Japanese

How to Make Japanese Kewpie Mayo at Home

January 12, 2016

There are several reasons that chefs, and seemingly every person in Japan, are obsessed with Kewpie mayonnaise and its brethren.

  • It comes is a soft squeeze bottle with a fine tip for zigzagging artfully across okonomiyaki, a bowl of rice, or an oversized fine-dining plate.
  • It’s tangy, rich and salty-sweet.
  • And it’s packed with umami (not to mention fat).
Pronounced: Q.P. Photo by Melissa Goodwin

That irresistible umami flavor is due to a lot of M.S.G., and gums and fillers help with the perfectly creamy texture. A homemade version will never be exactly like one off the shelf, but just like Hellman’s has its roots in a humble homemade sauce, so does Kewpie.

So what differentiates Japanese mayo, even in its humbler homemade incarnation?

  • It uses only yolks as opposed to whole eggs (which commercial American mayo uses).
  • The oil is a neutral-flavored one, such as canola—never olive oil like you might use for aioli.
  • And instead of lemon juice for tang, it relies on vinegar.
  • It’s a little sweet, too, but never as cloying as Miracle Whip.
The ultimate in avocado toast Photo by Melissa Goodwin

I wanted to give you a recipe that won't require a trip to a specialty market or mail-ordering obscure ingredients. I do suggest using dashi to add umami without M.S.G. (which, though not necessarily harmful, I consider cheating)—but you can omit it and still have a great mayonnaise. (Nancy Singleton Hachisu—whose books you should buy if you want to learn Japanese home-cooking—has a recipe for a version that’s as simple as egg yolk, oil, rice vinegar, and a touch of salt and sugar.)

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To concentrate the tang and umami in my recipe without thinning out the mayonnaise too much, I cook down the vinegar and dashi. It only takes a few minutes and makes all the difference between ordinary and fantastic mayo! You might instinctively reach for rice wine vinegar when making Japanese food, but cider vinegar gets you closer to the taste of Kewpie.

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Here’s a recipe that gets damn close to Kewpie, using simple home-cooking ingredients. Put this in a squeeze bottle and you’re ready to go!

In a small saucepan, bring the the cider vinegar and dashi to a simmer over high heat. (if you aren't using dashi, just simmer the vinegar). Adjust the heat to keep it simmering, not boiling, until reduced to about 1 tablespoon, 3 to 5 minutes.

Transfer the vinegar-dashi concentrate to a small mixing bowl. Form a ring with a damp dish towel to rest your bowl on—this will keep it stable. Add the Dijon and egg yolk and whisk to combine.

While constantly whisking, very gradually drip in the oil down the side of the bowl into the yolk mixture. The mixture should emulsify and thicken. (If at any point you mixture breaks and separates instead of getting thick and creamy, don’t despair. Put a fresh egg yolk in a bowl, and slowly whisk the broken mixture into it, as if it were the oil.) You can drizzle a bit more quickly once the mixture is very thick.

Photo by Melissa Goodwin

When all the oil has been incorporated, mix in the sugar and salt. You can add a little dashi or water to thin the mayonnaise so it will easily flow from a squeeze bottle but still hold its shape. It will thicken slightly once refrigerated.

Transfer the mixture to a squeeze bottle. Refrigerate and use within 1 week.

Do you have an affection for Kewpie mayo? Tell us in the comments!

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What does a farm girl in Brooklyn do with a painting degree from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and an obsession with food? Start a visually rich culinary publication! Write about cooking, develop recipes, and become a food stylist. Grow vegetables even if it's one scraggly tomato plant hanging from a fire escape, and find a way to keep chickens whether on a rooftop, in a neighbor's empty lot, a community garden, or the rare urban backyard (I've tried them all). On our small family farm in Washington state, I learned how food grows—and a deep respect for nature and agriculture—by helping to cultivate vegetables and raise chickens, goats and sheep. I continued to study food by working my way through the chain of production: harvesting herbs on an organic farm, selling specialty produce, serving farm-to-table food, baking artisan pastries and selling them at farmers markets, creating artful wedding cakes, developing and implementing craft cocktail programs, and testing and developing recipes for publications.

7 Comments

Tom P. July 12, 2019
I read the back of a bottle in an Asian food store recently and the stand out ingredients apart from MSG were mustard powder (which you have here as dijon) but also mustard oil.

Mustard oil is bright yellow, and has a peppery tang to it - a very specific taste. I have some Indian dishes but it’s not always readily available (because I don’t think it’s considered totally safe in the west?!) but a tiny amount might well help get closer to the colour and flavour? Worth a thought!
 
Ally J. January 13, 2016
Great idea! But I'm afraid instant dashi (at least the most readily available brands in the states) contains MSG. So unless you're going to be straining your own from seaweed and imported dried fish...it's hard to avoid getting that "kewpie" flavor without MSG.
 
Sian B. July 1, 2019
Given Kewpie Mayo is made with MSG, this shouldn't be surprising.
 
Matt H. January 12, 2016
As an alternative, you might consider the Kewpie mayo recipe available on the ChefSteps site:

https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/japanese-kewpie-style-mayo

I particularly like the inclusion of the egg yolk powder for its presumed effect on color and viscosity of the mayo.
 
Threemoons January 12, 2016
I normally LOVE Food52 posts, but seriously you can get the real deal on Amazon. I categorize this as too hard to match exactly AND easy to buy, so ix-nay on this....
 
totallygone January 12, 2016
Mmmm...delicious... any idea how a salt-free version might be possible (for someone with health issues)?
 
J.R. C. June 29, 2018
I'm not sure a salt-free version is possible, but you could consider replacing the kosher salt with actual MSG (Accent or Aji-No-Moto; they are identical). Monosodium glutamate has 60% of the sodium of regular salt, and gives way more flavor, thanks to its glutamate component. I do have to wonder whether getting some sort of concentrated liquor of seaweeds like kombu or wakame into the mix, and adding some good ol' potassium chloride (NoSalt, etc.) might be better for your needs.