What is a sandwich without mayonnaise, or a French fry without a little pot of creamy goodness to dip into? Going vegan doesn’t mean you have to cut out your favourite condiment (or rely on heavily processed commercial varieties). Here’s our quick and easy guide on how to make vegan mayo.April 27, 2022 4:28 pm September 21, 2021 12:41 pm
What is mayonnaise?
Before we get into our recipes, we first need to understand what it is we’re trying to replicate.
Traditional mayonnaise is a smooth and creamy condiment made of a combination of egg yolks, oil, and either lemon juice or vinegar.
It’s pretty ubiquitous in the Western world as a binding agent in sandwich fillings (tuna mayo, egg mayo, and so on into eternity). However it’s also the base for a lot of other recipes. Aioli is a sauce made from mayonnaise mixed with garlic and herbs. Sriracha mayo is a popular topping for poke and sushi bowls.
In short, it’s everywhere – and we vegans shouldn’t miss out on it!
Where does mayonnaise come from?
This is a contentious question, as both Spain and France lay claim to inventing this classic condiment.(1)
The legend goes that the sauce was invented by a French chef accompanying the Duke of Richelieu to Menorca, in the Balearics. The Duke and his forces had just captured the island in a battle during the Seven Years’ War. Wanting to create the sort of unctuous creamy sauce befitting such an occasion, the Duke’s chef set off in search of cream. Unsuccessful in finding any, he came up with a sauce made with eggs and oil.
Where was he? The port of Mahón; home of the newly christened ‘mahonnaise’.
However, whether the chef came up with it himself or whether he learned it from the islanders is hotly disputed. In an inflammatory step, later French chefs suggested that the name had been a misunderstanding. Really, it should be ‘bayonnaise’, as it surely must have come from Bayonne in France…
Whoever invented it, mayonnaise is a firm fixture in our hearts and on our plates. So, how can vegans stay true to their diet without missing out on everyone’s favourite sauce, dip and dressing?
To understand the chemical wizardry that allows us to make vegan mayo, we should start off by explaining how the original version works.
The texture of traditional mayonnaise comes down to the combination of eggs and oil. But wait: eggs are mostly water (as are vinegar and lemon juice). Famously, oil and water don’t mix!
More specifically, if you mix oil and water together, they separate. Why? They contain polar molecules.
Water molecules have a positive charge at one end and a negative charge at the other. That means they stick together, just like little magnets.
Now, say you introduce another polar molecule, such as salt. No problem; the water molecules still have a charge to stick to, and it’s easy to make a mixture of the two of them. (How salt dissolves in water is a different story which we won’t get into here!)
However, oil molecules are non-polar. They don’t have an overall positive or negative charge for water to stick to. So, the water molecules would much rather stick to each other, thanks very much.
This means they pack tightly together and push the oil molecules up to the top of the mixture.
If you give the container a good shake, you will see that the oil and water do mix together briefly before separating again. The short-lived mixture is called an emulsion. Mayonnaise is also an emulsion, but somehow the oil and water stays together…
The need for an emulsifier
An ingredient which allows water and oil to stay in an emulsion is called, unsurprisingly, an ‘emulsifier’. Egg yolks naturally contain a very good one, called lecithin.
Lecithin has one end which loves to be in water (hydrophilic) and one end which loves to be in oil (lipophilic).
Mayonnaise is an oil-in-water (o/w) emulsion, which means that little droplets of oil are suspended in the watery components of the sauce. (It’s also possible to have a w/o emulsion, where water is suspended in oil).(2)
Put very simply, lecithin wraps itself around the oil droplets and stops them from clumping together. This keeps small drops of oil floating in the mixture as opposed to rising to the top in a separate layer.
So, taking the egg out of our mixture leaves us with a problem. How are we going to emulsify our water and oil?
What goes into commercial vegan mayo?
Commercial vegan mayo manufacturers have come up with a number of fascinating ways to emulsify oil and water into a tasty condiment.
However, some of the ingredients they’ve chosen are artificial additions. A quick scan of supermarket labels reveals modified maize starch as a popular choice. This is made by processing starch from corn in various ways.
Sometimes, it simply involves extracting and roasting the starch, but it can also mean treating it with acid, zapping it with electricity, or treating it with sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide.(3)
Not quite so yummy. Unfortunately, you’ll never know which method has been used to make the modified starch in your mayo.
The good news is that you can make your own, with no ‘modified’ ingredients required.
"The legend goes that mayonnaise was invented by a French chef accompanying the Duke of Richelieu to Menorca, in the Balearics."
You have a couple of natural options when it comes to vegan emulsifiers for your mayo:
1. Soy milk
Soy beans also contain lecithin. In fact, you might have heard of ‘soy lecithin’ as one of those mysterious artificial ingredients in processed foods. However, you don’t need to use a commercially extracted version of soy lecithin; you can simply use natural soy milk.
2. Silken tofu
If you like your vegan mayo to be quite thick, silken tofu is another good option. It still contains the lecithin from soy, but adds a bit more body to your mayo.
Don’t use firm tofu here as it’ll blend into clumps and you won’t get that smooth and creamy mayonnaise texture.
The starchy water that comes in a can of chickpeas has long been touted as a great replacement for eggs in all sorts of recipes. Many vegan bakers regularly use it to make everything from vegan cakes to meringues. It’s also a great emulsifier for our vegan mayo, and doesn’t alter the taste or texture of your recipes.(4)
A note on oils
Unless you want your vegan mayo to have a strong flavour, it’s best to go with a neutral tasting oil. Groundnut, grapeseed or canola oils all work well.
Some people are very partial to an olive oil mayo, but you should use this in combination with another oil to avoid the flavour becoming overpowering. Too much olive oil might produce a bitter-tasting mayo.
However, you could substitute a small amount of your neutral oil for extra virgin olive oil to get a pleasant hint of flavour.
Similarly, stay away from coconut oil; unless you want a tropical mayo, it’s best to avoid it. It’s not simply a question of flavour – you’ll need to keep your mayo in the fridge once made, where coconut oil would turn into a solid.
A note on vinegars (or lemon juice)
There are no particular rules when it comes to the acidity element of mayonnaise; it’s there predominantly for taste. So, choose an acidic ingredient that you enjoy.
Lemon juice gives a lovely light flavour, while apple cider vinegar has an almost fruity tang.
You may want to avoid darker vinegars, such as malt vinegar, simply as they might give your mayo an unwanted tinge of colour.
How to make vegan mayo
Option 1: with soy milk
If you’re going with soy milk as your emulsifier, grab yourself one quantity of neutral-flavoured oil and half the amount of soy milk.
You’ll need a blender to disperse the oil droplets evenly throughout the water. Pop your soy milk, lemon juice or vinegar to taste, and a pinch of salt into the blender and mix for a few seconds until everything is mixed together.
If you have a blender which allows you to add liquids into your mixture while the blender is running, this is ideal.
Turn the speed down and drizzle in the oil very slowly. This is the point at which your mayo is in danger of splitting, but adding the oil very carefully will minimise the chances of this happening.
You should see the mixture beginning to thicken up as you blend. Once all your oil is incorporated, check the seasoning and then pour your mayo into a bowl and keep in the fridge. It’ll keep for a couple of days.
Iosune over at Simple Vegan Blog has a much more in-depth recipe if you’d like some extra help on your first go!
Option 2: With silken tofu
With this option, the tofu is going to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting and will take up most of the volume of your final mayo. As a result, it’s probably the healthiest option of the bunch.
Make sure your tofu is organic to avoid any pesticides or chemical nasties making their way into your recipe. Once removed from the packaging you’ll also want to give it a rinse under cool running water.
Emma Christensen of The Kitchn recommends using half a block of silken tofu to make a cup of final mayo, plus two to three tablespoons of your choice of oil and 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar.
There’s no messing about with this version: simply pop all the ingredients into a blender and whizz away until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed, before storing in the fridge.
Option 3: With aquafaba
Going down the chickpea route? No problem. Aquafaba mayo is a great vegan option, especially if you are avoiding soy.
Anyone who has made a vegan cake, buttercream or macaroon will be familiar with aquafaba’s amazing ability to whip into a foam and hold its shape. It acts very similarly to egg whites in that way.
So, we’ll make use of that in our mayo!
We like the BBC’s recipe for aquafaba mayo, which recommends starting with 250ml of your chosen oil. Add two tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice and three tablespoons of aquafaba. (Why not make our bergamot and chickpea salad with the remaining chickpeas from your tin?)
Then use a stick blender to whizz everything up together. If you don’t have a stick blender, it’s absolutely fine to use a regular food processor. However, we’d recommend using a similar method to option one, combining vinegar and aquafaba first before slowly drizzling in the oil.
As with the other two methods, keep your mayo in the fridge for up to three days.
Good things to add to your mayo
The recipes we’ve given above are for a basic, no frills mayo. But there are plenty of options if you feel like getting more creative!
For example, many vegan food bloggers recommend adding in a teaspoon of mustard to your mixture for that classic mayonnaise flavour. If so, do this before you add your oil, along with the rest of your ‘water-based’ ingredients.
If you want to recreate the hue of freshly made egg yolk mayonnaise, try adding a tiny amount of turmeric. It’ll give your mayo a lovely gentle yellow colour and just the barest hint of earthy flavour. Don’t go overboard, as too much turmeric will rapidly turn your mayo sunflower yellow!
A very small pinch – perhaps an eighth of a teaspoon – is plenty. (Remember, you can always add more.)
Or how about making your own aioli? Just throw in a small clove of garlic along with your other ingredients and blend well. Or perhaps a spoonful of tahini, as we’ve used for the side to our ultimate vegan mushroom burger?
A sriracha or gochujang-infused mayo makes a delicious dip for fries and other snacks. Simply stir in the hot sauce to taste once your mayo is finished.
Now that you know how quick and easy it is to throw together your own vegan mayo at home, you’ll never need to go back to the supermarket variety!
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