American mayonnaise sucks. There, I said it. Fight me in the parking lot. I’ll throw hands all day over how inferior Hellman’s is. I get it, people love mayo, especially in the south. We slather it on everything, from burgers to sandwiches. The real ones know that you can jazz up a grilled cheese to a different level by swapping your traditional fat of butter for the creaminess of mayonnaise. Culturally, we even like to dress mayonnaise up and add things and change the name in some Lexus vs. Toyota tomfoolery and call it “aioli” when it’s just mayo with like, garlic, or sriracha. Fancy names make dipping your fries in it seem less gross, I guess.
But let’s be honest, American mayo is bland. Like, real fuckin’ bland. If you give a shit about cooking, about flavor, making things taste good, or just looking like you know what you’re talking about when someone brings up food, we need to talk about the secret weapon hiding in plain sight on supermarket shelves. There’s a bottle with a cutesy baby on it, the plastic is durable but flimsy, and it comes in a plastic bag. I’m talking about Kewpie mayo, aka the stuff you didn’t know you needed.
Ask anyone who cooks professionally who isn’t obsessed with Blue Plate or Duke’s because they have to “out south” you. Everyone else will cite Japanese mayonnaise as a superior product. There’s something about it that bangs harder than an Ava Adams flick. It’s got that tang regular mayo is missing. It’s a consistency thing. It’s not just the color, which is golden and creamy, verses Helmen’s, which is… white.
Kewpie has been around for a century in Japan. It’s finally making its bones over here in McDonald’s and Chili’s land. The Japanese love Kewpie so much that it has a line of merch, pop up kitchens, and even a museum that exists thanks to its dominance. You ain’t seeing many people sport a Miracle Whip hoodie, are you?
The reason for its sudden prowess is that it’s a different animal in the grocery aisle – it’s not made with second-tier ingredients, but instead is made with Japanese eggs.
In Japan, people go hard in the paint over eggs. The average person eats over 320 of them. But unlike here where we generally keep our poultry in a square foot of room, Japanese farmers give their chickens the wagyu treatment and let them roam on much bigger plots of land, and they don’t feed them crap, either. Because all these matters for the final product, the yolks are vibrant and darker, much like raising chickens at home.
Japanese mayonnaise is made with only the egg yolk, unlike American mayonnaise, where we use the whole egg. Since there’s no whites and it's only yolks, that’s why the color is in-depth, and the texture is creamier. But that’s not all as they say on the Price is Right, American mayo uses regular-ass distilled vinegar, while in Japan they use an apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar, which gives off a deeper flavor.
But then there’s the elephant in the room, the thing Americans have this bias against monosodium glutamate or MSG. If you’re already clutching your pearls, stop. You’ve been led to believe this weird, and gross racist myth that MSG gets people sick or gives them headaches, and just like Donald Trump’s tax returns, total bullshit!
There was a letter to the editor sent back in 1968 to the New England Journal of Medicine, and it said that MSG made them sick, and all of this spooky language with little factual evidence. This rumor stuck around forever, causing a bunch of Chinese restaurants to have to display a bunch of signs saying “NO MSG” all while they knew the food would be so much better with it. Here’s the thing, Ugly Delicious debunked this. Doritos and every chip has MSG, sooooo, what’s up with that, racist ass Monica in the suburbs of Cleveland?
There are two versions of Kewpie in the States: there’s one in a bottle with the label printed directly on it, this one has no MSG (boooo) and the version sold at Asian markets that comes in the bag. Either are light years better than anything on the regular shelves.
After that’, there’s this ultra-creamy emulsification process that uses some high-grade technology to whip the concoction together ala the Terminator. And when it comes out, the texture is lavish, creamy, and rife with umami, the golden god of all things food. If you’re like WTF is umami, it’s that extra little mmmm factor when you eat something special. Like adding a slight hint of sweet + sour + savory + spicy all in one bite. Think beef jerky, or seaweed, or sushi. The bite is unique, a little more complicated than iceberg lettuce.
Here’s a thing about Kewpie, chefs live for this condiment. Any high-end restaurant or place where the person on the line cares about their food, they’re using Kewpie. From David Chang to Anthony Bourdain, people who know food fuck with Kewpie. So many chefs use it regularly, the cap is designed for them with a signature star, so that when squeezed the right amount comes out. If you’re eating Japanese food, whatever creamy dipping sauce you’re using, Kewpie is the base. Same with sushi. All those sauces on top, you guessed it. Katsu, even chocolate cake. Everything.
Whenever you’re traipsing down the grocery store aisle, stop and look for Kewpie. It would be best if you had this in your life. And yes, it’s so good it’s worth writing a manifesto on Japanese mayonnaise.
Robert Dean is a journalist living down in Austin, Texas. His work has been featured in Forbes, Consequence of Sound, Austin American-Statesman, Mic, Fatherly, Daily Grindhouse, and Farce the Music, to name a few. He's also been on CNN and NPR.