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What is Kewpie Mayo, and Why is it So Popular?

Kewpie is the most popular brand of Japanese mayonnaise, and supposedly the best mayonnaise in the world. Find out why chefs and eaters alike are obsessed with Kewpie mayo.

What is it?

Like many other mayo varieties, Kewpie’s main ingredients are oil, egg, and acid, but there are several key differences that set it apart from other mayos. Kewpie uses only egg yolks (4 egg yolks per about 18 ounces) rather than whole eggs, which are used by commercial American mayo manufacturers. The high amount of protein in the egg yolks yields amino acids that give the mayo a distinctive savory richness. Kewpie’s acid element also contributes to its distinctive taste; Thrillist says Japanese mayonnaise is made with apple cider or rice vinegar, which results in a milder acidic tang than the distilled vinegar used by most American mayos. And of course, there’s the MSG, which gives Kewpie the umami bent it’s known for.

Flavor

Image Credit: Takeaway – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Rich and eggy, laden with umami, with a mild vinegar tang and a very slight sweetness, Kewpie asserts that the flavor stays fresh when stored inside its squeeze bottle. The bottle is designed to keep oxygen out, preventing the oil from oxidizing as it might in other types of packaging.

History

According to the Kewpie website, founder Toichiro Nakashima wanted to develop a brand of mayonnaise after tasting it in the US. Production began in 1925 under the name Kewpie Mayonnaise, says the website, “with the hope of improving physique of Japanese people.” Although it’s hard to imagine mayonnaise improving anybody’s physique, Wikipedia suggests that Nakashima hoped the condiment would inspire people to eat their vegetables. 

What’s up with the baby logo?

The iconic Kewpie baby is a reference to a popular comic strip, and a subsequent brand of dolls and figurines, called Kewpie. Created by cartoonist Rose O’Neill, the comics featuring baby cupids were first published in 1909. The characters were produced as dolls beginning in 1912, and were very popular in the following years.

Uses

When you consider swapping Kewpie mayo in for your usual spread, the world opens up before you. Kewpie can spread on sandwiches, like bahn mi or these shrimp rolls. It’s key in Japanese potato salad, and can hold together salads, like chicken or egg. It can incorporate mix-ins for a vegetable dip. In Japan, it’s a popular condiment for dishes like okonomiyaki, takoyaki (balls of fried batter stuffed with minced octopus) and yakisoba (stir-fried noodles). Perhaps its most indispensable usage is in spicy mayo, that blend of mayo and sriracha sauce quintessential to sushi and Poke places across the US.

Where to Find it

Asian grocery stores will carry it, as will some large supermarkets. Kewpie also sells it on their website. Or, you could try your hand at a homemade version.

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