Japanese mayonnaise has long been a popular condiment in Japan and East Asia but, more recently, its popularity has been exploding across the rest of the globe as well.
We’ll get into how to make it at home further down the page, but first, let’s talk about what makes it different from regular mayonnaise.
What is Japanese mayonnaise?
Japanese Mayonnaise is not a world away from the classic mayonnaise you might find in Europe or North America, but it’s a deeper, creamier colour, with the punch of umami you’d expect from East Asian condiments. That’s largely because it doesn’t use the whole egg, but only the yolk, as well as a few other ingredients.
What does Japanese mayonnaise taste like?
Because it only uses the yolks, Japanese mayonnaise has a noticeably more eggy flavour. It typically uses rice vinegar (sometimes apple cider vinegar) and a little sugar, which makes it a little sweet and fruity. Commercial Japanese mayonnaises also contain a little monosodium glutamate to add umami, but there are ways to achieve a similar effect without it, which we’ll get onto later.
Tips before making Japanese mayonnaise
- Choosing an oil. You want something relatively flavourless that will emulsify well. For both reasons, extra virgin olive oil is a terrible choice. Rapeseed (also known as canola in the US), grapeseed, and corn oils are good choices, but anything labeled as vegetable oil should also be fine. You should also avoid old oil.
- Preparing your egg yolks. You’ll need to separate your egg yolks from the whites, obviously, and make sure they’re at room temperature (cold yolks are more likely to split). Ideally, you’ll also be using pasteurised egg yolks (they’re just safer), but if that’s not possible, you should be fine using the freshest, highest quality eggs you can get your hands on. Otherwise, click here to learn how to pasteurise eggs at home.
- Using mustard. This is optional, but isn’t simply a matter of taste, as you might expect. Mustard contains small amounts of lecithin, which will help emulsify the mayonnaise better.
- Reaching peak umami. Commercial Japanese mayonnaises usually contain a dash of monosodium glutamate. However, if you’d prefer to avoid consuming MSG, you can use a little dashi (smoked and dried bonito flakes) or miso powder instead.
- Be patient. Pour the oil in as slowly and steadily as you possibly can while you whisk with the other hand. Add too much at once and the mayonnaise is likely to split. If this is your first time making mayonnaise, it’s also worth pointing out that it will take some time before it begins to emulsify. Making mayonnaise is quite counter-intuitive as it gets thicker as you add more liquid (up to a point). As long as you pour it in slowly enough, it should start getting noticeably thick after about half a cup of oil.
- Use a blender or food processor. Whisking with one hand and slowly pouring oil with the other is incredibly difficult. Using a food processor, electric whisk, or even a soup gun will make your life a hell of a lot easier.
Japanese mayo recipe
- 2 pasteurised egg yolks
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
- 1 ½ cup rapeseed (canola) oil or other neutral-tasting oil
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 4 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp sugar (or to taste)
- ½ tsp dashi or miso powder
- In your food processor or mixing bowl, add the egg yolk and mustard and mix them thoroughly. This should only take 20–30 seconds.
- Continue to blend the mixture as you drizzle in about ½ cup of the oil as slowly and as steadily as you can. You should start noticing it thicken after doing this.
- Add the salt, sugar, and dashi or miso powder.
- Continue blending as you drizzle in another ½ cup of the oil (again, as slowly and as steadily as you can).
- Add the rice vinegar and lemon juice.
- Continue blending as you drizzle in the rest of the oil.
- Sample your mayonnaise and add more salt, sugar, or lemon juice according to taste.
What is Japanese mayo used for?
Japanese mayonnaise works with pretty much all foods you’d use regular mayonnaise for, such as potato salad, egg or cheese sandwiches, or for dipping your French fries. Unfortunately, things don’t work so well the other way round. Regular mayonnaise just doesn’t quite have the right flavour profile to complement many Japanese and East Asian recipes.
In Japan, Japanese mayonnaise is one of the essential trinity of sauces drizzled over okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes). Click here to learn more about okonomiyaki and here to learn more about the other okonomiyaki sauces, katsuobushi and aonori.
Japanese mayonnaise also works well as a simple alternative to the teriyaki, soy, and ponzu sauces that typically accompany tataki dishes. Click here to learn more.
How long does homemade Japanese mayo last?
Your Japanese mayonnaise should be stored in an airtight container. It should last for 3 or 4 days at room temperature and up to 2 weeks refrigerated. If refrigerating, it is best to keep it in one of the fridge’s door trays to avoid getting it too cold.