It basically comes down to one ingredient.
You’ve seen mayonnaise and aïoli on menus and in the condiments aisle; the terms often used interchangeably, or in fun and funky flavor pairings like “Basil Mayonnaise” or “Lime-Sriracha Aïoli.” But what’s the real difference between the two classic, creamy condiments? Here’s the breakdown—and why it’s so worth it to ditch the bottled stuff and make your own at home.
Basic, classic mayo comes down to a few main ingredients: oil, egg yolks, an acid—usually lemon juice or some kind of vinegar—and salt. It’s all beaten together, either whisking by hand or with an electric beater until it’s completely emulsified and pale yellow or off-white. Simple enough, right? There’s only one tricky part of making mayo at home; because the oil and water-based liquids in the egg don’t like to mix (think back to elementary school science), the oil needs to be added very slowly to prevent the mixture from splitting—we’re talking drop by drop as you get started whisking, according to Larousse Gastronomique.
There’s some serious historical beef about whether mayo was invented in Spain or France, but it really took off in the US in the mid-19th century as a tasty, creamy way to hide flaws in veggies—think mayonnaise-drenched potato and tomato salads, or a classic Waldorf salad.
Homemade mayo has a much shorter shelf life compared to the jarred stuff, usually lasting only three to four days, according to The New Food Lover’s Companion. But the consistency and flavor (not to mention that prepared, processed mayonnaise often uses fillers and thickeners, such as food starch and cellulose gel, to maintain the texture) makes the effort of whipping out that electric mixer at home worth it. Ready to give it a try? This simple recipe is a good one to start with. Once you’ve mastered it, you can try your own riffs, like stirring in some Sriracha to make your own spicy mayo.
Aïoli sounds fancier than good ol’ mayo, but it’s not that much more complicated. It consists of the same basic combination of oil, egg yolks, and acid, with the addition of raw garlic (pounded with a mortar and pestle if you’re fancy) for a pungent kick that goes so well with fish, meat, and vegetables like artichokes—though some preparations may include a small amount of mashed boiled potato to help bulk it up, according to Larousse Gastronomique. Aïoli originates in the Provence region of France, and it gets its name from ail, which means garlic, and oli, the local dialect for oil.
If you want to feel like a pro chef in your own kitchen, try your hand at this Classic Aïoli recipe next time you’re roasting artichokes or planning a fancy seafood dinner for guests. And while some may argue that “true” aïoli is strictly flavored with garlic only, we’re not opposed to mixing it up with fun additions such as Saffron Aïoli, Smoked Paprika Aïoli, or Roasted Garlic-Balsamic Aïoli.
So, at its core, both classic mayo and aïoli are very similar, with the exception of garlic—it all comes down to your personal preference. Either way, once you make your own at home, you won’t go back to the jarred stuff.