Food & Drink

G&G’s Great Mayonnaise Taste Test

Twenty Southern chefs answer the question: What’s the best brand of mayo?

photo: Jacqueline Stofsick

Each March, the annual Charleston Wine + Food Festival draws some of the region’s brightest culinary stars to the Holy City for a long weekend of fantasy league–level dining and drinking. For food lovers, the festival is a chance to sample some of the world’s best epicurean delights, all in one place. For the visiting chefs, restaurateurs, and mixologists, it’s an opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues—or make new ones. For G&G, it’s a chance to have some fun. In past years, we’ve put some of that food-and-bev firepower in the hot seat, asking visiting chefs to choose between bourbon and beer or share their favorite kitchen tools.

This year, we invited twenty top Southern chefs to our offices and asked them to determine the best store-bought mayonnaise in a blind taste test. Duke’s obviously, right? Not so fast.

 

How’d the test work?

All mayonnaise shares the same formula: oil, eggs, and an acid, such as vinegar, whipped with seasonings into a creamy emulsion. But the proportions and ingredients can vary. Some brands use whole eggs, while others use only yolks; vinegar supplies the acid in some, lemon juice in others.

To tease out those small differences, we set up a blind taste test with five brands of mayo: Hellmann’s and Duke’s as the standards; Bama and Blue Plate as the sub-regional specialties; and Kewpie, the Japanese mayo beloved by many food insiders, as the ringer. We presented the samples in identical bowls identified by a randomized three-digit number. Each chef could take as much time as he or she wanted to sniff, sample, comment, and find a favorite.

photo: Jacquelyn Stofsick

North Carolina pit master Sam Jones at the sampling table.

What brand was the chefs’ favorite?

Duke’s and Hellmann’s tied with seven votes each. (Though it should be noted that fifteen chefs stated before testing that their go-to brand was Duke’s.)

For Vivian Howard, the winner was plain to see: “Duke’s has that thigh jiggle,” she said, shaking the sample bowl. Others relied more on their taste buds. “Duke’s has great salt and it’s really flavorful,” said Steven Satterfield. Katie Button agreed: “Mmm. It has more flavor—it’s more savory with less sugar.” (Indeed; there is no added sugar in Duke’s, and the acid is supplied by a blend of distilled and cider vinegar.) For Shuai Wang, fragrance was the first giveaway; he studiously sniffed each sample, and only then tasted them. “Duke’s is more eggy.”

photo: Jacqueline Stofsick

Katie Button of Asheville’s Cúrate and Button & Co Bagels.

Hellmann’s, the perennial national best-seller, earned raves for its mild quality and creamy texture. “I like the fact that’s it’s balanced,” said Ashley Christensen. The acid in Hellmann’s comes from lemon-juice concentrate instead of vinegar. Griffin Bufkin praised that “lemony” flavor, while for Brandon Carter, it evoked childhood memories: “This is what I grew up on.” “I guess I’m a Hellmann’s guy after all,” said a surprised Meherwan Irani.

 

Who stuck up for a regional favorite?

Jean-Paul Bourgeois opts for Gretna, Louisiana-made Blue Plate mayo as his go-to. “I’m a loyalist for Louisiana,” he said. His favorite in the blind test, though: Kewpie. “It’s savory and more balanced—not as sharp.”

photo: Jacqueline Stofsick

Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston, South Carolina.

What mayo fell flattest?

We’re sorry, Bama; the only thing that all twenty chefs agreed on is that the Yellowhammer State entry was too sweet. Like Duke’s, Bama is made by the Virginia-based C.F. Sauer conglomerate, but the formula is different. It’s the only mayo in the test in which sugar comes ahead of salt on the ingredients label.

photo: JAcqueline Stofsick

Shuai Wang of Charleston’s forthcoming Jackrabbit Filly.

What was the biggest surprise?

Kewpie clocked in just shy of the top tier by a single vote. John Lewis, Rodney Scott, and Todd Richards were among the six who praised its richness, savoriness, and acidic qualities. The formula contains yolks only, not whole eggs, plus ingredients like rice vinegar, mustard flour, and yeast extract that also contribute flavor.

photo: Jacqueline Stofsick

Annie Pettry of Louisville’s Decca.

Did anyone abstain?

Nope; all twenty chefs gamely scooped up spoonfuls. Even the mayo-averse. “I’d rather get dipped into a tank full of scorpions naked than do what I’m doing now,” said Karl Worley. But by the end, he began to come around. “This isn’t as bad as I thought,” he said, choosing Kewpie as his favorite. “But I’d still rather eat ketchup.”

photo: Jacqueline Stofsick

Karl Worley of Nashville’s Biscuit Love.


Thank you to all of the chefs who participated:

David BancroftAcre, Bow & Arrow | Auburn, Alabama
Matt BolusThe 404 Kitchen  | Nashville, Tennessee
Jean-Paul BourgeoisBlue SmokeNew York, New York
Griffin BufkinSouthern Soul Barbecue | St Simon’s, Georgia
Katie Button | Button & Co. Bagels, Cúrate | Asheville, North Carolina
Brandon Carter Farm | Bluffton, South Carolina
Maneet ChauhanChauhan Ale & Masala House, Tànsuŏ, Chaatable, The Mockingbird | Nashville, Tennessee
Ashley Christensen | Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s, Death & Taxes, Fox Liquor Bar | Raleigh, North Carolina
Vivian Howard Chef & the Farmer, Boiler Room Oyster Bar | Kinston, North Carolina
Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria | Wilmington, North Carolina
Meherwan Irani Chai Pani, Buxton Hall Barbecue | Asheville, North Carolina
Botiwalla | Atlanta, Georgia
Sam Jones Skylight Inn BBQ | Ayden, North Carolina
Sam Jones BBQ | Winterville, North Carolina
Joe Kindred Kindred, Hello Sailor | Davidson, North Carolina
John LewisLewis Barbecue | Charleston, South Carolina
Annie PettryDecca | Louisville, Kentucky
Todd RichardsRichards’ Southern Fried | Atlanta, Georgia
Steven SatterfieldMiller Union | Atlanta, Georgia
Rodney ScottRodney Scott’s BBQ | Charleston, South Carolina and Birmingham, Alabama
Jerry SlaterThe Expat | Athens, Georgia
Shuai WangShort Grain | Charleston, South Carolina
Karl WorleyBiscuit Love | Nashville, Tennessee


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