People who are new to the vegan lifestyle sometimes have trouble finding suitable replacements for their previously favorite animal-based products. Mayonnaise is one of those things that new vegans fear they’ll have to give up forever.
After all, the principal ingredient in traditional mayonnaise is egg, and egg is most definitely not vegan.
But nobody wants to give up mayonnaise, which has a long and storied culinary history. Its exact origins are somewhat unclear, but it was definitely in use in 18th century France and Spain, where it was also known as aioli.
Emulsified egg-based sauces, similar to today’s mayonnaise, appear in the 14th century Spanish recipe book Llibre de Sent Soví. But the first recorded use of the word “mayonnaise” – actually “mahonnaise” at that point – was after the Duc de Richelieu invaded Menorca, took the port of Mahon, brought the aioli sauce to the French court, and renamed it after his victory.
Mayonnaise has been part of the food world since then. The celebrated Auguste Escoffier wrote that mayonnaise was the “mother sauce” of cold sauces, similar to velouté or espagnole sauce.
This means that mayonnaise serves as the base for a number of other cold sauces and garnishes, just the same as a basic white or brown sauce is the base for many other sauces and gravies.
Popular mayonnaise-based sauces include Thousand Island dressing, garlic aioli, remoulade sauce, tartar sauce, ranch dressing, hollandaise sauce, and Utah’s famous “fry sauce.”
First things first; in the United States, vegan mayonnaise can’t legally be labeled as mayonnaise because it doesn’t contain egg. Rebels that we are, we will continue to refer to the vegan alternative mayonnaise substitute as “mayonnaise” because the other is quite a mouthful.
Vegan mayonnaise is made without egg (or any other animal products). Obviously, it is a great choice for people who have chosen to cut any animal-based products out of their diets and their lives.
However, it’s also suitable for people who have egg allergies or who have decided to cut back on egg yolks for health or other dietary reasons. No matter why you choose a vegan alternative to mayonnaise, you obviously want it to be as thick, tasty, and creamy as the real thing.
Traditional mayonnaise is created by emulsifying oil and egg yolk, and then adding lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, or other ingredients as desired. The lecithin and protein in the egg yolk stabilize the sauce so that it stays thick and creamy.
Clearly, vegan mayonnaise won’t contain egg yolk. Most vegan mayonnaise recipes substitute either tofu, soy milk, or aquafaba, which is the liquid from a can of chickpeas.
(Note: although meringue cookies seem to be pretty much the opposite of mayonnaise, aquafaba is so versatile that it’s the main ingredient in both. It is an excellent egg replacement since it has so many of the same properties.)
The process and the rest of the ingredients are mostly the same; it is recommended to use mustard to flavor the vegan mayonnaise since prepared mustard does contain lecithin to act as a stabilizer.
Nobody wants runny mayonnaise! Why might vegan mayo be watery in the first place?
There are a few reasons why this can happen, but the main culprit is if the oil and protein decide to break up.
Mayonnaise is thick and creamy when the oil particles stay suspended in the protein, which is what is known as emulsification. An egg yolk is the perfect vehicle for a stable emulsification.
Plant-based substitutes don’t always hold their texture as well, in part because they have a different chemical composition. One thing to try is to replicate the compounds, so make sure that if you’re using soy milk, it’s one that has a high protein content.
We can also add a pinch of lecithin powder to try to mimic the lecithin that is naturally present in egg yolk.
Another reason why the vegan mayonnaise may come out runny is if all the ingredients are not thoroughly chilled. Emulsifications tend to hold better when all ingredients start out at the same temperature, and when that temperature is cold.
What to Do About Runny Mayonnaise
For most of us, sure, we want to know why the mayonnaise turned out runny, but more importantly, we want to fix it so that we can enjoy our sauce!
You could try to beat in a little more oil. This may feel counterintuitive – if the sauce is too thin and watery, how will adding more liquid fix it?
Well, you want your emulsification to be tight. This means that the oil is dispersed throughout the sauce.
If you don’t use enough oil, the sauce will be “loose,” which means that there aren’t enough oil droplets to hold it together. Adding more oil will make the mayonnaise sauce tighter and more viscous.
If this doesn’t seem to help, you can add a tiny bit of lecithin powder. As discussed above, lecithin helps to stabilize an emulsion.
You may have had the proportions right, but it just wouldn’t hold. Try adding lecithin and beating some more.
A last resort would be to beat in some tofu or vegan cream cheese. This will thicken your mayonnaise, but it will also change its flavor and character.
It’s also important to note that no matter what you do, vegan mayonnaise is almost always going to be lighter in taste and texture than traditional egg mayo. This is just part of the difference between plant-based foods and animal-based foods.
Sometimes it makes sense to enjoy your plant-based foods for what they are – in this case, a delicious, tangy, cold sauce – than to try to make an exact replica of an animal-based product. After all, there’s a reason why you’re no longer eating animal products, so there’s no need to try to pretend that you are.
Prepared Vegan Mayonnaise
You could also just buy a bottle of vegan mayonnaise. This isn’t as satisfying as making your own, of course, but it’s stable and reliable.
Popular brands of plant-based, vegan-friendly mayonnaise alternatives include Vegenaise, Just Mayo, Nayonaise, Spectrum Organic, and Sir Kensington’s.
Now that you’ve got your vegan mayonnaise, either homemade or store-bought, you may be wondering what else you can do with it other than spreading it on sandwiches.
Classic sauces with mayonnaise bases include:
- Verte: mayonnaise with green herbs
- Remoulade: mayonnaise, capers, cornichons, chopped onion, herbs
- Gribiche: mayonnaise, mustard, cornichon, herbs
- Chantilly: mayonnaise and whipped cream substitute
- Aioli: mayonnaise, garlic, saffron
- Andalouse: mayonnaise, tomato coulis, diced peppers
Your vegan mayonnaise can also be a great base for salads. Potato salad is delicious and the tangy flavors of plant-based mayonnaise complement starchy potatoes very nicely.
You can also use plant-based chicken substitutes and chopped celery to make up a nice vegan chicken salad substitute. Macaroni salads are also quite vegan-friendly and offer lots of options for customization so you can create your own house specialty.
If you want a vegan-friendly retro blast from the past, get some agar-agar and make a layered “jello” salad in a Bundt pan. Coleslaw is another classic mayonnaise-based salad and it can be completely vegan with the right mayo.
It’s definitely not traditional, but try a curried rice salad with almonds and vegan mayonnaise dressing. Russian Olivier salad is made with mayonnaise, potatoes, pickles, peas, and carrots.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.