Japanese mayo has a cult following: here's why. Plus, where to buy it and an easy hack for getting started making it at home.
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Homemade japanese fast food okonomiyaki cabbage pancake decorated by spring onion, pickled ginger, mayo sauce on ceramic plate
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When it comes to American mayo, people are divided. There are those who embrace it and those who are more meh on mayo, whether it's Hellman's or Duke's. But when it comes to Japanese mayo, folks tend to be united. There are mostly fans, and by fans we mean a cult following full of chefs, foodies and, well, Japan. What makes this mayonnaise in a squeezy bottle so special? Below we break down what Japanese mayo tastes like and how it's different from its American counterpart. Plus, we give you an easy recipe hack on how to make Japanese mayo at home, and we lay out whether it's healthy for you or not.

What Is Japanese Mayo?

Japanese mayo was created in the 1920s by Toichiro Nakashima, who was inspired by the mayonnaise he encountered in the United States. By 1925, Nakashima perfected his recipe and launched Kewpie Mayonnaise, or Kewpie for short, in Japan. Since then, the product has become a staple ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

Today, there are many different companies that make Japanese mayo; however, Kewpie remains the most popular. In fact, Kewpie's dominance in the Japanese mayo market is so great that the two terms are often used synonymously.

Japanese Mayo vs. American Mayo

When it comes to ingredients, the differences between Japanese and American mayos may not seem significant. But, the sum of their respective ingredient lists results in two products that are related but different in terms of taste and texture. Generally (everyone's palate will register mayonnaise differently), Japanese mayo is a soft golden color with a creamy yet light mouthfeel. It tastes both tangy and sweet and has savory, eggy undertones. American mayo is an off-white hue with a thick and slightly gel-like creaminess. It is tangy, leaning almost sour, and salty. Some people may catch a subtle aroma of eggs.

The key difference between the two mayonnaises is that Japanese mayo is made with egg yolks only, while American mayo typically includes whole eggs. Using only egg yolks results in a mayonnaise that's richer and more custard-like in texture and gives Japanese mayo its characteristic golden glow. The extra protein from the egg yolks also means there are more amino acids, which is what gives Japanese mayo that distinct egg-y flavor profile.

While American mayo is made with distilled vinegar, which is a higher-acid vinegar, Japanese mayo is made with vinegars such as rice vinegar or apple-cider vinegar, which naturally contain some sugar and are lower in acid. This is the reason why Japanese mayo is both tangy and sweet.

Lastly (and maybe most importantly), commercially produced Japanese mayo includes monosodium glutamate, or MSG. It's the not-so-secret, secret ingredient that brings that distinct umami undertone to Japanese mayo.

What to Eat with Japanese Mayo

Japanese mayo goes well in a wide range of dishes. It can be used as a spread, dip, seasoning or dressing. It's the unsung hero of so many go-to sushi orders (here's looking at you, California roll) as well as the popular tamago sandos (Japanese egg-salad sandwiches). It's a delicious topping for savory pancakes like okonomiyaki, a regional specialty from Osaka, or simply mixed with rice and leftover protein. It also makes an addicting dipping sauce for foods such as fries and karaage, Japanese fried chicken. In short, there are many ways to eat Japanese mayo. If you're looking for a place to start, begin by using it as a replacement for American mayo and go from there.

Where to Get Japanese Mayo

Are you convinced that you need to join the Japanese mayo fandom? If so, you're in luck! Japanese mayo, including Kewpie, is easy to find at Japanese and Asian markets, online and at many big-box and independent grocery stores. It's important to note that Kewpie manufactures Japanese mayo in the States. The U.S. formulation is different from the original recipe and uses yeast extract in place of MSG and also includes a little added sugar. Although the U.S. formula and the original are meant to taste the same, many prefer the made-in-Japan version.

How to Make Japanese Mayo out of Regular Mayo

If you have pasteurized egg yolks, Dijon mustard, rice vinegar or cider vinegar, sugar, salt and vegetable oil, you can make a version of Japanese mayo at home. However, even with a high-power blender or food processor, it'll be hard to mimic the creamy texture of commercially produced Japanese mayo. That's because companies like Kewpie use proprietary machinery to emulsify their product to that perfect, silky-smooth consistency.

If you're looking to make Japanese mayo at home, you can use American mayo as a base. Again, it won't be the same as the stuff that comes out of that squeezy bottle, but it's a lot easier, safer (since you don't have to deal with raw eggs) and quick. Here's what to do: Whisk 2 tablespoons American mayo with 1 teaspoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon sugar. You can adjust this formulation to suit your preferences.

What's the Nutritional Profile of Japanese Mayo?

Like American mayo, Japanese mayo is high in calories and fat—1 tablespoon of Kewpie mayo contains 100 calories and 10 grams of fat, or 16% of your Daily Value. However, it's relatively low in sodium, 4% of your Daily Value, and contains no carbs or sugar. As long as it's eaten in moderation, Japanese mayo can be part of a healthy diet.

The inclusion of MSG may make you wary of eating Japanese mayo, but scientific evidence fails to support that it has adverse side effects. MSG is naturally present in many popular foods such as Parmesan cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms. The average American consumes about 0.55 grams of MSG per day through food.

Bottom Line

There's a reason why Japanese mayo has such a loyal following. It's full of flavor, has a great mouthfeel and goes well with so many different types of foods. It's readily available online and at many grocery stores. It's slightly more sweet and less acidic than American mayo because it contains rice or cider vinegar rather than distilled white vinegar. Japanese mayo is also a bit richer due to the incorporation of egg yolks, unlike American mayo which uses whole eggs. If you'd like to start your Japanese mayo journey, start with quick and easy egg salad recipes. You may be hooked at first bite!

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