding. It has a distinct taste - thanks to the garlic and onion in its ingredients - which gives it a light flavor to balance its richness. If you want an impressive presence and a clean, ideal mayo taste, you've come to the right place.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
365 Whole Foods Market: Many commentators are brand loyal because the brand is available where they shop most. When shopping at Whole Foods, you are most likely buying the 365 branded mayonnaise. Like Best Foods, it has the neutral taste you think of when you think of mayonnaise, but with a slight odor thanks to the addition of mustard, a common ingredient in many brands, we realized later. If you are already at Whole Foods and need mayo, this is no problem to pick this up.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Spectrum Organic: Spectrum, another brand available from Whole Foods, has made a name for itself - at least as far as I've seen - with organic coconut oil, organic vegetable fat and other "alternative" cooking fats. However, the mayo has a golden gray color and a flan-like texture that is indeed an alternative to the rest of the mayos. And because honey is used as a sweetener instead of sugar, that taste is very dominant, a disadvantage for those who don't like honey (* raises hand *). We also noticed an odd aftertaste of what can only be described as ... paint fumes. (I read later that soybean oil, the base of Spectrum's Mayo as well as several other brands, along with flaxseed oil and tung seed oil, is often used as a binder in paint because it repels water and dries quickly, a factor that may affect this why mayo dries to firm shellac if left in the air for too long.) Other brands better cover up the strange taste, which you admittedly can only tell if you try numerous mayos side by side.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Duke's: While it's not available on the West Coast, we picked it up for all the brands, but it has the most passionate fan base. As someone who grew up in the south, I remember people who liked it talking about it with religious zeal. With its proud sugar-free banner on the label, Duke's is slightly spicy thanks to the use of distilled vinegar and apple cider vinegar, and has the weakest floral chilli flavor from paprika extract. It was also the creamiest of the mayos we tried. While Kraft was still our favorite, Duke's is barely a second. I now see that the vehemence was justified.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The Ojai Chef: Despite its name, this mayonnaise is made in Irwindale, east of LA, and is the best of the locally made varieties. Ojai Cook is another unsweetened mayo that is different from adding mustard and uses non-genetically modified ingredients and cage-free eggs. While it also has the tell-tale aftertaste of soybean oil, it wasn't as noticeable as other brands and is better balanced by its richer, eggier taste. If you only eat organic this is the best mayo you can get.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Sir Kensington's: This 10 year old brand made a name for itself by offering the best alternative yet to the classic corn syrup based ketchups sold by bigger brands. And while the brand is probably best known for this ketchup and its vegan-flavored chipotle-flavored mayonnaises, their classic, plain mayo stands for itself thanks to a pleasant texture (dense but creamy) and appetizing color (bright eggy yellow) It's a distinct home-made quality alone, highlighted by eye-catching black pepper spots. If you're looking for a mayo that feels homemade - and will save you all the mopping up - this is it.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Primal Kitchen: The label of this Oxnard-based brand says: Certified Paleo, Keto Certified, Whole 30 Certified, no soy or canola, cage-free eggs, sugar-free. What appears to be a one-stop-shop mayo for all of your nutritional needs and we had high hopes for it. While it was refreshingly devoid of the aftertaste of soybean oil - thanks to the use of avocado oil, which also gives it a not unappetising green color - the inexplicable addition of rosemary extract gives it an odd hint of limeade. "It tastes like the wrong lime flavor in a Diet Coke and Lime Soda," said Lucas - a quirk that overwhelms the other ingredients. I suppose if you need mayo for a potato or chicken salad that uses chopped rosemary or lime zest as an ingredient, that particular quality would be a boon, but not a simple mayo in itself.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Food Selected: With a cute, illustrated label and a no-soybean oil claim, I had high hopes for this vegan mayonnaise, made in Canada but sold in San Diego. And while we were expecting a more earthy taste than regular mayonnaises (the brand is made from aquafaba - a.k.a. boiled chickpea juice - and bean powder), we weren't expecting such a runny texture. It's thickened with four different natural gums and emulsifiers, but we were surprised at how fluffy this mayo was and how easy it was to pour from the jar. Its repulsive dark gray color mixed with the particular taste of using the rosemary extract mentioned above made it even less desirable. While I thought vegans deserved a better option, Lucas said, "I would eat this if I were vegan."
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Best Foods Vegan: At the other end of the spectrum from Chosen Foods' gray aquafaba-based vegan mayo, the Best Foods version is made with all the classic ingredients without eggs. In their place are modified potato and corn starches that thicken the mayonnaise so that it has the expected fluffy / creamy texture. And while it has a mysterious shade of blue, it tastes and smells most similar to the brand's original egg-based version. This sparked a debate between Lucas and me about whether, as a vegan, you'd like the vegan iteration of a food to mimic the original or how its ingredients taste. As part of the earlier group, I preferred this matrix simulation over the idiosyncratic preferences of Chosen Foods.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
McCormick Mayonesa con jugo de limones: This mayo, which is sold in wonderfully different packaging, is another recommendation from food colleagues in LA. And although it is flavored with lime, paprika and the enigmatic "spices" and has a comparatively pink / orange color, it tastes surprisingly simple, almost exactly like the original mayo from Best Foods. This makes it a great mayo if you want a neutral presence. And because of its thicker consistency, and because it's made in Mexico, I'm told it's a preferred choice for making Elote. Its thickness helps the other ingredients stick to the ear of corn. As a sucker for a good story, I'll specifically use McCormick for this purpose in the future.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Miracle Whip: I have a confession: I had never eaten Miracle Whip before this taste test, too scared by horror stories about the tastes of friends and family. Allegedly, it was developed during the Depression to stretch mayonnaise - made from expensive, industrially manufactured refined oils - with the relatively cheaper, oil-free salad dressing. These dressings, also known as boiled dressing or salad cream, were emulsions of vinegar and water thickened with eggs, flavored with sugar and spices, and fortified with small amounts of milk. Today's Miracle Whip, technically not a traditional mayonnaise, is still high in sugar - in this case, high fructose corn syrup - which is the third ingredient after water and soybean oil.
Lucas and I were put off by its alarmingly sweet taste - it reminded me of a mayo and sweet cucumber relish tartar sauce which, in my humble opinion, is one of the worst condiments ever made (sorry, Chicago). But while I can't stand that amount of sweetness in a sauce meant to be used like mayonnaise, other real brands of mayo that we tried tasted much worse.
In the end, I appreciated the taste test as an exercise to broaden my horizons and just judge things for what they are. As we get older, our tastes change. apparently my taste in mayo has too. I am no longer tied to nostalgia, but now have new favorite brands that I would like to use in my kitchen. And if the joy of eating is all that keeps many of us going at a time like this, the question of the role of a spice in our daily lives may not seem so silly.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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