発見！(Hakken! A Discovery…)
I drove up to Washington D.C. over the long weekend to visit some old friends. Like me, they lived in Japan for an extended period of time and have a deep appreciation for Japanese culture and food. Before I even arrived, they decided that the one place I absolutely had to visit was the Japanese market “Hana.”
Hana was a cute little place – no bigger than my Kurobe apartment – filled to the brim with all sorts of familiar things. There were cookies, wagashi (Japanese traditional sweets), nori (seaweed), and more.
While squeezing myself down one of the market’s tiny aisles, I came across the one thing that I’ve been craving more than anything else. The one thing that we can all look to as legitimate proof of Japan’s superior ability to borrow and adapt odds-and-ends from cultures across the globe.
Yes, my friends. I’m talking about mayonnaise.
I. am. obsessed. with. Japanese. mayonnaise. In my opinion, Kyupi, a.k.a. Kewpie, mayo is not just the best kind of mayonnaise available for purchase today, but also one of the most delicious things to ever come out of Japan. It’s definitely up there with wagashi, although in a completely different sort of way.
There is nothing better than dipping your steaming hot french fries into a big glob of Kyupi mayo, especially on those late Japanese nights spent drinking with friends and coworkers.
A Brief History of Mayonnaise and the Western World
Mayonnaise – an emulsion of egg yolks, oil, and vinegar or lemon juice.
For the purpose of this blog, I did a little internet research on the history of the condiment. Apparently it is a bit of a controversial topic. There seems to be an intense debate between the French and the Spanish over which country is responsible for the invention of mayonnaise. I don’t blame them for arguing over it – if I invented an amazing product like mayonnaise I’d want all the credit, too. Anyway, regardless of who actually invented mayonnaise, it seems to be universally agreed upon that the French popularized the sauce.
Mayonnaise started to trickle into American food culture in the early 19th century, initially gaining traction in New York and other big cities thanks to the popularity of French cuisine. By the 1930s, mayonnaise had transformed from a delicacy reserved only for the wealthiest to a sauce that could be found in the cupboard of any Average Joe’s home. (The Original Mayonnaise Controversy)
In today’s America mayonnaise is most commonly found on a (insert-lunchmeat-here) sandwich or in your mother’s potato salad.
The Introduction of Mayonnaise to the Japanese
Japan is adept at importing foreign ideas and technology, reworking and redesigning them to fit into the Japanese cultural framework, and then, ultimately, producing a new product that is arguably better than the original. In my opinion, mayonnaise is no exception.
According to this great article that I found on Popogi (The Story Behind Kewpie), the Japanese public was largely unaware of mayonnaise up until the 1920s. At that time, Toichiro Nakashima, an intern for Japan’s Department of Agriculture and Commerce, brought back a box of American mayonnaise following a study-trip to the United States.
Nakashima-san had already visited the states several times to gain greater knowledge of western food production techniques. Following those initial visits, he implemented his newly-acquired skills in his food production company, Shokuhin Kogyo Co.
It was on a subsequent trip that he returned with the coveted mayonnaise. True to form, Nakashima-san adapted the product for the Japanese market by adding greater quantities of egg yolk, resulting in a smoother, stronger tasting mayonnaise.
It’s mayonnaise. How could it possibly be that different?
Trust me. It’s so different.
I pulled a jar of Hellmann’s out of my parents’ refrigerator so I could do a little comparison for you. I’ll award a point to either Kyupi or Hellmann’s in five categories: packaging, nutrition, ingredients, appearance, and flavor.
I’m sure this all sounds very scientific to you, but I’ll let you in on a little secret (if you haven’t already guessed) – I am very biased in favor of Kyupi. So, to make it a little more of a fair fight, I have recruited my mother, Dana, to participate in the Ultimate Mayo Competition.
I also tried to recruit my little sister, but she took one look at both kinds of mayonnaise and said, “That’s grody.” Hence, I rescinded the invitation.
Anyway, without further ado….the Ultimate Mayo Competition!
Let’s start with packing:
Gwyneth: The Kyupi comes in a convenient squeezable bottle whereas Hellmann’s comes in a plastic jar. You need don’t need any utensils to enjoy the Kyupi – it’s clean and simple. To use the Hellmann’s, you need some kind of utensil – preferably a knife. What if all of your dishes are dirty? What if you are on a road trip and want to enjoy a quick sandwich break? Furthermore, as most Americans are familiar with, when you get to the bottom of the Hellmann’s jar it’s nearly impossible to scrape up the last remnants without getting mayo all over your fingers. Kyupi is the clear winner.
Dana: I like the squeeze top on the Kyupi. I’ll give it my point.
- Kyupi: 2, Hellmann’s: 0
Next, let’s talk nutrition.
Gwyneth: Nutrition-wise, the two products are fairly comparable. At 100 calories per tablespoon, Kyupi does a little worse than Hellmann’s 90. However, both products have 90 calories from fat (not that that’s impressive by any means). Protein, fat, and carbohydrate content is identical for both products. This also does nothing for the nutritional content of either mayonnaise. The big difference between the two is in the cholesterol levels: Kyupi has 20mg whereas Hellmann’s only has 5mg. I’m going to venture a guess that that has something to do with amount of egg yolk. I think I’ll have to admit that Hellmann’s won this round.
Dana: I agree with what you said. They look about the same to me. I’ll give half a point to each.
- Kyupi: 2.5, Hellmann’s: 1.5
Now, let’s compare ingredients:
(“Editor’s” note: Both mayonnaises contain soybean oil, egg yolk, vinegar, salt, and “natural flavors.” Only Kyupi contains canola oil, MSG, and “spice.” Only Hellmann’s contains water, whole eggs, sugar, lemon juice concentrate, and calcium disodium edta.)
Gwyneth: Clearly, neither one of these is particularly good for you. I’m going to split the point on this one since neither is a real winner.
Dana: I think the Hellmann’s looks better because it doesn’t have any MSG. Point to the Hellmann’s.
- Kyupi: 3, Hellmann’s: 3
Let’s move on to appearance:
Gwyneth: Appearance is such a subjective category. Wait, who am I kidding? This whole thing is subjective. Kyupi is thicker and creamier in appearance while Hellmann’s is thin and watery looking. I’m giving the point to Kyupi (who’s surprised?)!
Dana: They look pretty similar. The Kyupi is a little yellower, maybe that’s more appealing.
- Kyupi: 5, Hellmann’s: 3
Last thing to evaluate is the best part – the flavor:
Gwyneth: Flavor-wise, I find that Kyupi has a richer, stronger taste than Hellmann’s. It is bursting with flavors compared to Hellmann’s barely there taste. This one was obvious from the start, but I’m going to give Kyupi the point.
Dana: (“Editor’s” note: She made a “meh” face after tasting the Hellmann’s.) (“Editor’s” note *revised*: She claims to have not made a “meh” face.) The Kyupi is pretty good. It has a really nice creamy texture. It has a tangy-ness to it.
- Kyupi: 7, Hellmann’s: 3
Final results: No surprises here! Kyupi came out on top.
A Taste Test
I’m going to end this blog with a blind taste test.
Yes, I talked my dad into participating in a blind mayonnaise taste test. I’m very persuasive. I felt that he should taste both mayos by themselves, with no additional ingredients to sully the taste. Unfortunately, he wasn’t big on that idea. I guess I’m not so persuasive after all.
To compromise I made a roast beef and pepper jack cheese wrap with Hellmann’s on one half of the wrap and Kyupi on the other. I figured that since no other variables change, it doesn’t completely discredit the results of my very, very scientific taste test.
Mayonnaise “A” (Hellmann’s) is on top. Mayonnaise “B” (Kyupi) is on the bottom. Here’s what he had to say about the two:
- Mayonnaise “A”: creamy, doesn’t overpower the cheese, compliments the roast beef well, tastes “normal”
- Mayonnaise “B”: a stronger tasting mayonnaise, can’t taste the cheese anymore
Clearly, he doesn’t have the same glowing opinion of Japanese mayonnaise as I do. However, it was later revealed that he prefers Miracle Whip.
Yes, I think I can safely strike his opinions from the official record.
Hope you had a happy Wednesday and enjoyed some delicious mayonnaise! I’m planning on posting a “scrapbook” related blog later in the week. Take good care!