As a condiment, mayonnaise has been the unsung hero in dishes like deviled eggs, sandwiches, potato salads and plenty of savory dishes since the beginning of culinary time.
But many home cooks may not know that mayo makes an excellent replacement for another creamy kitchen staple: butter. It might not be the best on toast but, aside from its best-known uses, mayo can do a lot more than just make something creamy.
It can moisten cakes, make crusts crispier and even make knives shinier.
Plenty of world famous chefs have been shouting mayo's praises for years, but the rise in popularity of the ketogenic diet coupled with other eating plans that allow fattier foods are bringing some of these unconventional uses of mayo into the spotlight.
So why do some chefs prefer using mayonnaise over butter? Is there ever a bad situation in which to use mayo? And is ever OK to eat it by the spoon? (We're not judging.)
TODAY Food Stylist Katie Stilo, who recently whipped up a fresh batch of mayo on the 3rd Hour of TODAY, has all the answers.
What exactly is mayonnaise?
At its most basic, mayo is an emulsion — a mix of liquids that normally don't naturally blend — made with oil, egg yolks and vinegar. This makes it a good replacement for butter because "it adds extra moistness and richness" and has a higher smoke point, said Stilo.
Butter has a smoke point (literally the point at which something with start smoking and may potentially set off a fire alarm) of 350 degrees. Once it gets hotter than that, it will start to burn, and burn anything you're cooking along with it, while also imparting an unsavory flavor to food. Smoke also releases fumes that aren't safe for consumption.
Mayonnaise, however, is made with some type of neutral oil that allows it "to be cooked at a higher heat longer" than butter. This is ideal for cooking at higher temperatures because it ensures that the outside of whatever you're making doesn't burn before the inside is fully cooked.
Nutritionally, a tablespoon of full-fat mayonnaise (like Hellman's) has about 90 calories, 10 grams of fat and 90 milligrams of sodium. In the same amount of butter, there are 100 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 90 milligrams of sodium.
How celebrity chefs are using mayo
Mayo is so popular in both home pantries as well as professional kitchens because it's incredibly versatile. Plus, to many people, it tastes amazing. But aside from dressing up potato salads and spreading it on sandwiches, celebrity chefs use mayo in very functional ways.
Martha Stewart, the authoritative voice on pretty much anything that has do with the kitchen or the home, swears by using mayonnaise on grilled cheese sandwiches to get a nice, even crisp on both sides of the bread.
Al Roker is also a big a fan of this tip and Stilo agreed that mayo helps amp up the yummy crunch factor on the bread of any classic grilled sandwich.
Not only is the high smoking temperature of mayo great for grilling bread but, according to Stilo, using mayo keeps the bread crispy without drying it out. The longer cooking time in a pan also helps ensure any cheese inside gets totally melted.
Creating a crispy crust using mayo isn't just useful for bread, it's also useful with different proteins.
Alton Brown of Food Network's hit show "Good Eats" shared a surprising tip for the creamy condiment: He used mayonnaise while searing his steak to make a delightfully tasty crust. While many of his followers were skeptical, the end result looked delicious.
Mayo shows its sweet side
Mayonnaise isn't only beloved for its use in savory dishes. Epicurious, as well as countless other food sties and chefs, have used it when baking chocolate cake to keep it super moist.
Stilo claims that "the slight acidity of mayo adds a tenderness to the cake" but, thankfully, it won't affect the flavor. Mayo adds richness without compromising a cake's desired fluffiness, while the oil in the condiment prevents gluten formation which would make a cake chewy. Just make sure you're not using a spicy mayo or a spread with any savory additives like herbs when swapping it into a cake recipe.
"A general rule of thumb for adding in mayo is 2 to 3 tablespoons for each egg the recipe calls for," Stilo told TODAY. "I would personally only do this if you were looking to experiment with a different flavor [or] end result for your favorite cookie or muffin recipe.”
Aside from its use in food, mayo's moisturizing properties make it great for use as a revitalizing hair mask, since it boosts shine due to its high fat content. The fat and acid combo is also great at keeping stainless steel shiny. Just put a little on a dish towel and "buff your stainless steel appliances" until they look good as new, said Stilo.
When you shouldn't use mayo
When using mayonnaise in certain recipes, it's important to be cautious about how its use "will affect your end product," said Stilo. In baking, mayo is not interchangeable with butter "because the fats perform in different ways in the recipe." Alternatively, it's possible to swap mayonnaise for sour cream, mascarpone cheese, or even thick yogurt to keep treats moist — just do some research on how it will actually affect the recipe (and don't test something totally new the night before a big event.)
While using mayo to thicken some salad dressings may work, it is not advisable to use mayo as a butter replacement when making pan sauces because, said Stilo, the heat from the pan will "break down the mayonnaise." This will separate the oil, yolks and acid "leaving you with a soupy mess of a broken, unappealing and unappetizing sauce." Yuck.
Mayo is so universally beloved that these days it's not just a condiment, it's also taking center stage as the main ingredient. It's been used as an ice cream flavor, a coffee creamer and it's even been paired with peas as a pizza topping.
Heinz even released a series of mayo-based mashup condiments — Mayochup, Mayomust and Mayocue — to get that addictively creamy flavor into even more products.
Love it or hate it, mayonnaise has clearly earned its spot at the top of the food chain and there's no doubt that both the insane creations and practical uses of the creamy condiment will continue to spread.