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The Great Mayonnaise Taste Test

AJC Staff

AJC Staff

May I explain why I managed to invite six food experts to my office one cold and rainy afternoon to lick mayonnaise off pieces of white bread? It’s a bit of a story:

Several months ago when the Cherokee Purple tomato vine in my backyard was heavy with fat, firm, “eat-me-now” specimens, I decided to have my first Southern tomato sandwich. I made it with one thick and drippy slice of the maroon fruit, two pieces of white bread and whatever mayonnaise I had in the fridge, which was Hellmann’s. Delicious. I posted a note on my Facebook page and then published a column on the experience.

I subsequently got hundreds of comments and e-mails from readers and got stopped repeatedly in the hall at work to discuss this sandwich.

Some told me it was about time I had discovered a quintessential Southern summer experience. But many more were aghast at the jar pictured in the accompanying photo.

Hellmann’s???

In the South you put Duke’s mayonnaise on your tomato sandwiches and everything else, I was told in no uncertain terms. Created by Mrs. Eugenia Duke of Greenville, S.C., in 1917, who sold mayo-laden sandwiches to soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Sevier, Duke’s is the true emulsion of the South.

But, wait, no!

If you’re from the Gulf states, then chances are you may prefer Blue Plate, which has been made the same way in Louisiana since 1927, and has such a following that Web-based retailers ship it hither and yon.

Unless, of course, you don’t like either. There’s no shame.

You might have been raised to slather your sandwiches with one of the two nationally popular Kraft contenders — either Real Mayonnaise or its tawdry cousin, Miracle Whip, which isn’t a mayonnaise at all but a “salad dressing.” I don’t believe anyone in gastronomic history has actually dressed a salad with this stuff.

All that being good and true, plenty of Southerners don’t buy into the Duke’s orthodoxy and argue for the superiority of — ta da! — Hellmann’s, just as Northeasterners have since 1905, when German immigrant Richard Hellmann began selling his wife’s blue-ribbon-wrapped jars out of his New York deli.

Our compatriots out West have never heard of Hellmann’s, though they eat it all the time. Once you approach the Continental Divide, the brand’s name changes to Best Foods.

But let’s get back to the comments that people posted on Facebook and ajc.com, which piqued an anthropologic interest in me at first. It seemed silly to get so het up about prepared mayonnaise. I assumed preferences said more about upbringing than taste. But then I had an image of myself buying that same jar of Hellmann’s that I used on my tomato sandwich. Did I just pull it off a shelf, oblivious of its label? No, I searched high and low for that blue ribbon on the label. I always buy Hellmann’s.

So, for my own piece of mind, I had to put these jars of emulsified soybean oil through their paces. I chose the five popular brands mentioned above and one ringer. I cut little rounds of Pepperidge Farm Very Thin white bread (Sunbeam lovers, hold your tongues), slathered them with six mystery mayos, and invited the following folks to come and taste them from numbered plates:

Susan Puckett, Gena Berry (tasting something yucky) and chef Chris Lee

Susan Puckett, Gena Berry (tasting something yucky) and chef Chris Lee

Susan Puckett, a Decatur-based author and former AJC food editor. Brought up on Blue Plate in Mississippi, Puckett has switched allegiances to Duke’s in adult life.

Deborah Duchon, food anthropologist and founder of the Culinary Historians of Atlanta. Brought up on Miracle Whip, Duchon is no mayonnaise obsessive. “Whatever is on sale, ” is her brand.

Krista Reese, restaurant reviewer for Georgia Trend magazine. Reese’s parents are Southerners, but she was raised in Indiana, which perhaps explains her family’s shameful preference. “This is a sad confession, but my brothers forced our family to buy Miracle Whip.” She’s a proud Hellmann’s gal today.

Gena Berry, food consultant, film and television culinary producer. Growing up on St. Simons Island, Berry’s family defaulted to Kraft. While she still likes Kraft, she has started inching toward the Duke’s camp.

A pensive Deborah Duchon

A pensive Deborah Duchon

Chris Lee, chef at Waterhaven restaurant. A Memphis native, Lee is a Hellmann’s aficionado now and forever. Hellmann’s as a child, Hellmann’s as an adult.

Suzanne Van Atten, an AJC editor who used to sit near my desk and joined in a heated mayonnaise discussion, so I made her an honorary food expert. Born and raised in the heart of Duke’s country — Charlotte, N.C. — Van Atten, has lately pitched her tent in the Hellmann’s camp. “Duke’s is better, ” she insists, “but doesn’t blend into dressings like Hellmann’s.”

And so they nibbled on their odd canapes and after a while started licking the mayo off the tops of their bread rounds.

“Can I try number two again?” Puckett asked, and I passed a container of creamy goodness marked with only a Post-it Note. Soon all the containers were making the rounds as my industrious panel tasted and retasted.

Mayo clinic: Diagnosis

Strange canapés

Strange canapés

Here is what the experts found, with their ratings on a 1 to 5 scale (5 is the highest):

  • Hellmann’s: (Rating 4.7) The clear winner, the panel found it “smooth, creamy, rich” (Puckett), with a “touch of spice” (Berry) and a “wasabi” note (Duchon). “Best all-around flavor, ” wrote Lee, summing up the panel’s conclusion.
  • Blue Plate: (Rating 3.7) Some found it tart and pleasant; others deemed it bland. “Not a lot of depth, ” sniffed Reese.
  • Duke’s: (Rating 3.7) Puckett noted the heavy, “almost sticky” texture. Reese thought the saltier flavor would stand up best to a tomato sandwich. Lee found it balanced but didn’t like the aftertaste. Just about everyone noted a vinegary kick lacking in the other brands.
  • Kraft: (Rating 3) Opinions were all over the board. Duchon found it “savory, ” and Lee and Puckett complimented the smooth texture. But others were put off by what they perceived as a light, sweet flavor. “Yuck. Discount brand?” asked Van Atten.
  • Kewpie brand from Japan: (Rating 2.5) This yellowish mayo in its distinctive doll bottle can be found in any Japanese kitchen. Though the color suggests fresh eggs, the real secret ingredient of note is MSG, which gives Kewpie a savory, lingering flavor. Opinions were all over the board. Duchon loved the “complex flavors, ” but Reese said it “had no snap.” Others guessed it was a poorly prepared homemade mayonnaise (harrumph!) that needed more acid and salt to come into balance.
  • Miracle Whip: (Rating 1.5) Two commenters (Puckett and Lee) said it tasted like pickle relish. Everyone found it too sweet, and just about everyone recognized the flavor instantly.

154 comments Add your comment

Melanie McCraney

November 8th, 2009
10:55 am

Kudos for a fabulous story…as a southerner ( I live in Birmingham, Alabama ) I recognized long ago that mayonnaise is beyond a pantry staple…it’s practically a food group all its own!

Rachel Forrest

November 8th, 2009
12:15 pm

I was raised on Hellman’s.

Jan H.

November 8th, 2009
12:16 pm

Enjoyed your article on the great mayo debate, but I do have an issue with something you said. Miracle Whip is a salad dressing (but is very good on sandwiches, too), but “I don’t believe anyone in gastronomic history has actually dressed a salad with this stuff”. The only salad I knew during my growing up years in the 50’s, was iceberg (or as it is called here “western”) lettuce, tomatoes, and green onions tossed together with Miracle Whip. Fortuantely my tastes have become more sophisticated with age. Just recently I used Miracle Whip on a sandwich, tho, and had a flashback to my childhood, when I thought Mayo was what rich people used.

jimmy

November 8th, 2009
12:21 pm

great article the best pure mayo is DUKE’S

Charles

November 8th, 2009
12:49 pm

I’ve done the taste test before with Hellman’s, Duke’s and Miracle Whip. Hellman’s was the unanimous choice for best and Miracle Whip was unanimously the worst. Welcome aboard John – I’m sure you’ll be less snobby and not politically Left-slanted in your column than the last reporter.

big dave

November 8th, 2009
12:52 pm

for years it was whatever was on sale, but now i’m definately a Dukes man.

[...] The Great Mayonnaise Taste Test | Food and More with John Kessler [...]

Suzi

November 8th, 2009
1:15 pm

I eat mayonaise on everything – jello, French fries, pear and cheese salad, bar bq chicken mixed with a little Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce, and the list only grows. Hellman’s is always my second choice – but the number one always is Blue Plate!! And – I know for the sake of my health, I should switch to reduced fat mayo, but frankly, I’d rather lick cardboard!! Hooray for mayo!

hellman's girl

November 8th, 2009
1:36 pm

I like Hellman’s. My husband loves Miracle Whip! Now I know why. He’s after that sweetness. He’s a diabetic. Please tell him to switch to Hellman’s. It’s the best. Used to make Mayo sandwiches. Nothing better than that. But I knew it was not good for me. It’s one of those trigger foods I cannot keep in the house. Would eat it like ice cream–another no-no!!

[...] Original post: The Great Mayonnaise Taste Test | Food and More with John Kessler [...]

BlondeHoney

November 8th, 2009
1:47 pm

Hellmans ALL THE WAY :)

Patrick

November 8th, 2009
1:50 pm

My entire family with the exception of me are Hellmans loyalists. I don’t beleive that there is such of a thing as “good mayonaise” the whole concoction no matter what brand is disgusting!!

plafollette

November 8th, 2009
2:33 pm

I was raised on Miracle Whip and loved it at the time. My favorite sandwich was (sounds gross) was peanut butter, lettuce and Miracle Whip. Every once in a while I will buy a small jar or MW just to have that sandwich. I switched to Maynnoise when I started french cooking. Hellman’s tastes the closet to my homemade mayo. Mayonnaise is a great base for other flavors as it lends a rich, creamy element.

My Two Cents

November 8th, 2009
2:59 pm

Hellmans is the absolutely the best!

A

November 8th, 2009
3:01 pm

Yes, I too grew up on Miracle Whip. I never had mayonnaise until I bought my own food. I remember buying my first jar of Hellman’s – it felt exotic and rebellious.

Ms. Bulldawg

November 8th, 2009
3:36 pm

Interesting article. For me it depends on what I am applying the mayo to as to which I prefer. For a tomato sandwich, without question….Hellmans. For making homemade chicken salad, it is Kraft. And for homemade pimento cheese, Duke’s. (A true southern woman, I will not let store bought pimento cheese pass thru the doors of my house.)

gristmill

November 8th, 2009
3:41 pm

JFG mayo is the best but I haven’t been able to find it lately in my Kroger so I buy Duke’s – the next best thing – but JFG rocks!

Jan H.

November 8th, 2009
4:01 pm

My father had to have a MW and peanut butter sandwich every day. No lettuce, tho. I’m sure that would have been too healthy!

Eric

November 8th, 2009
4:18 pm

I’ve tried them all. Mayo is mayo. They’re all the same. The only difference is the label.

Katie

November 8th, 2009
4:43 pm

Now you make me wonder what brand was used in Martin Mull’s mockumentary “The History of White People in America” in which one of the running jokes was that the family kept picking up a couple of jars of mayonnaise every time they went out to the store because they used it in everything. Typically, I pick up whatever is on sale because nothing tastes as good as the homemade mayo we made when I was a kid in the 1960s with a raw egg, oil, paprika and I don’t remember what else (maybe lemon juice?) from the recipe that came with our Oster blender.

Mary

November 8th, 2009
4:47 pm

Raised on Miracle Whip until I tried my hand at home-made mayo à la Julia, a gift from a good friend. Since then, it’s been the real thing ever since. When I was younger, there was a woman in my home town who ate Miracle Whip by the spoonful out of a jar; she was a German “war bride,” and I think MW must have been an amazing symbol to her of everything that America could offer. Hope she discovered the real thing, too.

jay

November 8th, 2009
5:23 pm

I’m a Hellmans man. And Eric is a moron.

Deb

November 8th, 2009
5:56 pm

I was raised on Miracle Whip (is that a post-WWII thing?) but switched to mayo as an adult. I’ve tried them all, and it has to be Hellmann’s EXCEPT with peanut butter (lettuce or no – either way). Gotta have MW with peanut butter!

Bobbye

November 8th, 2009
6:01 pm

Have you never heard of Bama Mayonnaise? Was made in Birmingham. Grew up using it. I think Kraft bought them up. However, now, give me Hellman’s, the first ripe tomato of summer, white bread and that equals “heaven”.

Hank

November 8th, 2009
6:02 pm

My wife, born and raised in Atlanta many more years ago that I am allowed to mention, was convinced that about a year ago that Hellman’s flavor changed. She thought they may have changed the ingredients and that Hellman’s Light is closer to the “original” taste than regular Hellman’s. To her, even the Light is not as tasty as “before.” Any possibility that this is the case?

james

November 8th, 2009
6:29 pm

bama mayo sure is good

Maretta

November 8th, 2009
6:31 pm

I found Dukes at half price and then I had a 50 cent coupon, making my final cost less than a dollar; so, I tried it. It’s very disappointing — it looks pretty and creamy, but it has no taste. I put some in a plastic container and mixed in two of my favorite spices — a little minced white onions and sea salt. Otherwise, I would be wasting my time to use it; I’ll never buy Dukes again.

Anne

November 8th, 2009
6:50 pm

I like Hellman’s as well, but when I was diagnosed with Diabetes Type II, my educator told me that if I had to have mayo, that Dukes was the best because it has no sugar in it.

John Kessler

November 8th, 2009
7:50 pm

Sounds like I need to try my first Miracle Whip and peanut butter sandwich. Lettuce or no lettuce? Also, I’ve never seen Bama or JFG mayo, but will be on the lookout.

John Kessler

November 8th, 2009
7:51 pm

Enter your comments here

Art

November 8th, 2009
8:03 pm

John, great blog! I have to agree with Ms. Bulldawg, you have to keep a few of these around for various purposes… I like to think of mayo as a lot like salt or perhaps salad dressing… Sometimes you’re in the mood for table salt (never for me) and sometimes you’re in the mood for Kosher or Fleur de Sel… sometimes you’re in the mood for Ranch and sometimes you’re in the mood for Thousand Island or Green Goddess… Just for good measure, I keep Hellman’s, Duke’s and Blue Plate in the fridge… They’re all great and ever ready to coat some sort of goodness…

P.S. Eric, you need to get your taste buds checked… You don’t know what you’re missing.

JML

November 8th, 2009
8:22 pm

JFG is my favorite when I can find it. Hellman’s and Duke’s are fine, but don’t compare to JFG.

Mom of 3 Boys

November 8th, 2009
8:38 pm

Blue Plate! My secret for great tator salad!

Rich

November 8th, 2009
8:50 pm

Regular Miracle Whip has less calories and fat grams than “lite” versions of helmans and dukes, with more more gram of sugar. That is the dietary tradeoff.

John

November 8th, 2009
9:01 pm

From a Chicago native, now southern convert….Hellman’s on a deli sandwich, Miracle Whip on a BLT, and only Duke’s in my pimento cheese!

Mike

November 8th, 2009
9:42 pm

Last time I was at Blue Ribbon Grill near Northlake, half of the mayonnaise bottles on the tables were Hellman’s, the others were Best Foods.

Yes, folks, they taste the same.

I’ve got to wonder how they got a delivery of Best Foods mayonnaise, though – was it the teetotaler’s version of “Smokey and the Bandit?”

Jeff in Roswell

November 8th, 2009
9:48 pm

Ahhh, brings back memories. Yes, since I’ve grown up, it’s only Mayo. When I was a kid though, in northern Pennsylvania, it was Miracle Whip all the way. Mayo wasn’t even in the house. Peanut Butter and Miracle Whip sandwiches were a daily item. We never used it on salads – just sandwiches. Mmmmm, I can taste it now – Sweet Lebanon with Provolone with a huge slather of Miracle Whip. Since I’ve moved to the south, it’s been Mayo. I do agree that Hellman’s is the best, although I usually buy store brand.

katz

November 8th, 2009
10:25 pm

East or West, for our family, it’s Hellman’s or Best.
Mac salad or french fries in Hawaii gets the Best.
Fresh tomatoes and mashed sweet potato in Ga are nothing without Hellman’s

C

November 8th, 2009
10:32 pm

homemade is easy and tastes way better

Johnny Fontane

November 9th, 2009
8:45 am

My grandma taught me to always use Hellman’s as a child and I still use it today. It seems to blend better when using it in cassaroles. I have used Kraft in a pinch and I can taste the difference. Never change granny’s recipes.

Jamie Gumbrecht

November 9th, 2009
8:54 am

This is a small, ridiculous aside, but as a kid, I was obsessed with the book “Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh. I did what Harriet did, I dressed as I thought Harriet would and naturally, I ate what Harriet ate: tomato sandwiches on white bread. But after trying it once with Kraft — the mayo my Michigan family defaulted to — I was horrified that people ingested any of this white glop. (I remained skeptical, too, of this “egg cream” that Harriet so loved, although I understand it contains neither egg nor cream.) Anyway, I still adore Harriet, and believe it’s no coincidence that I wound up working in newspapers. But really, this is the story of how I discovered wheat bread and mustard.

John Kessler

November 9th, 2009
9:24 am

Hilarious, Mike. “Hide the mayo! Here come the revenuers!”

Howard

November 9th, 2009
10:16 am

Using Miracle Whip as a salad dressing must be a Midwestern thing. I grew up in central Illinois and my mom always used Miracle Whip and milk to make the salad dressing.

CW

November 9th, 2009
10:21 am

Grew up on Blue Plate and Hellmans but since I first discovered Duke’s about 3 years ago I’ve never gone back. It’s Duke’s all the way. NOTHING taste better on a tomato sandwich in July

uberVU - social comments

November 9th, 2009
11:16 am

Social comments and analytics for this post…

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Atlanta Guy

November 9th, 2009
12:46 pm

Any true Southerner worth a dime uses only Dukes. I don’t care what this panel says.

ziza

November 9th, 2009
1:57 pm

raised on hellman’s. have tried duke’s but found it a bit too rich tasting for me for sandwhiches, but do like it on potato salad where i would be able to use it interchangeably with hellman’s. incidently, kroger brand “hellman’s” is just fine! ;-)

Atlanta Guy

November 9th, 2009
2:26 pm

Ziza, you must not be from the South!

Victoria

November 9th, 2009
2:27 pm

I was raised on Duke’s, can’t stand MWhip or BPlate – yuk. I prefer the rich, salty taste of Duke’s over the sweet brands. All my aunt’s and relatives use Duke’s; they’re all from either SC or GA. If I’m at a “yankee” friend’s house and they don’t have Duke’s, I just leave the mayo off my sandwich!!

Nora

November 9th, 2009
2:33 pm

For me its Duke’s #1, Hellman’s #2 for real mayo. And yes, I do like Miracle Whip for certain things like coleslaw dressing (it is lighter, sweeter and tangier than mayo). So if coleslaw is a salad, then I do indeed dress a salad with Miracle Whip. One little bonus is that it has less fat and calories than mayo.