The real origin of mayonnaise

There are two countries that claim they invented mayonnaise. The argument about the real origin is heated – so what is the truth?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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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.

Where is mayonnaise from? Menorca or France.

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.”

Where is mayonnaise from? Menorca or France.

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.

Where is mayonnaise from? Menorca or France.

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.”

Where is mayonnaise from? Menorca or France.

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.”

Where is mayonnaise from? Menorca or France.

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.

Where is mayonnaise from? Menorca or France.

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.”

Where is mayonnaise from? Menorca or France.

The French may claim mayonnaise. But they can’t claim that!

Time Travel Turtle was supported by Menorca Tourism in partnership with iambassador but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

15 thoughts on “The real origin of mayonnaise”

  1. Since when France produces or exports olive oil? As far as I know, they mostly used animal fat, like butter, at that time n their traditional recipes. Olive oil came much later for them. You must think that France invaded Spain during the 1700’s. and only a small part of the Mediterranean French coast does use it!
    Other mediterranean countries such as Spain or Italy do produce, use it in a daily badis and export olive oil.

    Reply
    • Actually France started producing olive oil when it was still called Gaul. There are many olive trees in Provence and France produces a great olive oil as well. The accent is usually put on butter because the French use it a lot, contrary to Spain or Italy, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have olive oil when mayonnaise was invented.

      Reply
  2. Yes it was invented at Mahon, by the French general’s (Duke de Richelieu’s) chef, when he was laying siege to the English at Mahon. So yes, it is a French invention. And a lot of olive oil is produced in the south of France and exported – as it has been for millenia.

    Reply
  3. Mid-1700s was when mayo was made. The middle of the 18th century is when France had recipes including mayo. The middle of the 18th century would be the mid-1700s right?

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  4. But doesn’t the mayo made with olive oil taste different? I think the commercial mayo is made of sunflower oil & eggs that’s why it has whitish color…

    Reply

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