One of the things I have found the hardest to give up in my shunning of unnaturally extracted vegetable oils high in polyunsaturated omega 6 fats is Best Foods brand mayonnaise (also known as Hellmann’s), which is mainly soybean oil.
I eventually got over the rich, salty sweetness it added to my summer tomato sandwiches, but I’ve been finding it nearly impossible to replace in tuna or salmon salads. Sour cream doesn’t even come close as a replacement, neither does crème fraîche, plain yogurt or cream cheese. Most commercial mayos claiming to be olive oil-based contain a little bit of olive oil and a lot of soybean oil.
So, being the proud owner of happy egg-producing hens, I set out to make my own egg and olive oil mayonnaise. I found this fantastic article on the New York Times, where food writer, Melissa Clark demonstrates her secret to perfect mayonnaise: 1 teaspoon water, which helps emulsify the egg and oil together in creamy harmony. She also makes fantastic suggestions for additional flavors you might want to consider, and the article includes a handy how-to video featuring Melissa herself.
The recipe calls for a very fresh egg, so I marched off to sit in the cozy hen house, watched as Henrietta lightly strained and pushed out a gleaming egg, then promptly stole it for my mayo as I distracted her with some apple peelings. How’s that for fresh?
Voila! It worked. My mayo looked beautiful, creamy and full of flavor… and urgh, it was FULL of flavor. The olive oil, though mild when used alone, tasted completely overwhelming as the base for my mayonnaise. Alas, it was beautiful, but inedible.
After a little research into healthy but mild oils, I decided to try peanut oil as my base. While peanut oil is considered a vegetable oil, it’s also different because it’s predominately monounsaturated and saturated fats, with only about 33% polyunsaturated fat.
Polyunsaturated fats are unstable fats, generally derived from vegetable sources, such as corn, soybeans, cottonseeds, safflower and sunflower seeds. The oils in these vegetables are not easily accessed — you cannot press corn and extract oil the same way you can olives — so they require industrial gymnastics such as high heat, chemicals, bleaching and deodorizing before they assume the color and tastelessness we consumers are accustomed to.
Polyunsaturated fats oxidize easily under heat. Because the oil is originally extracted using high heat, these oils are already spoiled, or rancid, and must be deodorized before being sold.
Why should we avoid oxidized oils? Oxidation in our bodies causes all kinds of ills, specifically arterial and vascular damage which eventually causes heart disease and other degenerative conditions.
Because peanut oil is only 33% polyunsaturates, it’s not as unstable as corn oil (55%), soybean (58%) or sunflower (69%). I don’t use canola oil, mainly because it’s a genetically modified version of rapeseed oil. A component of rapeseed oil was found to directly cause damage to the heart, so it was genetically modified to exclude that component.
I don’t know enough about canola oil to comfortably use it, recommend it or caution against it. Canola is recommended for many mayonnaise recipes because of its mild flavor and affordable price. But peanut oil is also mild and delicious, and I know a bit more about it.
Look for cold expeller pressed peanut oil. It’s sold in most stores and is quite useful to have in the kitchen as it has a high smoke point (437F, 225C), which is roughly the point at which fats will actively oxidize.
So off I set for a second round of mayo making, this time with peanut oil. I followed Melissa Clark’s directions exactly. According to her, using a whisk and arm power instead of a food processor helps to ensure emulsion.
In other words, prepare to feel the burn.
Add one room temperature egg yoke (wash the shell with soapy water before cracking it), 2 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp water and a pinch of salt to a sturdy mixing bowl. Whisk together until slightly frothy.
Now comes the challenge. Slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup peanut oil drip by drip while furiously whisking as though your life depended on it. It took me about a minute to fully incorporate my oil — amazing how long a minute can be — and… I reached emulsion! Hooray! A spiritual moment, to be sure.
I added a little extra salt to the finished product, and wow, what a delicious product it is! Incredibly smooth and creamy, it has that glorious, mysterious “mouth feel” that only luscious fats provide. Smear it on your daily sandwich bread, serve it with fish, dip vegetables in it or use it as a marinade for meat. The possibilities are almost endless.
Best Foods, be gone.
→ The information on fats referenced above can be found on Wikipedia, and in Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck, Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan, and in Know Your Fats by Mary Enig. I cannot more highly recommend these books. ←