Aioli vs Mayo: What's the Difference?

If you own a bar, sandwich shop, or restaurant, you may have noticed the increased fascination with aioli. As this creamy condiment becomes a popular foodservice trend, many are asking what the difference between mayo and aioli even is. We sought out to identify the difference between these two toppings and clarify how they can be properly used.

The Difference Between Aioli and Mayo

Although aioli and mayonnaise are both creamy emulsions, aioli is made from garlic and olive oil while mayo is made from egg yolks and canola oil. The final result may look similar but the two sauces have distinctly different flavors.

What is Aioli?

Making Garlic Aioli

Aioli, meaning “garlic oil” in Catalan, is a sauce made by emulsifying mashed garlic with extra virgin olive oil, typically with a mortar and pestle. It originated in Catalonia, Spain and is often used in French cooking, especially in the region of Provence.

How to Make Aioli

To traditionally make aioli, several cloves of garlic are pounded into a paste in a mortar. Olive oil is then added slowly while the chef constantly stirs and mashes the paste to begin emulsifying the mixture.

Emulsification is the process of combining two ingredients that typically cannot mix, such as oil and water. As the oil is whipped or mashed, the oil particles break down and spread evenly throughout the mixture, resulting in a creamy and blended texture.

Egg yolks, bread, or lemon juice may often be added to enhance the creaminess of the mixture. The aioli sauce is mixed until it is pale and creamy.

Aioli Uses

Traditional aioli is used in the following ways:

  • Dip for vegetables
  • Sauce for shellfish
  • Over grilled lamb
  • With escargot

What is Mayonnaise?

Mayonnaise ingredients

Mayonnaise or mayo is a sauce made by emulsifying egg yolk, canola oil, lemon juice or vinegar, mustard, and salt with a whisk. It is a creamy and spreadable cold condiment, possibly French or Spanish in origin, that is used world wide today.

How to Make Mayonnaise

To make mayonnaise, oil is slowly whisked into egg yolks to begin the emulsification process. As the sauce comes together, lemon juice or vinegar and salt are added. The mixture then needs to be whisked vigorously for the ingredients to combine properly. As the oil droplets become suspended in the egg yolk, it produces a fluffy texture. It is important to note that homemade mayonnaise does have a shorter shelf life than store bought variations, only lasting approximately 3-4 days.

Mayonnaise Uses

Mayonnaise is used in the following ways:

  • Spread for sandwiches
  • Dip for french fries
  • Base for pasta and potato salads

Modern Aioli vs Traditional Aioli

French fries with aioli

The confusion between mayonnaise and aioli comes from the way the word “aioli” is used today. In many establishments, any type of flavored mayo, especially garlic mayo, will be labeled as garlic aioli. Most restaurants and bars will not carry traditional aioli because of how labor intensive it is to make and how easily the emulsion can split.

Although traditional aioli and modern aioli are not made in the same way, they can be used interchangeably as dips and spreads. There will, however, be variations to the texture and flavor profile between the two condiments.

Chances are that the garlic aioli that captures your attention on a menu isn’t actually aioli at all. Regardless, both traditional aioli and flavored mayonnaise can give a Mediterranean kick to your meals and help boost your sales when added to poutine.

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