Mayonnaise, a sauce of controversial origins – Part 1

26 March, 2011

Originally published in the Journal de Montréal on March 26, 2011.

The origin of the famous mayonnaise sauce has stirred up much controversy. According to certain historians, it got its name from the town of Mahon, main city of Menorca in the Balearic Islands, an archipelago off Spain. When the French conquered these islands in 1756, the cook of Admiral Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, successfully reproduced a sauce recipe that he had observed the Menorcans preparing: a very popular mixture of oil and egg that was thereby christened ‘Mahonnaise sauce’.

The French town of Bayonne also claims to be the birthplace of this sauce, which was apparently called Bayonnaise sauce initially; over time, a change in its spelling corrupted it to mayonnaise.

Yet another theory refers to the fact that ‘moyen’ (or ‘moyeu’) meant yolk of egg in old French, which would have given birth to ‘moyennaise’ (or ‘moyeunaise’). Another one centered around the French verb ‘magner’ (or ‘manier’) as being the root of the word ‘magnonaise’.

Finally, the name of a person such as General Mac-Mahon could be at the root of this sauce, because he may have discovered it with the help of his aide-de-camp, himself a native of Mayenne.

OK, that’s enough history. Let’s meet again next week so that I can share my tips for making a fail-safe homemade mayonnaise.

A few of our recipes that feature mayonnaise:

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Cinzia Cuneo

Cinzia Cuneo, founder of, never wanted to neglect the quality of her food. She shares her special expertise to make good food quickly and without complications!

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