Mayonnaise Taxonomy

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egg 1I had a serious genetics topic all set to go today, but then something more timely and compelling arose. I began to wonder about what, exactly, mayonnaise is, and more importantly, how do the types of mayonnaise differ?

My musings started with Passover, and the importance of eggs at this time of year. At the Passover seder, we dip a hard-boiled egg in salt water, to commemorate the tears of the oppressed Jews in long-ago Egypt. Trying to make this step more palatable, my daughter Sarah suggested we instead make deviled eggs.

A great idea, but we soon encountered a problem. Should we use Hellman’s Light, my favorite, or Vegenaise, hers? Sarah’s a vegetarian; I’m a low-carber. And so began my experimentation. (Caveat: I omitted Miracle Whip because it is slimy “dressing”, not mayo. It has mostly the same ingredients as real mayo, more spices, and evil high-fructose corn syrup and cornstarch.)

Initially, I’d sent my husband out to get Hellman’s Light, but he inexplicably brought back Hellman’s Low Fat concoction. I returned it without even reading the label, because “low fat” is synonymous (usually) with “high carb” and such products can even have more calories. Compare ice cream cartons to see this. So that’s not part of my comparison.

deviled eggAfter exchanging the offensive low-fat Hellman’s for Light, I stopped at the health food store for Sarah’s entrant. Vegenaise is not dairy, not gluten, not genetically modified organism-tainted, and also not cheap. It’s twice the price of the others. We used it to make the eggs, and no one was the wiser.

Today, post-seder, I visited the condiment aisle at Target, where I lined up the species of mayonnaise and recorded their attributes.

First, the ingredients. A tablespoon of Hellman’s “real” mayonnaise is an emulsion consisting of, in descending order, soybean oil, water, eggs, vinegar, and spices. That’s about 90 calories, 100% of which are from fats, courtesy of the soybeans. So that’s the baseline.

The variations on the mayo theme I evaluated were Hellman’s olive oilHellman’s canola, and Hellman’s Light, plus the Vegenaise (the links are to their respective genome projects). All have about 85% fat. Vegenaise has the highest calorie count — 90 — and Light wins at 35, with runner-up canola offering 40 calories per dollop.

450px-Grapeseed-oilThe oils are telling. Fortunately all the participating organisms have had their genomes sequenced and available (except canola aka rapeseed, its sequence apparently owned by a company) and their lipids helpfully evaluated by the Cleveland Clinic. And the chicken, donor of the eggs, has been sequenced too. So we may someday be able to come up with a genetically modified organism that secretes mayo when shaken.

The more-caloric-and-costly Vegenaise comes out on top in the oil stakes, forsaking the ubiquitous soybean for grapeseed oil.

The more healthful grapeseed oil is 17% monounsaturated (meaning one carbon-carbon double bond), 73% polyunsaturated (more than one double bond), and 10% saturated (all the hydrogens the carbon skeleton can hold, the bad stuff). Soybeans’ stats are 25%, 60%, and 15%. I think the excess saturated fat in soybeans cancels out its win for monounsaturated.

Vegenaise’s one gram of saturated fat is twice that of Hellman’s Light, even though Vegenaise’s major claim is its freedom from eggs, which admittedly lurk amid the creamy swirls of Hellman’s Light. The label on this “healthy mayo alternative” claims to raise HDL, the “good cholesterol,” although HDL is no longer considered a valid predictor of myocardial infarction. Still, the jar is festooned with an image of a heart, with the words “Follow Your Heart.” It might help those individuals in whose families HDL is a valid biomarker.

I discovered some things. Hellman’s Light has more water than fat, and probably a lot of air. Alas, it harbors potato starch, poison to a low-carber. And Vegenaise, despite its claim of zero carbs, has brown rice syrup and mustard flour.

So which product wins? The portion size is too small to probably matter much, but unless you prefer the Vegenaise for political or social reasons, I’ll stick to my Hellman’s Light. Lower in calories and a better oil profile.

Back to serious genetics next week …

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