Who invented the mayonnaise?

Mayonnaise. Photo graph by Jules

There is a well-known secret that no gourmet-aficionado would be willing to admit: sometimes, even those who adore the French haute-cuisine enjoy “sinning”, and when no one is watching, they eat junk food. As many of you know, the ultimate French street food (after the crepe, of course) is the frites (or fries, or chips, or French fries, depends on what nation you’re from), and its eternal companion is the mayonnaise sauce.

As for the fries, to this day there is a dispute as for its country of origin. The Belgians claim that they had started frying potatoes back in the 17th century, but this argument proves to be problematic, since the potatoes haven’t made their way there until the 18th century. The French claim that the fries were invented by a street vendor, who worked on the Pont Neuf on the eve of the French revolution, and one can find a mention of fried potato sticks in a recipe given to Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president of the US, by his French chef Honore Julien. In any case, regardless of the historic truth, in my opinion, the Belgian fries win over the French one, and their divine flavor on its own is worth a special trip to Brussels, Ghent or Bruges, where you’ll meet those lovely fries next to a steaming pot of mussels (another thing the Belgians do better than the French).

 

The duke of Richelieu
The duke of Richelieu

The Mayonnaise was actually invented in….Menorca!

While the dispute goes on about the origins of the fries, the story of the invention of mayonnaise is well-documented in the history books. In 1756, the French forces, under the command of Duke de Richelieu, managed to conquer Mahon, capital of Menorca. The duke, who was not only one of the greatest lovers in the 18th century (alongside Casanova), but also a great glutton, demanded from his chef to prepare a great victory feast, in which meats would be served in cream sauce, which the duke was especially fond of. To his surprise, the chef realized he had not even a single drop of cream around, and in a moment of genius, he decided to improvise whatever he could with the ingredients he had. He whipped eggs with olive oil and vinegar, and created a white sauce similar in color to cream. Richelieu loved the new sauce, and named it mahonnaise, after the conquered city Mahon. However, since the French had a bit of trouble pronouncing the name of the sauce, soon enough it became the mayonnaise we all know.

To this day, the mayonnaise is one of the favorite sauces among the French, and no less than 50 types of it exist, from green mayonnaise (with various herbs), through aioli (mayonnaise with garlic, especially favored by the Provençal cuisine), and all the way to remoulade sauce (anchovies, pickles, and capers). Since mayonnaise-based sauces are so easy to make, it is considered to be one of the five basic sauces of the French cuisine, and it can be found in many and various dishes, one of the most famous of which is the opening dish (entrée) appearing in almost every bistro, eggs in mayonnaise (Oeuf Mayonnaise). You can find home made mayonnaise in many respected restaurants, but as it’s so easy to make, you can just find one of the wonderful online recipes and prepare it yourselves, in the comfort of your home, and imagine that first feast after the conquest of Mahon.

Bon appétit!

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