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Mayonnaise, is a thick cold condiment or dressing commonly used in sandwiches and composed salads or on French fries. It is also a base in sauces such as Tartar sauce.

It is a stable emulsion of oil, egg yolk, and an acid, either vinegar or lemon juice. There are many variants using additional flavorings. The proteins and lecithin in the egg yolk serve as emulsifiers in mayonnaise (and hollandaise sauce). The color of mayonnaise varies from near-white to pale yellow, and its texture from a light cream to a thick gel.

Commercial egg-free alternatives are made for vegans and others who avoid chicken eggs or dietary cholesterol.

A "mayonnaise de poulet" is mentioned by a traveler to Paris in 1804, but not described. Viard's 1806 recipe for "poulets en mayonnaise" describes a sauce involving a velouté, gelatin, vinegar, and an optional egg to thicken it, which gels like an aspic. Grimod de La Reynière's 1808 "bayonnaise" sauce is also a sort of aspic: "But if one wants to make from this cold chicken, a dish of distinction, one composes a bayonnaise, whose green jelly, of a good consistency, forms the most worthy ornament of poultry and fish salads." The word is attested in English in 1815.[8

Mayonnaise may have existed long before: "It is highly probable that wherever olive oil existed, a simple preparation of oil and egg came about — particularly in the Mediterranean region, where aioli (oil and garlic) is made."

The origin of the name is unclear.

A common theory is that it is named for Port Mahon, (Maó in Menorquín) itself named after its founder Mago Barca, in Menorca, in honor of the 3rd Duke of Richelieu's victory over the British in 1756, and in fact the name "mahonnaise" is used by some authors. But the name is only attested long after that event. One version of this theory says that it was originally known as salsa mahonesa in Spanish, but that spelling is only attested later.

Grimod de La Reynière rejected the name "mayonnaise" because the word "is not French"; he rejected "mahonnaise" because Port Mahon "is not known for good food", and thus he preferred "bayonnaise", after the city of Bayonne, which "has many innovative gourmands and ... produces the best hams in Europe.

Carême preferred the spelling "magnonnaise", which he derived from the French verb manier 'to handle'.

Another suggestion is it derives from Charles de Lorraine, duke of Mayenne, because he took the time to finish his meal of chicken with cold sauce before being defeated in the Battle of Arques.

Regardless of the origin of the term "mayonnaise", predating the arrival of Richelieu, the original name of the sauce before the second half of the 18th century was "aioli bo". This term was used in the 1745 recipe book "Nuevo Arte de Cocina", by Juan de Altimiras, featuring numerous traditional Menorcan recipes.

Modern mayonnaise can be made by hand with a whisk, a fork, or with the aid of an electric mixer or blender. It is made by slowly adding oil to an egg yolk, while whisking vigorously to disperse the oil. The oil and the water in the yolk form a base of the emulsion, while lecithin and protein from the yolk is the emulsifier that stabilizes it. A combination of van der Waals interactions and electrostatic repulsion determine the bond strength among oil droplets. The high viscosity of mayonnaise is attributed to the total strength created by these two intermolecular forces. Addition of mustard contributes to the taste and further stabilizes the emulsion, as mustard contains small amounts of lecithin. If vinegar is added directly to the yolk, it can emulsify more oil, thus making more mayonnaise.

For large-scale preparation of mayonnaise where mixing equipment is being employed, the process typically begins with the dispersal of eggs, either powdered or liquid, into water. Once emulsified, the remaining ingredients are then added and vigorously mixed until completely hydrated and evenly dispersed. Oil is then added as rapidly as it can be absorbed. Though only a small part of the total, ingredients other than the oil are critical to proper formulation. These must be totally hydrated and dispersed within a small liquid volume, which can cause difficulties including emulsion breakdown during the oil-adding phase. Often, a long agitation process is required to achieve proper dispersal/emulsification, presenting one of the trickiest phases of the production process. Though, as technology in the food industry advances, processing has been shortened drastically, allowing roughly 1000 liters to be produced in 10 minutes.

Mayonnaise is used commonly around the world, and is also a base for many other chilled sauces and salad dressings. For example, sauce rémoulade, in classic French cuisine, is mayonnaise to which has been added mustard, gherkins, capers, parsley, chervil, tarragon, and possibly anchovy essence.

A typical formulation for commercially made mayonnaise (not low fat) can contain as much as 80% vegetable oil, usually soybean but sometimes olive oil. Water makes up about 7% to 8% and egg yolks about 6%. Some formulas use whole eggs instead of just yolks. The remaining ingredients include vinegar (4%), salt (1%), and sugar (1%). Low-fat formulas will typically decrease oil content to just 50% and increase water content to about 35%. Egg content is reduced to 4% and vinegar to 3%. Sugar is increased to 1.5% and salt lowered to 0.7%. Gums or thickeners (4%) are added to increase viscosity, improve texture, and ensure a stable emulsion. Mayonnaise is prepared using several methods, but on average it contains around 700 kilocalories (2,900 kJ) per 100 grams, or 94 kilocalories (Cal) per tablespoon. This makes mayonnaise a calorically dense food.

The nutrient content of mayonnaise (> 50% edible oil, 9–11% salt, 7–10% sugar in the aqueous phase) makes it suitable as a food source for many spoilage organisms. A set of conditions such as pH between 3.6 and 4.0, and low water activity aw of 0.925, restricts the growth of yeasts, a few bacteria and molds. Yeasts of the genus Saccharomyces, Lactobacillus fructivorans, and Zygosaccharomyces bailii are the species responsible for the spoilage of mayonnaise. The characteristics of spoilage caused by Z. bailli are product separation and a "yeasty" odor. A study suggests that adding encapsulated cells of Bifidobacterium bifidum and B. infantis prolongs the life of mayonnaise up to 12 weeks without microorganism spoilage.

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