French Mayonnaise Recipe vs French Aïoli: What’s the difference?

Discover the curious link between French mayonnaise and its mysterious ties to a 2000-year-old Roman recipe that’s very similar to garlic aioli sauce.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
Mayonnaise Spanish or French?
Mayonnaise Spanish or French?

Did you know that mayonnaise and aïoli have a common link to an ancient Roman garlic recipe that dates back 2000 years? Or that mayonnaise tastes different in some countries?

In France, mayonnaise is one of the most popular condiments and a French pantry staple found in most household refrigerators.

Mayonnaise is also the preferred sauce for “les Frites” (French fries/chips), and used as a base for other sauces or to flavour meat, fish, and vegetables. 

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

In this article, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between mayonnaise in France and other countries and the differences between mayonnaise and Aïoli sauce. 

And because traditional mayonnaise is so easy to make, yet so few take the time to do it, I’ve included an authentic Mayonnaise recipe and two instructional videos by French chefs at the end of this article.

Why does French Mayonnaise taste different?

Bottle of French mayonnaise: contains Dijon Mustard

Many countries and cultures have their own version of mayonnaise and preferences of how mayonnaise should taste.

Even the way mayonnaise looks can differ from country to country.

For example, the Kewpie brand mayonnaise from Japan is white, tangier, sweeter and contains more eggs than an American-style mayonnaise.

One of the biggest differences between French mayonnaise and the kind you find in other countries is the addition of Dijon mustard, usually containing 3% to 6%.

In fact, it’s pretty tough to find mayonnaise in France without mustard unless you stroll down the international aisles of a French grocery store and buy American mayonnaise or buy Asian style mayonnaise.

I should know, I’ve tried.

What’s the difference between aïoli sauce and mayonnaise?

French mayonnaise recipe and its Aïoli origins

French mayonnaise and aioli sauce are both creamy emulsions commonly used in French cuisine.

Although very similar, they do have some key differences in their ingredients.

Homemade French Mayonnaise usually involves whisking a neutral oil vigorously as it’s slowly dripped into a mixture of liquids (usually salt, egg yolk, and vinegar.)

Aioli sauces don’t use a neutral oil; instead, aioli is made with olive oil, whisked vigorously into a mixture of lemon juice and mashed garlic.

Some modern recipes use eggs in their aioli recipe, but purists say there should be no egg in an authentic aioli sauce. Don’t say that to a French person. 

How to make traditional homemade French mayonnaise

Grand Aïoli: French provençal dish

Despite being a super simple sauce to make, many people in France stick to commercial store-bought mayonnaise from their local French grocery store, which is exactly where I first tried French mayonnaise in 2011. 

Flash forward a couple of years when I had a chance to try homemade French mayonnaise and homemade provençal aïoli dip at a friend’s apéro dînatoire where she served pre-dinner drinks and a variety of dishes, including “le grand aïoli” (the big aïoli).

This French Provencal dish is served at room temperature with hard-boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, vegetables and a variety of seafood such as cod, gambas along with a garlicky French aïoli dipping sauce. 

My friend said it was easy to make both mayonnaise and Provençal Aïoli because they use some of the same ingredients and are made very similarly, with a lot of whisking.

French Mayonnaise recipe

If you can make a salad vinaigrette, you can make homemade French mayonnaise.

You only need 5 ingredients that can be whipped up in less than 5 minutes. You don’t need to cook anything. It’s seriously that easy. 

Ingredients: Serves two to four people. 

  1. Dijon mustard: A teaspoon of French Dijon mustard. 
  2. 1 or 2 room-temperature egg yolks: 1 raw egg yolk should be enough for a small batch.
  3. Pinch of salt and pepper as needed.
  4. A few drops of vinegar: adjusting to your preference. 
  5. Neutral oil (add last)


  • Vigorously whisk the first 4 ingredients together in a bowl and make sure the salt has dissolved.
  • Once the mixture of mustard, eggs, salt, pepper, and vinegar is mixed well, slowly add oil to the mixture by slowly drizzling it little by little while whisking it like crazy until you get the desired consistency.

That’s it. No measuring, no cooking, no fuss. 

What kind of oil do you use to make French mayonnaise?

Traditionally, a neutral oil, such as grape seed oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, or sunflower oil, is used to make French mayonnaise.

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 but it won’t taste the same as traditional French mayonnaise.

VIDEOS: How to make homemade French Mayonnaise recipe


Origins of mayonnaise and aioli sauce all lead to Rome.

French Provençal Aïoli recipe

While there are various theories and legends surrounding the origins of mayonnaise, it’s generally believed that mayonnaise, as we know it today, evolved or may have been inspired by the ancient aioli recipe that dates back to a 2000-year-old Roman garlic sauce. 

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 in what is now the south east part of Spain.

The Roman garlic sauce was a simple creamy emulsion of crushed raw garlic and olive oil, which Pliny called “aleatum,” or garlic 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.

How Mayonnaise may have evolved from Catalan Allioli.

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

Some speculate that mayonnaise was invented by the French Duke de Richelieu’s personal chef.

As the story goes, the Duc of Richelieu wanted a special meal to celebrate kicking the British out of Menorca during the “Battle at Mahón,” aka “Battle of Minorca “(20 May 1756).

His personal chef prepared a feast of fresh seafood, served with a special dressing which he called Mahón-aise, after the captured port city of Mahón.

“Mahón-aise” may have become “Mahonesa” or “Mayonesa” in Spanish, “Maionesa” in Catalon and “Mayonnaise” in French pronounced May-YOE-Nayz.

The exact ingredients used in the personal chef’s Mahón-aise sauce aren’t well documented.

However, historical accounts suggest that the original recipe might have been based on Allioli, the local Catalan name for Aioli sauce the island residents made with garlic and oil mashed together in a mortar and pestle.

Although the original garlic and oil emulsion sauce recipe didn’t contain any eggs, or mustard, over time, the recipe for mayonnaise and aioli may have evolved and incorporated additional ingredients; egg yolks and sometimes mustard in mayonnaise and lemon in aioli, leading to the creamy condiments we know today. 

Fun fact: Aïoli, Allioli, Alioli

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

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

Another nickname name for Aïoli used in France is “beurre de Provence (butter of Provence), or Aïoli Provençal.

While the modern Catalan aioli recipes still contain only garlic and oil and have a more pasty texture, many modern French and Spanish aioli recipes contain egg with some French recipes adding mustard to the recipe, similar to a French garlic mayonnaise.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.


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