Elsewhere in Slate, David Merritt Johns asks why mayonnaise inspires fervent hatred and explains the history of mayonnaise. Meanwhile, Ari LeVaux tries to find out why Hellmann’s is so good.
Earlier this year, on a whim, I bought a product that I had low expectations for. I’m not a vegetarian and I’ve never been a big fan of fake meats or fake cheeses, but in the interest experimenting with some lower cholesterol products, I decided to give Vegenaise, a vegan mayonnaise substitute, a shot. Its tagline is “It’s Better than Mayo.” As a mayonnaise devotee, my reaction was, “Yeah, we’ll see about that.”
My cooking repertoire contains many dishes that call for healthy doses of mayo: chicken salad, tartar sauce-like concoctions to serve with fish, and of course sandwiches that wouldn’t taste the same without a good slathering of the white stuff. Upon trying out my risky purchase in these and other dishes, I was taken with how good it tasted. The flavor was much lighter than regular mayo, and had a pleasing balance of flavors that made regular Hellmann’s taste both too sweet and too sour by comparison. Vegenaise’s texture is pleasantly smooth and airy, and much less goopy than store-bought mayo.
As I tried it on a range of foods both plain and jazzed up with various extras like sriracha, slowly but surely, I realized its motto was right. Vegenaise, shockingly, tastes better than mayo. As an added bonus, it has less saturated fat and cholesterol than the regular stuff. And while many meat substitutes have ingredient lists that read like a science experiment, Vegenaise actually has no additives or preservatives. I’ve also noticed that after indulging, I do not have that same heavy, weighed-down feeling in my stomach that I’ve come to associate with a hearty dose of the egg-based stuff.
While I know I’m not the only non-vegan to discover this magical product, (Gwyneth Paltrow is a devotee), I don’t think Vegenaise has gotten the culinary attention and praise it rightly deserves. I never see it called for in recipes unless it’s flagged as a substitute for vegans. I never see it mentioned extensively on non-vegan food sites. Most friends I mention it to haven’t tried it, but people I’ve served it to in sauces complimented it highly without knowing its provenance. I decided to administer a highly unscientific blind taste test to some Slate staffers, not giving any hint that they might be eating an eggless substitute. I presented it in various concoctions, and 12 out of the 15 people who participated preferred at least one of the Vegenaise options to the Hellmann’s option. I feel vindicated!
While no store-bought spread will ever compete with a beautiful homemade aioli, I urge any non-vegans reading to give Vegeniase a shot on your next BLT. You may soon be joining me in enthusiastically reciting the motto any time the subject of mayonnaise comes up.