Hold the Mayo

My Rouses Everyday, July/August 2017

It’s burger season.

For some, that means that it’s time to start thinking about condiments. For others, it’s time to run. Ketchup, pickles and mayonnaise — they all have a superpower to unite or divide the cookout crowd.

Condiment divisiveness ran deep in our family. When just a girl, my mother ate an entire jar of mayonnaise in one sitting. At least that was the story she told us whenever we started lathering up our hamburger buns with Blue Plate. She got so sick afterwards, she never touched the stuff again.

Mayo makes my sister Christy gag too. The cause remains a mystery. When we were kids, one of my brother Michael’s preferred tools of torture was a generous white dollop clinging to a spoon placed inches from Christy’s nose. Decades later, we still get the urge to run towards her with a butter knife full of the stuff. Pitiless? Maybe, but I believe the inclination to torment came from our confusion over her ability to enjoy potato salad, which is, of course, positively laden with the stuff. Say what? The contradiction spurred on our relentlessness.

Can science explain the desire to retch when traces of a misplaced pickle or tomato linger on the bun? According to a number of studies done during the past two decades, the act of cooking food can change that food’s chemistry. In the case of tomatoes, there is an antioxidant called lycopene that seems to be affected by heat. Cook up the tomato, and a “’mater hater” can handle it. But chemistry is only one of many factors that make up the complex science related to taste. Some studies suggest our likes and dislikes might begin in utero and are connected to what our mothers ate during pregnancy or while nursing.

Thankfully, a fresh generation of hamburger eaters has expanded the condiment culture — giving their picky counterparts new opportunities to change their ways and expand their horizons. In fact, in a National Restaurant Association (NRA) survey of nearly 1,300 professional chefs, house-made condiments ranked seventh on a list of 10 hottest trends. The survey, meant to provide insight into what drives customers through a restaurant door, reported that 68 percent of the chefs viewed “craft” condiments — whether it be a special type of sriracha, mustard or a fancy mayonnaise — as a hot trend in 2017. And four craft condiments — sriracha, chili-infused honey, Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise — were among the NRA’s FABI Award recipients this year. The FABI, or Food and Beverage Award, recognizes food & beverage innovations across the industry.

And there’s no need to get too fancy. A pinch of dill, basil or tarragon or a drop of fresh lemon or lime juice easily can transform a plain jar of mayonnaise or mustard into something special. A few more ideas for perking up mayo include adding a little sesame oil or mashing in some roasted garlic. But that’s just a starting point — the possible add-ons are only limited by your imagination and what’s on hand in your fridge.