By Laura Mack
April 27, 2016
Mayonnaise is one of my favorite condiments, right up there with butter. I particularly enjoy both tuna salad and egg salad with generous amounts of mayo. That wasn’t something that worked in my favor during all of the years of low-fat nutritional advice (most of my adult life). Either I was virtuous and tolerated dry salads, or made it the way it actually tastes good and felt guilty. Now that I follow a low carb high fat (LCHF) way of eating, healthy mayonnaise is one of my go-to pantry essentials. I can have egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, or any salad of my choice, with generous dollops of mayo — guilt-free!
Now, you may think that mayonnaise is pure fat, which is mostly correct. While healthy fat is a good thing, the challenge with most supermarket mayonnaises are the low-quality industrial seed and vegetable oils they use, not to mention the assortment of other additives and preservatives. All in all, there’s not much there you’d want to consume on a regular basis.
Let’s look at Best Foods (Hellman’s) line of mayonnaise, which is the best-selling brand in the USA.
- “Real” Mayonnaise” — main ingredient is soybean oil, followed by eggs. While it has some added sugar, it is slight enough that the label states there are 0 carbs per 1 tablespoon serving. In addition to vinegar, lemon juice, and salt, it has preservatives sorbic acid and calcium disodium EDTA and “natural flavors,” which can be just about anything.
- “Light Mayonnaise” — main ingredients are water and soybean oil, followed by modified food starch to bolster the consistency. It has sugar as well, perhaps more than the “real” mayo, to make up for the flavor loss from less fat. It has 1 carb per 1 tablespoon serving, but it’s hard to know how much of that is sugar and how much is from modified food starch. It has the same flavorings and preservatives as the “real” version.
- “Mayonnaise Dressing with Olive Oil” — main ingredients are water and soybean oil, followed by olive oil. It’s basically a “light” mayo with a little olive oil added to make it appear healthier. It has less than 1 carb per 1 tablespoon serving, so less sugar and/or modified food starch than their “light mayonnaise.” It has the same flavorings and preservatives as the “real” and “light” versions.
While I’m not a fan of sugar, starches, or mystery flavorings and preservatives, industrial seed/vegetable oils are even less desirable, particularly soybean oil. It’s worth steering clear of. However, it’s a cheap ingredient for food manufacturers, so it’s in more processed foods than you can imagine. Check food labels, and know that you’re probably already getting more than you should simply by eating out occasionally.
There are other mayonnaises on the market that are often perceived as healthy because they are labeled organic, non-GMO, and/or all-natural. For instance, the Spectrum brand uses soybean and/or canola oils. Woodstock and Trader Joe’s brands use soybean oil. Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo uses expeller-pressed canola oil, which may be slightly better than soybean oil, but they add modified food starch and calcium disodium EDTA. I’ve tried a few of the other upscale brands in the past (thinking they were at least better than the basic supermarket brands such as Best Foods), but they didn’t even taste good. Hain and Sir Kensington brands (both of which I have not tried) have a little better health profile with safflower and sunflower oil, respectively, and no undesirable additives. However, I still avoid safflower and sunflower oils (with the exception of cold-pressed, high-oleic versions).
Fortunately, a few options have come out more recently that are truly healthy versions of purchased mayonnaise. They are available online at sources such as Amazon or Thrive Market. I’ve even seen them at some grocery stores that focus on natural foods.
- Primal Kitchen Mayonnaise is made with avocado oil, which is a very healthy fat. The only other ingredients are eggs (organic cage-free), organic vinegar, sea salt, and rosemary extract. No sugar or starch added. Super clean and healthy.
- Chosen Foods Pure Avocado Oil Mayonnaise is similarly “clean” and although they do add a little honey, the carbs are still 0 per 1 tablespoon serving.
- The only downside of these avocado oil mayos:
- They are usually pricier than the other upscale brands, and considerably more so than the mass-market brands.
- While lots of folks are fine with the taste, some people don’t care for the slightly assertive flavor of avocado oil. Taste is personal, of course, so you’ll have to decide for yourself.
It may not surprise you that I use a fair amount of mayonnaise. I prefer to make it myself, as it takes just mere minutes. I often use cold-pressed, high-oleic sunflower oil, which is almost as healthy as avocado oil, but has a more neutral flavor. (For more information, see my post on Healthy Fats and Oils.) While cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil would be a healthy option, it’s very distinctive flavor is not suitable for mayonnaise.
The easiest way to make mayonnaise yourself is by using a food processor, blender, or stick blender. My Healthy Mayonnaise recipe is slightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated’s Quick Food Processor Mayonnaise. If you’re not a CooksIllustrated.com member, you probably won’t be able to access the recipe link, so I’m going to include it below. However, I encourage you to consider a free trial membership t0 Cooks Illustrated whether you’re a new cook or a seasoned cook. I’ve had an online membership for years and I use it regularly — it’s one of my favorite cooking “tools.” Just my opinion; I’m not being compensated in any way for the plug!
The advantages to making mayo yourself include the ability to control the quality of the ingredients, tweak the flavor profile to suit your tastes, and save money. For instance, this Healthy Mayonnaise recipe uses lemon juice for the acid. I love the lemony flavor, so it’s perfect for me. If you don’t, you could substitute your favorite vinegar or use half lemon juice and half vinegar. Choose cold-pressed high-oleic sunflower oil or avocado oil depending on which flavor you prefer.
Because homemade mayonnaise uses fresh eggs, it won’t keep as long in your refrigerator as purchased mayo. Up to five days is the safest, but mine has been fine for up to two weeks. If you’re concerned about using raw eggs, choose a brand that is pasteurized. I don’t generally worry about it, but you might want to consider it for immunocompromised folks, as well as the very young or very elderly.
Besides just plain mayo as a condiment, I use it as a base for so many things, including tartar sauce, salad dressings, and dips/spreads. You will undoubtedly see many recipes using mayonnaise in the posts to come.
In the meantime, consider these ideas for dips/spreads that are so simple that they’re not even recipes. Adjust the portions to suit your taste:
- Pesto — mayo and prepared pesto (Kirkland brand from Costco is my favorite)
- Dijonnaise — mayo with Dijon-style mustard (or any mustard you like)
- Secret Sauce — mayo, low-carb ketchup, yellow mustard, and dill pickle relish
- BBQ — mayo and Our Favorite Low Carb Barbecue Sauce. I know it sounds weird, but it’s delicious!
- Roasted Red Pepper — mayo with pureed or chopped roasted red peppers and a dash of paprika
- Avocado — mayo with mashed avocado and a little juice and zest from a lemon or lime
- Mexican — mayo with some of my Mexican Seasoning Blend and perhaps a little lime zest and juice
- Chipotle — mayo with chipotle paste, chopped chipotles in adobo sauce, or chipotle powder
- Sriracha — mayo and spicy sriracha sauce
- Pickled Pepper — mayo and your favorite pickled peppers (cherry, pepperoncini, jalapeno), minced
- Herbed — mayo with your choice of minced fresh herbs: chives, parsley, cilantro, oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary are all good choices
- Wild Card — any combination of the above!
I hope you’ll consider giving homemade mayo a try. If you don’t use much mayonnaise or you simply don’t want to make it from scratch, do consider one of the truly healthy purchased mayos, such as those from Primal Kitchen and Chosen Foods. At the very least, a healthier-than-most version from Hain or Sir Kensington would certainly be better than most mass-market brands.
Do try some of my suggestions for your own healthy mayonnaise-based dips or spreads and let me know what you think. They liven things up and add a dose of healthy fat, which is especially good with lean proteins.
Author: Laura Mack
Recipe type: Condiment
Prep time: 5 mins
Total time: 5 mins
This healthy mayonnaise recipe is slightly adapted from Cook's Illustrated's quick food processor version. Fast, delicious, and healthy!
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
dash of Worcestershire Sauce
dash of hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)
pinch of ground black pepper
1 large egg (pasteurized, if you're concerned about using raw eggs)
10 ounces / 1¼ cups avocado oil or cold-pressed high-oleic sunflower oil
- Process lemon juice, salt, mustard, Worcestershire, hot pepper sauce (if using), black pepper, and egg in a food processor until combined and mixture turns light yellow, about 30 seconds.
- With the machine running, pour oil in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube until fully incorporated, thick, and emulsified about 1 minute.
- Taste and adjust seasonings. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid, like a mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Nutritional info* per 1 tablespoon serving: 106 cal, 11.9 g total fat (99%), 0 g total carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g net carbs, and 0.3 g protein.
*I use Living Cookbook 2015, along with package information and data from www.nutritiondata.self.com, to calculate the nutritional information for my recipes. Thus, I can make no guarantees as to the accuracy.