You’ll notice that vegan mayo is invariably marketed as “mayo” and not “mayonnaise” (and certainly never “real mayonnaise”). I’d imagine this has to do with labeling restrictions. I’ve never run across anything claiming to be mayonnaise that didn’t contain eggs.
Anything claiming to be “mayo”, including vegan mayo (or dressing, sandwich spread, etc.), can diverge from the traditional formulation. So in this article, we’ll be looking at the question of what vegan mayo is composed of.
So, what exactly is in vegan mayo? Formulations vary, but vegan mayo is usually some combination of plant oils, vinegar, emulsifiers, a sugar source (sugar or brown rice syrup), salt, lemon juice, plant protein (usually legume-based), and preservatives.1-4
What we’ll do here is go over each of the ingredients common to 100% plant-based mayo.
Common Ingredients in Vegan Mayo
This is the main ingredient in both vegan and non-vegan mayo and is responsible for why most vegan mayo still retains most of the flavor and mouthfeel despite having the egg removed.
When most folks think of mayonnaise, eggs come to mind. But, take a look at any mainstream mayonnaise and you’ll notice that eggs are never listed first. (So you know, ingredients are listed in order of the amounts used. If something is listed first, it’s used in the highest quantities.).
This is good news for vegans because most vegan mayo is pretty flavorful and with some brands, it’s nigh impossible to tell the difference.
Don’t get me wrong, not all vegan mayo tastes like the original. But, in my experience, the varieties that diverge from regular mayonnaise the most (in terms of taste) are usually marketed as “sandwich spreads” or “dressings”—i.e. they’re marketed as Miracle Whip replacements.
If you want a vegan mayo that really resembles regular mayonnaise, make sure there are at least 90-100 calories per 1 Tbsp serving. Anything less will resemble Miracle Whip or low-fat mayonnaise (neither of which taste like real mayonnaise).
The default plant-based oils are going to be the neutral oils like canola and soybean. Olive and avocado oils are also somewhat common, but they’re typically marketed as olive oil mayo or avocado mayo—i.e. they don’t come standard.
Some brands even use whole avocado. For example, Avonaise contains avocado, avocado oil, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, organic lemon juice, and water.3
Vinegar and Lemon Juice
Two more ingredients that are common to regular mayonnaise.
Some vegan mayos contain both ingredients. For example, Whole Foods 365 Vegan Mayo contains organic expeller pressed canola oil, organic brown rice syrup, filtered water, organic apple cider vinegar, organic soy protein isolate, organic lemon juice concentrate, salt, and organic mustard flour.4
So, why the vinegar and lemon juice? Well, both contribute to the characteristic flavor of mayonnaise, but they also serve other functions—namely, stabilizing the emulsion.5
Mayo is an emulsion, so it needs help keeping water and oil mixed when they’d otherwise prefer to remain separate.
Common emulsifiers in food production include soy lecithin, egg yolks (another lecithin-containing substance), proteins (including soy), mono- and diglycerides, sorbitan monostearate, and polysorbates.6
Lipoproteins are the main emulsifying agents in mayonnaise and their capabilities to emulsify are enhanced by the acidic environment provided by lemon juice and vinegar.7
If anything, I’d say vegan mayo tends to make heavier use of vinegar compared to real mayonnaise. It’s often combined with higher levels of sugar.
That’s my main qualm with JUST Mayo because it almost has a Miracle Whip-like flavor to it—heavy on the vinegar.
Depending on your preferences, that may or may not be a good thing. I just happen to like mine savory (not sweet) with a slightly tangy lemon taste.
Legume proteins are probably the most common in vegan mayo.
For example, Follow Your Heart vegan mayo contains expeller-pressed canola oil, filtered water, apple cider vinegar, brown rice syrup, soy protein, mustard flour, sea salt, and lemon juice concentrate.1
JUST Mayo contains expeller-pressed canola oil, distilled white vinegar, water, sugar, spices, salt, modified food starch, pea protein, fruit and vegetable juice (for color), lemon juice concentrate, and calcium disodium EDTA.2
We know by now that vegan mayo contains oils (like regular mayo), but leaves out the eggs. In regular mayonnaise, eggs are a source of emulsifiers including lipoproteins and phospholipids. The former (phospholipids) are “amphiphilic” so they’re able to lower surface tension.7
Amphililic is just a fancy way of saying the molecules both attract and repel water.
Isolated soy protein emulsifies fat and holds water which is one reason it’s often used in ground meat.7
Lipoproteins from some plant sources (e.g., peanut flour) can also emulsify oil, and mayo substitutes (like vegan mayo) can be made with such proteins, though the label “real mayonnaise” is limited to mayo using eggs as the sole source of emulsifiers.8
Not all vegan mayo contains preservatives, but they’re fairly common.
The one I run across the most is calcium disodium EDTA which protects freshness.
Calcium disodium EDTA (ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid) is an additive that’s employed in a variety of foods including everything from dressings and mayo to sodas, alcoholic beverages, canned vegetables, pickles, margarine, and sausage.9
It serves as an antioxidant and sequestrant which allows it to act as a preservative. It also helps slow color loss and prevents crystal formation.10
It is considered non-animal-derived and safe for vegans to consume.11
Sugar and salt are also common. They contribute to flavor and freshness—the latter because they bind water preventing it from being used for microbial growth.
One main difference between vegan and real mayo is texture. I currently have a jar of Follow Your Heart in my refrigerator. It has a great consistency when brand new, but after it sat for a bit it became more of a sauce or dressing. It’s at the point now where it almost pours out of the container.
This may or may not be a good thing, it just depends on your preference. I personally like mine a bit thicker and easier to work with.
I’m not sure why it lost its consistency, but I did see one article that mentioned homogenization speed as potentially contributing to the characteristic gelatinous texture that regular mayo is known for.
Some brands of regular mayo are more gelatinous than others. Think Blue Bonnet—if you scoop out a dollop of that stuff, it will hold its form until you spread it out.
Whole Foods 365 Mayo is the closest variety I’ve found to real mayonnaise in terms of texture (and taste for that matter).
Anyway, that’s it for now. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Follow Your Heart Vegan Mayo. https://followyourheart.com/products/original/
- JUST Mayo, Non-GMO, 12 oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/JUST-Mayo-Non-GMO-12-oz/42124204
- AVONAISE-LIST-OF-INGREDIENTS. https://www.avonaise.com/home-2/attachment/avonaise-list-of-ingredients-3/
- 365 Vegan Mayo, 16 Fl Oz. https://www.instacart.com/products/49406-365-vegan-mayo-16-fl-oz?utm_campaign=taurus&utm_content=retailer_product&utm_medium=web&utm_source=instacart_seo
- Cookbook: Mayonnaise. https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cookbook:Mayonnaise
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 57). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Emulsifiers (Page 40). C. Stauffer – Eagan Press – 1999. ISBN 1-891127-02-0.
- The FDA Says Eggless Mayo Isn’t Real Mayo. Marina Koren – https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/08/the-true-meaning-of-mayonnaise/402286/
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page F-2). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Vegan Peace, Ingredients. http://www.veganpeace.com/ingredients/ingredients.htm#Calcium_Disodium_EDTA
- The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), Ingredients. https://www.vrg.org/ingredients/