Have Millennials Really "Killed Mayonnaise"?

August 17, 2018

Two months ago I came to work to find, adjacent to my desk, a peculiar sight: eight bowls of mayonnaise arranged in a straight line. There sat, in perfect succession, enough creamy white condiment to eat a bowl's worth a day for a week, and then some. The sight conjured a strange excitement in me. That is so much mayo, I thought. I hope at least some of it is for me, I thought. Maybe, if I’m on my best behavior today, I’ll get some mayo, I thought. My relationship to the mayonnaise in front of me was turning suddenly, strangely Pavlovian.

But I wasn’t alone. Other coworkers began to gravitate toward the mayonnaise, drawn first by its superfluity and then by the promise, the sweet, sweet possibility, that they might get a taste. My coworker Emma ripped open three bags of gleefully misshapen Five Guys French fries. “Today, we’ll be blind taste testing eight different kinds of mayonnaise to determine what we think is the best.”

I found myself thinking back on this day, with all its whipped egg and oil strangeness and splendor, when an article titled "How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise" in Philadelphia Magazine started making the rounds online. In it, Sandy Hingston laments the fall of mayonnaise as America’s condiment of choice. What was once the darling of the summer barbecue—holding together potato and pasta salads alike—is now an object of derision. Who else does she blame for this decline but millennials? It’s the younger generations, she claims, who have tarnished the name of the condiment she holds so dear, opting instead for chimichurri, sriracha, and gochujang.

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Her argument belies a thinly veiled anxiety centered around shifting demographics (“Just because something is old and white doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. Look at Shakespeare. Look at me.").

Hingston certainly touches on something real for many. There are—and I’ve seen them—plenty of people who rail in the face of mayonnaise, who shiver at its almost gelatinous texture, who turn away from its almost overwhelming creaminess.

But this isn't always the case. Nor does it have to be.

Can you guess the secret ingredient?

I remember the day of Emma’s taste test. While some coworkers shied away from the event, many, many more jumped at the opportunity, dipping French fries into mayonnaise with reckless abandon. I watch my friends (all millennials, mind you) swirl mayo into their tuna salads, ask for an extra swipe on their bodega sandwich, and whisk it into inventive new dressings. Even today, I profiled the Food52 staff, asking whether or not they liked mayo. 28 responded positively, 8 negatively.

“My mom used to pack me ham and mayo sandwiches all the time. It’s so simple (just white plastic bread, thin refrigerator ham, and Hellman’s). But I think it helped me develop a taste for the stuff. Sometimes she’d cut my sandwich into a teddy bear. That tasted the best,” my editor Eric mused in response.

The modern palate is in flux, and mayo may not hold the pantheonic importance it once did, but why lament? Why not save that energy for celebration—to rejoice in the cadre of flavors, textures, and cultures we’ve welcomed—and continue to welcome—to the pantry, to the fridge door, to the deli counter? Or better yet, channel that energy into familiarizing yourself with some of these new flavors. Who knows? Your new mayo could be among them.

Do you hate mayo? Let us know in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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    Stephanie B.
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    Mj Lipshie
  • charlotte
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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


bellw67 August 21, 2018
I grew up with Miracle Whip so when I was introduced to mayo it was heavenly. Love the stuff, even the Vegan mayo. My favourite sandwich used to be mayo, peanut butter and Cheez Whiz.
Stephanie B. August 20, 2018
Now I'm no expert, but I kind of feel like that whole article wasn't *really* about mayo. Like maybe the author had some other insecurities to work out regarding, oh I don't know, age, race, fear of being left behind in a changing culture, and innocent mayo got dragged in as a metaphor just as millennials got dragged in as a scapegoat. I'm not making light of these fears, but I do wish the authors of these kinds of pieces could turns some of their powerful observational skills inward, instead of making correlations between gender studies and condiments.

I certainly can't speak for all millennials, but I just don't think we think about mayo that often, or intently. I mean, it's a condiment - it's not that complicated. Like a whole host of other think pieces on things millennials have apparently ruined (cereal, doing dishes, thongs...the list goes on), I think it says a lot more about the author than it does about millennials or mayo.
Mj L. August 19, 2018
I grew up in the South so I LUV it. Switched to Duke’s a couple of years ago. It is heavenly but I have to mail order it. In my old Julia Child days, I loved making homemade mayo...yum!!!
charlotte August 19, 2018
One of my fondest food memories of Paris is eating french fries dipped in mayo in a tiny bistro. I'd never had the combo before but I loved it so much that I've brought the custom back with me. Ketchup will never touch my fries again.
M August 18, 2018
The horror that a condiment doesn't maintain the same level of popularity it did when food was segregated and dominated by North American food manufacturers.

I truly hate how much food talk centres around trend-setters decide is trendy or passé, and overreactions to changing habits.

Ttrockwood August 18, 2018
I think millennials are more likely to buy a flavored aioli, or enjoy a “secret sauce”, both thinly disguised mayo of course, than they are to buy a jar of it. Brands like veganaise, just mayo, and sir kensington are selling what is some version of mayo to millennials with surprising success- it’s not the classic yet also not that different.
Geoffrey K. August 17, 2018
I remember having fries with mayo on my first overseas liberty in Antwerp. It just seemed wrong at the time but it turns out I was the one that was wrong. I still eat fries with mayo to this day and that's almost 35 years later.
Ariana August 17, 2018
I loved reading this. I don't hate mayo, but I don't love mayo. It has its place in my household and you're right - there is a nostalgia of slapping it on a piece of bread before toasting for a grilled cheese sandwich. Mmm.
Sally P. August 17, 2018
Good article, as usual. As for my opinion, I absolutely love mayonnaise but I’ve switched to eggless mayo for several reasons. Have you tried it? I actually like it better than mayo containing eggs. I even eat it plain on bread and crackers for a snack.