It all started with eggs and olive oil. Mayonnaise mania began more than 250 years ago when a French chef, who was whipping up a celebratory sauce, ran out of cream and thought to add olive oil to his eggs instead. This popular European sauce broke onto the American culinary scene in 1905 after Richard Hellmann, a German immigrant, opened a delicatessen in New York. Mrs. Hellmann’s homemade mayonnaise was featured in salads and sold as a condiment.
Today, Americans are passionate about mayonnaise. Which brand reigns supreme depends on where in the United States you reside. Hellmann's is the one to beat on the east coast, and the same brand, sold under the name Best Foods, is king on the west coast. Duke’s, meanwhile, has much of the South sewn up.
But our love for mayo comes at a price, as it's loaded with calories and fat. Spreading just one tablespoon of mayonnaise on your sandwich adds nearly 100 calories and 11 grams of fat to your lunch – and let's face it, many of us don't stop at a tablespoon.
Enter "light," reduced-fat, fat-free and olive oil mayos, which generally have half (or less) the number of calories and fat grams. Most of the major mayonnaise brands offer a lower-fat, lower-calorie variety. Among the latest entries in this category are mayos made with olive oil. (But don't get the idea that these are made exclusively with olive oil; other oils, such as soybean, are usually among the ingredients.)
So just how do you make a condiment based on oil and eggs "light"? Although the two main ingredients in regular mayonnaise are oil and eggs or egg yolks, in light mayonnaise, water is generally the main ingredient (followed by oil, eggs, and modified food starch). With fat-free mayonnaise, it's usually water, sugar, and modified food starch.
Most of the light mayonnaise options we tried had about 45 calories per tablespoon, with about 100 milligrams of sodium, 5 milligrams or less of cholesterol (except Duke’s Light, with 10 milligrams), and 4-5 grams of fat per tablespoon (although Miracle Whip Light has 1.5 grams). Most brands had no saturated fat; the amounts of polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat varied from brand to brand. Best Foods Olive Oil and Duke’s Light had more polyunsaturated fat and Best Foods Canola, Kraft Olive Oil, and Smart Balance had more monounsaturated fat.
As far as taste, the light mayonnaise varieties tend to mirror their full-fat counterparts. If you're a Miracle Whip lover, you'll likely prefer Miracle Whip’s Light. If you're a fan of Best Foods mayonnaise, try one of Best Foods/Hellmann's lighter options (my money is on the Olive Oil Mayonnaise Dressing). If you were raised on Dukes’ zesty mayonnaise, Duke’s Light will likely be a winner for you.
Taste Test: Best Light Mayonnaise
Here's how six light mayonnaise products fared in our WebMD taste test.
1. Best Foods/Hellmann’s Mayonnaise Dressing With Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This mayonnaise tasted a bit more like regular mayonnaise to me than some of the other light mayos. This might be because, other than water, the rest of the top four ingredients are the same usually found in homemade mayonnaise (oil, vinegar, eggs). This was the crowd favorite for many of the taste testers.
Nutrition information: 1 tablespoon has 50 calories, 5 grams fat, .5 grams saturated fat, 2.5 grams polyunsaturated fat, 1.5 grams monounsaturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, and 120 mg sodium. The first 5 ingredients are water, oils (soybean, extra virgin olive oil), vinegar, whole eggs and egg yolks, and modified cornstarch.
2. Best Foods/Hellmann’s Canola Cholesterol Free Mayonnaise
Best Foods canola mayonnaise does the job on a sandwich or in potato salad. The texture and taste was in the ballpark of what you would expect from a light mayonnaise, but it wasn’t the top favorite of the taste testers.
Nutrition information: 1 tablespoon has 45 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat, 2.5 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 95 mg sodium. First 5 ingredients: Water, canola oil, vinegar, modified cornstarch, whole eggs and egg yolks.
3. Duke’s Light Mayonnaise
Duke's light has a salty, vinegary flavor that is a little reminiscent of ranch dressing – and it's not at all sweet. Duke’s Light Mayonnaise might be preferable for those like a bit of kick in their salad or sandwich.
Nutrition information: 1 tablespoon has 50 calories, 5 grams fat, .5 grams saturated fat, 3 grams polyunsaturated fat, 1 gram monounsaturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 110 mg sodium. First 5 ingredients: Water, soybean oil, modified food starch, eggs, distilled and cider vinegar.
4. Kraft Mayonnaise with Olive Oil
Opinions were mixed on this brand. A more discerning mayonnaise lover might not like the way this product tastes; others might not mind it at all. The look and taste is similar to other "light" mayonnaise.
Nutrition information: 1 tablespoon has 45 calories, 4 grams fat, 0 gram saturated fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat, 2 grams monounsaturated fat, less than 5 mg cholesterol, 95 mg sodium. First 5 ingredients: Water, olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and vinegar
5. Miracle Whip Light Mayonnaise
If Miracle Whip is your mayonnaise of choice, this light mayonnaise might suit you. It has the winning combination (for some) of a slight sweet taste contrasted with the bite of vinegar that Miracle Whip lovers have come to count on.
Nutrition information: 1 tablespoon has 20 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat, 0 gram monounsaturated fat, less than 5 mg cholesterol, 135 mg sodium. First 5 ingredients: Water, vinegar, soybean oil, modified food starch, high fructose corn syrup.
6. Smart Balance Omega Plus Light Mayonnaise Dressing
The taste and texture wasn’t unappealing per se, but the Smart Balance Light Mayonnaise did have a more gelatinous look and feel, with a flavor that wasn’t a favorite with the taste testers. This light mayonnaise might have a more desirable texture blended with some fat-free or light sour cream and used as a dressing for potato or pasta salad.
Nutrition information: 1 tablespoon has 50 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat, 2 gram monounsaturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 115 mg sodium. First 5 ingredients: water, blend of natural oils (canola, soy, flaxseed and olive), vinegar, sugar, and egg yolks.
8 Ways to Add Flavor to Light Mayonnaise
If you think you don't like light mayonnaise, you might feel differently about a more flavorful version of it. Here are eight easy ways to kick up your sandwiches and salads or create a sauce by adding some color and flavor to light mayonnaise:
- Wasabi Mayonnaise: Add 1 teaspoon of powdered wasabi (Japanese horseradish) per 1/2 cup of light mayonnaise.
- Mango Mayonnaise: Blend 1/2 cup of light mayonnaise with a cup of mango pieces.
- Garlic Mayonnaise: Stir a teaspoon of crushed or minced garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard into a cup of light mayonnaise.
- Tahini Mayonnaise: Whisk 1 tablespoon each of lemon juice and tahini (sesame-seed paste) into 1/2 cup light mayonnaise.
- Chutney Mayonnaise: Blend 1/8 cup of chutney and 1/2 teaspoon each of curry powder and lime juice with 1/2 cup light mayonnaise.
- Sun-Dried Tomato Mayonnaise. Stir 1/8 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes into 1/2 cup light mayonnaise.
- Pesto Mayonnaise: Stir 1 1/2 tablespoons pesto into 1/2 cup light mayonnaise.
- Dijonnaise: Stirring 1 1/2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard into 1/2 cup light mayonnaise.
Homemade Mayonnaise Recipe
If you've never tried homemade mayonnaise, you might be surprised at how much tastier it can be than the commercial variety. And if you've got a food processor, it's easier to make than you might think.
This recipe for lighter homemade mayonnaise calls for canola oil, but you can use olive oil if you prefer. You can also change some of the ingredients to make it sweeter or spicier.
1 large egg (use a higher omega-3 brand, if available)
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar or lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/4 teaspoon honey (granulated sugar can be substituted)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (black pepper can be substituted)
1/2 cup canola oil
6 tablespoons fat-free sour cream (light sour cream can be substituted)
- In food processor, combine egg; vinegar or lemon juice; mustard; honey; salt and white pepper, pulsing until totally blended.
- With food processor running, slowly add canola oil in a steady stream through the open tube on the lid (about 60 seconds). Scrape sides of food processor bowl with rubber spatula, add fat-free sour cream and pulse a few seconds more.
- Add more vinegar, mustard, honey, or pepper if needed for desired flavor.
Yield: 1 1/8 cup (18 tablespoons)
Per tablespoon: 62 calories, .5 g protein, .9 g carbohydrate, 6.3 g fat, .5 g saturated fat, 4 g monounsaturated fat, 1.8 g polyunsaturated fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 44 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 91%. Omega-3 fatty acids: .6 gram, Omega-6 fatty acids: 1.2 grams.
(Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for WebMD and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.)