IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why is mayonnaise white? Stephen King wants to know

The answer is pretty scientific.
Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

For some folks, thick, gloppy mayonnaise is as spooky as it gets when it comes to food. Maybe that's why Stephen King is apparently fascinated by it.

The famed American author, who specializes in horror and suspense novels, recently posted a question on Twitter about the graphically gelatinous condiment's color. Not surprisingly, hundreds of mayonnaise lovers and haters stepped out of the shadows to reply.

"Operating under the theory that the only stupid question is the one you don't ask (a postulate with which some may disagree), I pose this: Why is mayonnaise white?" King wrote.

One tweeter said that the spread must be white because some recipes call for egg whites. But that idea was quickly shot down.

Others said that mayonnaise should in fact be yellow given that its base ingredient is egg yolks.

In agreement, one tweeter speculated that big brands altered the more natural hue so it didn't creep people out as much.

Clearly (if that was the intention), it didn't work too well. Plenty of people are still skeeved out by the texture, taste and even smell of mayo, regardless of it being white or yellow.

Remaining neutral in tweeters' love-hate relationship with mayo, TODAY Food asked chef Matt Aita, the culinary director at New York City's The Little Beet Table, about mayo's true colors.


"There's a few factors," Aita told TODAY. "Egg yolks ... What the chickens ate prior can make them whiter or more yellow. If you see [chef and author] Dan Barber's chickens, he feeds them red peppers. So if you made mayonnaise with those eggs, it'd be more orange."

The other factors, said the chef, are "oil and air."

Aita explained how thicker, store-bought mayonnaise usually has more oil in it and is stirred, or aerated, more. Heavy mixing incorporates more air into the condiment, which oxidizes the mayo and creates a whiter color. This process, Aita said, is why most commercial mayo production yields a whiter product, as large machines mix all of the ingredients together more forcefully than someone would while whisking up a batch in their kitchen.

Preservatives, which are listed in Hellmann's original mayo recipe, can also cause some color variation, said Aita. So can adding a ton of extras. Hellman's ingredients include soybean oil, water, whole eggs and egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice concentrate, calcium disodium EDTA (a preservative) and natural flavors, whereas many homemade mayonnaise recipes call for just five or six ingredients. With less oil and fewer additives, mayo made at home is more likely to take on the natural yellowy hue of the yolk.

So there you have it, King. It's all about air, oil, additives and what farmers feed their chickens.

Now, we're curious as to whether "The Shining" author's tweet was really just a foreshadowing of his next horror story featuring the gloppy condiment. Oh, wait ... Jimmy Fallon already told that one.