Aioli is all the rage lately, it seems like mayonnaise just doesn’t cut it as a condiment anymore. True foodies will only accept a proper aoili.
But, other than hardcore traditionalists, many people don’t know the difference between mayo and aioli, and think of it as only a “better” mayonnaise.
Because of that, many restaurants are presenting mayo and calling it aioli so they can appear to be “trendy”.
So what actually is the difference, and does it really matter?
Let’s start by clarifying the main element that is common to both: They are both emulsions.
What is an Emulsion?
In cooking, an emulsion is simply a mixture of two liquids that would not normally mix together, like oil and vinegar.
If you pour the two in a bowl, they would not mix together, and stay separated. Even if you mixed them, they would quickly separate.
Permanent vs Temporary Emulsions
- A permanent emulsion means that the mixture will stay well combined, even if left to sit. (ie Mayonnaise, Aioli)
- A temporary emulsion means that the mixture will separate again over time (ie. Oil and vinegar salad dressing)
A stable emulsion is achieved when the droplets of each liquid are evenly dispersed.
In order for two ingredients to mix together, they need to combine with each other. When you add an emulsifier, like egg yolk, this helps the process.
Egg yolk is a great example of an emulsifier. It contains lecithin which is a fatty substance that can be dissolved in both fat and liquid. This helps to create an environment where the other liquids remain combined and suspended instead of separating.
What is Mayonnaise?
Mayo is an emulsion of:
- Neutral/flavourless Oil (Olive oil is an option also)
- Egg Yolk
- Acid (ie. vinegar, lemon juice)
- dry mustard (optional)
Once you have the mayo base made, adding additional flavourings is optional.
What is Aioli?
Aioli is an emulsion of:
- Olive Oil
- Egg Yolk (optional to help emulsion)
- Acid (optional)
Aioli is literally translated as “garlic and oil”, so the rules for using garlic and oil must be followed. To be considered a true aioli, olive oil is the only choice.
Garlic is a natural emulsifier, but it is weak, so many recipes also call for an egg yolk to help to bring the mixture together.
Adding additional acid or flavourings is also an option for aioli, but is not necessary.
Hardcore cooks will insist that an aioli must only be made with a mortar and pestle to pound the garlic and oil together. But many now just use a food processor.
My Opinion on Mayo vs Aioli
To me, the difference is minuscule. I am not really concerned about whether I use a true aioli or a mayonnaise as a condiment.
Some are traditionalists though, and insist that the differences be understood and respected. I think it needs to be understood, but at the end of the day choose what you like.
I do have a problem with restaurants using mayonnaise but calling it “aioli” and then charging higher prices. Be sure that you are getting what you are paying for. Sometimes it is as simple as asking the serving whether it is a “traditional aioli” or flavoured mayonnaise.
Using either one as a condiment is a wonderful choice to add a burst of flavour to so many foods.
Store Bought vs Homemade Mayo
I am really of two minds about this. On one hand, I usually have the ingredients needed to make mayo myself. On the other hand, it can be a chore – especially if it doesn’t work.
The other thing to consider is how much mayo you actually use. If you use a lot, you may be better off buying commercially made mayo. It can be very economical and it has a long shelf life in the fridge.
When buying commercial mayo, I am cautious about the marketing and how much companies charge. In many taste tests, basic mayo is just as tasty as many fancier brands. Just be sure to check the ingredient lists to make sure you are fine with what is included.
If you love mayo, and want to jazz it up a bit, we have created this infographic to help with some inspiration. Don’t limit yourself to what is listed. Mayonnaise is a wonderful base that carries many flavours very well.