Mayonnaise: What it is and How to Make It

By Adam J. Pearson

What is Mayonnaise?

A basic mayonnaise is not only one of the Mother Sauces from which many other sauces can be made, but also a delicious condiment by itself. It can be tasty on French fries or spread on sandwiches and burgers. Roasted red peppers can be pureed with it to make a tasty sauce for chicken club sandwiches. Garlic can be pureed into it to make a tasty garlic dipping sauce. Beyond this, you can use a basic mayonnaise to make many delicious salad dressings including Blue Cheese, Caesar, American ‘French’ dressing, Thousand Island dressing and others by simply adding in a few ingredients.

Mayonnaise may seem complicated to make at first, but in fact it is quite simple.  Mayonnaise is an example of what’s called an emulsion, which is a combination of two liquids, like oil and vinegar, which would usually not be seamlessly mixable. The key that makes these ingredients mixable in mayonnaise is an ingredient called an ‘emulsifier.’ Emulsifiers have the special power to mix otherwise unmixable liquids.  They contain a protein called lecithin, which allows the oil and vinegar to be uniformly bound together in a thick, but stable mixture.  In mayonnaise, egg yolks and mustard (dijon or regular, wet or dry) are often used as emulsifiers.  Both contain lecithin in different quantities.

How to Make Mayonnaise

To make 1 Litre of mayonnaise, you will need the following ingredients.  If you want to make half of this amount, simply divide each of the ingredient amounts by two.


Yield 1 Litre






Egg Yolks



White Wine Vinegar


30 Milliliters
(or 2 tablespoons)



6 (about a pinch)

Dijon Mustard (or regular, or dry mustard)


6 Milliliters
(1 generous teaspoon)

Corn Oil


840 Milliliters (3.5 cups)

Lemon Juice


30 Milliliters

Cayenne Pepper (optional)

 1 pinch


1. Start off by separating the egg yolks from the whites. Here’s a wonderful tutorial with pictures that explains how to do it. If you don’t want to pour the yolk from one shell half to another, you can simply pour it into your hand and let the whites strain through the spaces between your fingers. For pictures of how to do every step in this recipe, you can also consult this illustrated guide to making mayonnaise.

2. Place the egg yolks in a mixing bowl and using an electric hand mixer, stand mixer or a wire whisk, whip the egg yolks for a minute or two, until they’re thoroughly beaten. The consistency of the eggs should be somewhat frothy at this point.

3. Add the vinegar, salt and Dijon mustard (if you choose to use it) and whisk or mix the mixture thoroughly. You can also add in a pinch of cayenne pepper at this point if you want a slightly spicy mayonnaise.

4. Now, with the mixer going full speed (or with your arm whisking as hard as it can) add the oil very, very slowly, as little as one drop at a time. I need to emphasize this: whisk as hard as you can. The faster you whisk, the thicker a consistency you will get on your mayonnaise.

5. When the emulsion starts to form, you can add the oil more quickly, but keep it at a fairly slow stream. Adding the oil too fast will break your mayonnaise. You want to have a nice, thick consistency, so you need to stream the oil in very gradually. Keep whisking as fast as you can while you add in the oil. 

6.  Next, mix in the lemon juice and, if needed, adjust consistency with a little water. Continue whisking quickly until you achieve a thick consistency. And you’re done!

Note: When the mayonnaise has the correct consistency, it should be thick and globby. When done right, globs of it will stick in your whisk when you pull it out.


If your mayonnaise doesn’t turn out, it’s likely because either:
–you whisked too slowly.
–you added the oil too quickly (without giving it the time it needs to emulsify — that’s why the drop by drop approach is so important in the beginning).
–your ratios of eggs to oil or vinegar are slightly off (the maximum one egg yolk can handle is about 1 cup of oil)

If it doesn’t work the first time, that’s alright! Just try again. You’ll get it eventually and learn from your mistakes along the way. Trust me: every culinary school graduate has screwed up at least one batch of mayonnaise while they were learning. I know I have.


Mayonnaise is a very versatile and useful spread and sauce-base. Here are some of many variations that you can make with it:

Sauce Nicoise: Prepare mayonnaise as directed and set aside. Mix 2 tablespoons tomato puree with 2 minced pimientos and 1/2 crushed clove garlic; press through a fine sieve and blend into mayonnaise.

Aioli: Prepare mayonnaise as directed and mix with fresh crushed garlic.

Russian Mayonnaise: Prepare mayonnaise, then mix in 1/4 cup black or red caviar, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill.

Mustard Mayonnaise: Prepare mayonnaise, then mix in 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard.

Curry Mayonnaise: Prepare mayonnaise, then blend in 1 to 2 teaspoons curry powder.

Chantilly Mayonnaise: Prepare mayonnaise, then fold in 1/2 cup heavy cream, beaten to soft peaks.

Fruit Mayonnaise: Prepare mayonnaise, then beat in 3 tablespoons each orange juice and superfine sugar, 1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind, and a pinch nutmeg. For added zip, mix in 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other fruit liqueur. Serve with fruit salads.

Fresh mayonnaise must be refrigerated after you make and use it. It keeps for several days. Enjoy!

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