Traditional French mayonnaise recipe & its mysterious aïoli origins

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Traditional French mayonnaise, so easy to make, yet so few take the time to do it. Have you ever wondered where this deliciously creamy sauce came from? In addition to its mysterious origins, I’ve included the authentic or traditional French Mayonnaise recipe plus two instructional videos at the end of this article by two French chefs. 

So you think you know Mayonnaise? 

It’s a popular condiment used in a number of countries. White in colour in some countries and yellow in others.

Despite its popularity and being a super simple sauce to make, most people stick to commercially made store-bought Mayonnaise. 

To make matters even more confusing, each country has their own preference on how mayo should taste.

For example, Japanese Mayonnaise:

The Kewpie brand mayonnaise from Japan is an extremely popular condiment that’s tangier, sweeter, and contains more eggs than an American style mayonnaise.

Then there’s French Mayonnaise:

And Yes, French people buy commercial Mayonnaise in grocery stores. All my friends here in France have a bottle in their refrigerator at all times. 

It’s France’s most popular condiment, used on meat, fish, vegetables, and it’s the preferred sauce for les Frites (french fries/chips if you’re British). 

Enjoying les frites with mayonnaise near place de la comédie in Montpellier

The first time I tried store-bought French Mayonnaise, I picked some up at our local Carrefour food store and was surprised by the distinct mustard taste, which is great if you love Dijon mustard. 

Life carried on as usual until I tried homemade French mayonnaise at a friend’s apéro dînatoire. Like the store-bought mayonnaise, my friend’s homemade version had a distinct mustard taste, but it was tangier and not sweet at all.

If you’ve ever tasted velvety homemade mayo, you know how much better it tastes compared to industrial mayonnaise. 

My friend also put out some homemade Aïoli Provençal, which is extremely popular in the south of France, where Mediterranean culture is prevalent. She said it was easy to make both simultaneously because they use almost the same ingredients. 

French Provençal Aïoli recipe

Origins of Mayonnaise: The name and the sauce

There’s a lot of lore behind the origins of French Mayonnaise. Historians can’t agree on the etymology of the word Mayonnaise, let alone who invented it.

Mayonnaise is spelled the same in French as in English but when speaking in French, every syllable is pronounced \May-YOE-Nayz\.

Mahon-aise 

Some speculate that Mayonnaise was invented to celebrate the victory of the Duke de Richelieu in 1756 during the 7-year war, who kicked the British troops out of Menorca, now part of Spain. His sauce was named Mahón-aise, named after the captured port city of Mahón. 

Another story claims the personal chef of the admiral invented French Mayonnaise, which he based on Allioli, the local Catalan variant of Aioli from the island residents.

Mahón-aise became Mahonesa or Mayonesa in Spanish,  Maionesa in Catalon and Mayonnaise in French.

Minorca is one of the four Balearic islands located in the Mediterranean sea that belong to Spain. They are Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca and Menorca.

Moyeunaise

In the Larousse Gastronomique, the French cooking bible, you’ll read that mayonnaise could be a corruption of moyeunaise, from the Old French moyeu, meaning “egg yolk.”

There are quite a few other stories, and it’s hard to tell fact from fiction.

The origins of Mayonnaise is most likely allioli

Allioli?

Don’t you mean Aioli?

Yes and no. 

Whatever its etymological origins, it’s most likely that the origins of mayonnaise is based on the original aioli sauce (allioli, in Catalan), which was made with just garlic, oil, and salt, mashed together in a mortar and pestle.

There are actually three spellings that refer to a garlic and oil emulsion sauce used in the cuisine of Provence, France, Spain, and Catalonia regions of Spain and France. 

Aïoli, Allioli, Alioli 

Aïoli, Allioli, and Alioli are all compound words meaning garlic and oil in their respective languages. 

The original recipe that dates back nearly 2000 years did not contain any eggs, but now many recipes such as French Provençal Aïoli incorporate egg yolks and are closer to garlic mayonnaise. In contrast, most Catalan recipes contain only garlic and oil and have a more pasty texture. Many Spanish versions also contain eggs. 

Aïoli \Eye-YO-Lee\ : France:  

The French Provençal Aïoli name comes from the regional Occitan language in France.

Also nicknamed “butter of Provence” (beurre de Provence), Aïoli Provençal usually contains eggs, and sometimes people add mustard. It’s France remember?

Allioli \Ah-ee-ohlee\: Catalan (Spain and France)

Catalan was considered a dialect of Occitan until the end of the 19th century and is its closest relative. It diverged from Old Occitan between the 11th and 14th centuries.

There are roughly 450,000 French Catalans or Northern Catalans, as some like to call themselves, who reside along the border of Spain in the modern French département of the Pyrénées-Orientales, which was historically part of Catalonia. 

Spain ceded the area and the Catalans who lived in the area to France by signing the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 under King Louis XIV. The peace treaty enlarged the country and created a new border with Spain along the Pyrenees.

Garlic and oil sauce: Aioli original recipe without egg made in a mortar and pestle

Alioli \Ah-Lee-Ohlee\: Greater Spain:

Alioli in Spain should be similar to the Catalan version, just oil and garlic, salt and lemon but many recipes now contain Egg yolk. 

Did you know that Catalan and Spanish are the two official languages of Barcelona, Spain, and the vast majority can speak both? 

All Aioli sauces lead to Rome. 

Like many things European, the deeper you dig, you’ll find that “all roads lead to Rome.”

And French Mayonnaise is no different. It’s likely that French mayonnaise is a spinoff of the garlic and oil emulsion sauce that’s been made in southwestern France and northeastern Spain dating back centuries to the time of Roman occupation. The Romans invented the French Apero and Italian aperitivio, after all. 

The first known mention of a sauce resembling aioli was by Pliny the Elder(23-79 A.D.), who lived in Tarragona, a city located in the south of Catalonia on the north-east of Spain.

It was a creamy emulsion of two ingredients, crushed raw garlic and olive oil. 

Pliny simply called it garlic (Latin term: aleatum) in his book Naturalis Historia, the world’s first encyclopedia and one of the largest single works to have survived the Roman Empire that covers all ancient knowledge.

This makes aïoli (garlic and olive oil emusion sauce) at least 2,000 years old, and it is probably much older than that if it made the cut and was mentioned in Pliny’s encyclopedia. 

What’s the difference between Aïoli sauce and Mayonnaise?

Mayonnaise and aioli sauces are both emulsion sauces created when two substances that don’t want to mix are forced to mix. In cooking, this usually refers to oil being whisked vigorously into something water-based. The oil breaks up into tiny droplets that then get suspended within the liquid. 

In the case of French Mayonnaise, a neutral oil is whisked vigorously as it’s slowly dripped into a mixture of salt, egg yolk and vinegar (the liquids).

Aioli sauces use olive oil which you also whisk vigorously into a mixture of lemon juice and mashed garlic. As I mentioned earlier, some recipes use eggs now. Purists say that there should be no egg in a true Aioli sauce. 

Le grand Aïoli is a Provencal dish of boiled and fresh vegetables, and a variety of meats and seafood such as cod and gambas which you serve with a garlicky Aïoli dipping sauce and other accompaniments. It’s and ideal dish to serve for a French apero dinner party or at picnics because you can prepare it in advance and serve it at room temperature.

French restaurant menu sign with plat du jour Aïoli or Grand Aioli

Grand Aïoli: French provençal dish

Traditional Homemade French Mayonnaise Recipe

If you can make a salad vinaigrette, you can make homemade French mayo. It’s seriously that easy. You only need 5 ingredients that can be whipped up in less than 5 minutes. You don’t need to cook anything. 

Directions: The recipe below is enough for two to four people. 

Vigorously whisk the first 4 ingredients together in a bowl and make sure the salt has dissolved. Once everything is mixed well, you slowly drizzle the oil into the mixture while simultaneously whisking the mixture. 

1) Dijon mustard

A teaspoon of French dijon mustard. 

2) 1 Egg yolk or 2 egg yolks if you want a bigger batch.

1 raw egg yolk should be enough for a small batch. Make sure the egg yolk is room temperature and not cold. 

3) Salt & Pepper

A pinch of salt and pepper is needed.

4) Vinegar

5) Oil (add last)

Gradually add the oil to the mixture of mustard salt and eggs, little by little and whisk like crazy. Keep adding oil and whisking untili you get the desired consistency. That’s it. No measuring, no cooking, no fuss. 

What kind of oil to use. 

Traditionally a neutral oil is used to make French Mayonnaise, such as grape seed oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, or sunflower oil. Olive oil is not a neutral oil and is not traditionally used to create French Mayonnaise because it has a stronger taste. You can use it; it won’t taste the same as traditional French Mayonnaise.  I do use olive oil because I prefer it and I swap out vinegar for lemon juice.

If you add crushed garlic to this then you’ll have yourself from Aïoli Provençal. 

TWO VIDEOS: How to make homemade French Mayonnaise recipe

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  1. I used to travel to Majorca. I absolutely love it. I would go to the other side of the island from Palma to a small town of Deija. I would bring back a suitcase full of local olive oil which is not exported. I have never been to Menorca. Spain is probably my most favorite country to visit.

  2. You know I think I’ve heard of the Balearic Islands before. I’m pretty sure, but honestly I don’t know anything about them.

    Now I’ve heard of Ibiza before but I didn’t know they were a part of these islands. I just know it as a party spot where kids go to have fun and drink. It seems like the European version of spring break in Mexico.

    They have some really cool interesting features. It seems like a really beautiful place.

  3. Hi Annie:

    How are you?

    Prior to reading your post,
    I had never heard of Menorca aka Minorca Spain, thanks for enlightening me
    about the 7 reasons why
    I should visit the place.

    Hope one day I can make
    enough money with my writing,
    to visit it –
    at that time I will
    surely remember the 7 reasons
    that you have stated.

    Take care.

    Best wishes and regards

    Veena :)

  4. Hi Annie

    I’ve never been to the Balearic Islands but my sister and her family love going there.

    I’m pretty sure they’ve been to all of them, along with the Canary Islands which you might also want to check out.

    They certainly look beautiful Annie and are making want to have a holiday in the sun!

  5. Aren’t you glad you like to visit new places Annie! You get to find all the coolest spots girl.

    Now you’re going to think I’m probably nuts but the mayonnaise caught my eye more then anything in this post. It’s only because I was just thinking yesterday how the heck they make mayo. I love that stuff, seriously but I really am just curious how it’s made. Then where do I land today? Your post where you even have a video so thank you for that. I’m going to make me some just so I can see for myself how it takes.

    But seriously, all the other things you mentioned here are cool too. I love that there aren’t any high rise hotels. More quaint and cozy surroundings, I love that.

    Any place that has outdoor activities is fun to me. It’s a beautiful place too so thanks for the mini tour!

    Enjoy your week now.

    ~Adrienne

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