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Menorca: Birthplace of Mayonnaise?

Menorca is well-known for its gin, wine, and cheese, but this tiny island may have another claim to culinary fame: many anecdotal reports claim that Menorca invented mayonnaise, the creamy spread and dressing well-known to sandwich and salad eaters. Like many great origin stories, the story of the creation of this creamy delight is hotly contested. The core of the debate centres on which European nation – France or Spain – invented this popular condiment.

Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is a simple emulsion made by gradually whisking oil into egg yolk until the mixture comes together. The result of the chemistry between these two ingredients is a creamy sauce of white to pale yellow that pairs nicely with nearly everything. While France claims to be the birthplace of this well-loved condiment, the people of Menorca are fierce in their assertion that it originated on this Spanish Balearic island.

The earliest references to this rich sauce come from the beginning of the 19th century, and can be found in French culinary encyclopaedias of the time. Proponents of the Menorca origin story, however, hold that the French did not invent mayonnaise, but only popularised it. Many anecdotes postulate that the condiment was born after the Duke of Richelieu’s 1756 victory over British forces at the Menorcan port of Mahon during the Seven Years’ War. According to the story, the Duke’s chef could not find the cream he needed for the victory meal, so instead whipped up a sauce of egg and oil, calling it mahonnaise in honour of its birthplace, Mahon. The sauce was an immediate success, and travelled with the navy back to France, where it was widely adopted as mayonnaise. Over the centuries, it has evolved into a basic staple, and can be found in refrigerators everywhere.

Today mayonnaise is used as a simple sandwich spread

The cloudy origins of mayonnaise are a classic example of how cultural exchange helps to form the products and cuisines we know and love. Today, this velvety delicacy is used all over the world, in everything from Waldorf salad, to ranch dressing, to tartar sauce, to a simple sandwich spread. Whether Spanish or French, there’s no question that this rich, creamy sauce is adored by eaters around the globe.

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