18th-Century Mayonnaise

Cristen Conger

Mayonnaise has been improving sandwiches since 1756.
Mayonnaise has been improving sandwiches since 1756.

Oft-maligned mayonnaise, mustard scene-stealer and dry sandwich cure-all, is a major money-maker. Each year, Americans spend $1.87 billion-with-a-"b" on the humble eggs and oil combo that sandwich eaters tend to either love or loathe. (That doesn't include, however, Kraft Miracle Whip purchases since it doesn't meet the FDA qualifications for mayonnaise, as I learned in an Associated Press article highlighting the 100-year anniversary of Hellmann's brand mayo. By FDA standards, government-sanctioned mayo "contains not less than 65 percent by weight of vegetable oil," and Miracle Whip wasn't oily enough to make the mayo cut.)

In addition to finding out that the FDA has devised a mayonnaise checklist, which is one of the greatest artifacts of bureaucracy mine eyes have ever beheld, I also learned that mayo has been around since the 1700s. Paula Deen would've been right at home in the 18th century, y'all! AP reporter Mae Anderson wrote that it "originated in France...when a chef seeking to make a creamy sauce combined oil and egg."

What happened, as I learned thanks to TLC, was the French and British were duking it out (get it?) in 1756 at Port Mahon on picturesque Majorca. At the time, the island nation was under British rule, but France and Spain both took turns trying to wrest it away, and in this 1756 skirmish, the French troops won. Victoire! The Duke of Richelieu who led the French troops called for a victory feast, but when the chef went to make a sauce with cream and eggs, there was no battlefield cream to be had, and the rest is mayonnaise history. And why is it called mayonnaise? To commemorate the victory at Mahon.

Now, the only thing that could possibly make the history of mayonnaise any better is if the Duke of Richelieu was pen pals with the Earl of Sandwich.