Where is mayonnaise from?
Most people assume that mayonnaise comes from France. Especially the French.
But on the small Spanish island of Menorca, the people here will tell you their own origin story.
The clue, they claim, is in the name. The largest city on Menorca is called Mahon and, if you say it right, mayonnaise sounds just like Mahon-aise.
As the story goes, it was in the mid-1700s that mayonnaise emerged here on Menorca.
The French had laid siege to the island and the duke in charge of these forces enjoyed his food. It was his chef who brought mayonnaise to him.
Either he was forced to create it through experimentation because there was no decent cream on the island – or the locals showed him how to make it because they already knew (the tale differs slightly here).
Regardless, it was a product of Menorca, according to this version.
Local Menorcan chef, Tolo Carrasco from the restaurant Ses Voltes in Ciutadella, is positive that mayonnaise came from here and not France.
“I’m sure,” he tells me. “At first I had doubts, but not now because of the history.”
He then proceeds to repeat the Spanish version.
“The story says that at the time it happened, it was when the French occupied the island and then the French export the mayonnaise from here.”
This story is supported, some believe, by the fact that French cuisine had no mention of mayonnaise until the middle of the 18th century. It could make logical sense that the French brought back the idea and the recipe from Menorca.
However, there is another school of thought.
The bluntest proposition within the alternate version is that a small island like Menorca just didn’t have the sophistication to come up with something like mayonnaise.
The more educated reasoning is that all the old recipe books describe mayonnaise and French and there is no mention of Menorca or Spain in reference to the condiment.
In some ways, it is odd to think that there is even such an argument about a food that is really quite basic.
Mayonnaise only has two ingredients – eggs and olive oil – so why is it not possible that it was invented independently in more than one location?
At his restaurant, Tolo Carrasco demonstrates for me how to make mayonnaise.
“The process is just whisk first the yolk with some salt,” he explains. “Then very slowly put in the olive oil and whisk it very much.”
I ask him what the secret is and if it is easy to get it wrong. He says that it does not always go according to plan.
“It is not easy. The trick is fresh ingredients, for sure. And then the temperature of the two ingredients must be the same.”
This time he does it perfectly and the mayonnaise comes out with a consistent texture and a slight yellow tinge that shows you it was made from fresh egg yolks. (I don’t know why commercial mayonnaise always looks so white – is that done artificially because that’s what customers prefer?)
I taste it on a small bit of bread and it’s delicious.
As you would expect from an island that proudly proclaims it invented mayonnaise, it is often served with meals here and complements the food well. Tolo tells me how important he thinks it is.
“I think it’s the identity of Menorca,” he says.
“The kitchen of Menorca is simple but fantastic, very good. A lot of civilisations came here and influenced us. We are simple but we made all the influences ours with simple ingredients.”
The French may claim mayonnaise. But they can’t claim that!