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Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise – What’s The Difference, Anyway?
Miracle Whip and Mayonnaise are two foods that look somewhat alike, are used for many of the same purposes in recipes and incite possibly greater debate than any other foodstuff used by North American cooks.
Mayonnaise is a classic French sauce. And you thought it was American, didn’t you?
There are a number of different stories regarding the birth of Mayonnaise, but one generally accepted history of this sauce is that it was created in 1756 during the Seven Years’ War by a French chef while creating a meal to celebrate the Duc de Richelieu’s victory over the Spanish in Mahon, a city on the Isle of Minorca. It is said the chef created this oil and egg based sauce because he did not have the cream necessary to make the planned egg and cream sauce for the meal.
Mayonnaise is a stable emulsion of oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and egg yolk. Few other ingredients, typically only mustard powder, and salt and pepper, are added to enhance flavor.
An emulsion is the mixture of two liquids that normally won’t mix. In the case of mayonnaise, vinegar and oil are the two liquids that do not typically mix; the egg yolk aids the creation of the emulsion and makes it stable, meaning the mayonnaise won’t separate into two layers of oil and vinegar, once prepared properly.
A vinaigrette is an example of an unstable emulsion of vinegar and oil (no egg to stabilize), which will settle back into two separate liquids, given time.
Mayonnaise is a somewhat fussy sauce requiring special care in preparation. When making by hand, egg yolk and oil should be at room temperature. Egg yolk, vinegar (or lemon juice) and seasonings are mixed together first, then the oil is slowly dribble in as you continue to beat the other ingredients. Made by hand, this process can be so fussy that an associated old wives’ tale claims that women who are menstruating should not attempt to make mayonnaise because it will not emulsify properly. This is decidedly untrue, of course, but does serve to indicate just how tricky mayonnaise can be to prepare.
Modern kitchen equipment, such as the blender and food processor have eased the process greatly, making homemade mayonnaise a relatively easy and wonderful treat.
The first commercial mayonnaise in America was created during the early 20th century. Richard Hellman, a New York City delicatessen owner began using his wife’s mayonnaise recipe to dress sandwiches in the deli. It became very popular and Mr. Hellman eventually closed his deli to manufacture and sell Hellman’s Mayonnaise full-time. The Best Food Company in California created a line of commercial mayonnaise around the same time. The companies merged in 1932 and decided to continue selling Best Mayonnaise west of the Rocky Mountains and Hellman’s Mayonnaise to the east. It is said that the two recipes are slightly different, although they are manufactured in the same plant.
For most American’s, when you say “mayonnaise” you mean “Hellman’s”. Any other mayonnaise is a mere (and sorry) substitute.
Miracle Whip is, in fact, a substitute for mayonnaise.
Miracle Whip was first introduced at the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago by Kraft food distributors. It is said that Miracle Whip was originally created as a salad dressing in Illinois by a café owner named Max Crossett, who sold the recipe to Kraft in 1931 for $300.
“Miracle Whip” is said to be the name of the machine Charles Chapman invented for Kraft to create food emulsions such as Kraft Mayonnaise and Miracle Whip.
Miracle Whip, like mayonnaise, is an emulsion, but in this case, of soybean oil, vinegar, egg yolk as well as sugar and other spices not found in mayonnaise. Miracle Whip became popular during the depression as a less expensive substitute for mayonnaise on sandwiches, salads and in recipes such as cole slaw, egg salad, and potato salad. It is a little thinner in consistency and is also tangier and sweeter that mayonnaise.
Mayo vs MW
People tend to have very strong feelings regarding these two condiments. Just as Americans roughly divide into Democrat vs Republican (now, now, I said “roughly”), Liberal vs Conservative, Coke vs Pepsi, and toilet paper rolled over vs under, few and far between are those who will say “whichever” when offered a choice between mayonnaise and Miracle Whip.
Couples who marry across this dividing line may initially think they have successfully compromised by allowing both condiments to reside in the refrigerator door. They will recognize how wrong they were, however, the first time they make potato salad or a tuna salad sandwich and communication breaks down as argument fly back and forth over which condiment is the proper choice. Heaven forbid you take a “wrongly” dressed salad to the in-laws house or to a family reunion.
This is not to say that some few will be able to live amicably using both Mayo and Miracle Whip. It can happen but often requires patience and fortitude!
Whip up a batch of your own
If you wish to try your hand at making your own mayonnaise, I strongly suggest you refer to Julia Child’s classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume One”. There are many other sources available, in cookbooks and on the internet, and the recipe is largely the same whichever you choose. Still, no one has yet to detail the steps and potential pitfalls, and lovingly guide you through the process as well as Julia Child. Newer volumes of this cookbook even include instructions for preparation using a blender or food processor.
Believe it or not, there are recipes online for creating Miracle Whip at home. I have never made it myself as I stand firmly on the Mayonnaise side of this schism. I must point out, however, that every recipe for homemade Miracle Whip I have found involves the use of flour and cooking, or in the very least, boiling water. Hardly the miracle one sees in the whipping up of a batch of mayonnaise, such an elegant sauce. Still, Miracle Whip does have less fat.
As for me, give me mayonnaise, or give me nothing at all. Well, maybe a schmear of mustard.