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How to choose a healthier mayonnaise, or make your own

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What do cilantro and mayonnaise have in common (besides being food items)? People tend to love them or hate them.

Our family splits down the middle on both. Research has found a gene that makes people hypersensitive to the smell and taste of cilantro. Since my father-in-law can barely be in a room when the herb is being chopped, it is no wonder my daughter is not an admirer. Although there doesn’t appear to be a gene that predisposes people to dislike mayonnaise, many people, including Barack Obama, vehemently do.

Mayonnaise isn’t exactly a health food, so, until recently, mayo-haters had virtue on their side. But plenty of folks who can’t imagine a BLT without it — U.S. mayonnaise sales outweigh those of any other condiment, including ketchup — will be happy to know that some of the mayonnaises currently sitting on the grocery store shelves are healthier than the conventional ones, most of which are made with oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn and soybean. These oils are low in healthful Omega 3 fatty acids and high in Omega 6 fatty acids — excess consumption of which can be unhealthy.

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When picking an alternative mayonnaise to taste test, choose one with organically produced oils, ideally olive or avocado (canola oil is an acceptable option but provides fewer health benefits). In moderation, olive and avocado oils are healthy for your heart, cholesterol, and brain, and also deliver antioxidants to fight disease. Read the labels carefully: Some of the products labeled “olive oil mayonnaise” include a combination of olive oil and canola or soybean oil. Organic eggs are ideal because they cannot be exposed to the toxic chemicals and hormones that nonorganic eggs are. Rosemary oil is a much more wholesome preservative than potassium sorbate or calcium disodium EDTA, and look for real flavors, such as salt, herbs, spices and mustard instead of the so-called “natural” flavors. Also, don’t fall for the fat-free marketing; many of these versions add sugar to mask the less-creamy taste.

Among the newer products I’ve tried, my personal favorite is Primal Kitchen’s Avocado Oil Mayonnaise, with its tangy flavor. My family prefers the flavor of Just Mayo, which I think tastes the most like the long-established spreads we know and love. Despite its name, it isn’t technically mayonnaise because the product doesn’t include egg yolks. (The “Just” in its name is used in the ethical sense; by not using eggs the company is protesting factory farming practices.) It does include canola oil, and the preservative calcium disodium EDTA. Other brands to try are Whole Foods 365 Organic Mayonnaise, which also has some canola oil, or Thrive Market’s Coconut Oil Mayonnaise. Keep in mind that, although these newer products are healthier than the originals, mayonnaise is still a condiment that is high in fat. As with ketchup, which has a lot of sugar, you should stick to small 1 to 2 tablespoon-sized servings.

For the most healthy mayonnaise option, you can make your own, which is incredibly easy: Blend four high-quality egg yolks (room temperature, so they emulsify properly), a large pinch of salt, a dash of pepper, a drop of mustard and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Then with the blender spinning, slowly add 1½ cups of organic extra virgin olive oil until the mixture thickens. You can adjust these quantities to meet your own flavor and consistency preferences. Then get creative by adding any of the following ingredients to enhance the flavor: garlic, wasabi paste, sriracha, fresh ginger, chipotle pepper, roasted red peppers, pesto, sun-dried tomato paste, horseradish, honey mustard, or fresh herbs such as parsley, dill, chives and tarragon. Your sandwiches have never experienced so much flavor.

Before summer is over, devil some eggs, toss a potato salad, slather a BLT, or whip a dip for artichokes using one of the healthier mayonnaises and see which side of the mayonnaise fence your family and friends sit on. Add cilantro to any one of these dishes and you might discover that genes have a say in the polarizing mayo debate.

Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company, and co-author of “The Super Food Cards,” a collection of healthful recipes and advice.

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