Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise: Be Careful What You Ask

Hellmann's Mayonnaise

In this ad for their Real Mayonnaise, Hellmann’s (there really is no Hellmann’s anymore, it’s actually a company called Unilever) asks the question:

If we knew more about our food, would we eat better?”

Any reasonable person would answer “of course!” And Hellmann’s, um, Unilever, wants to you answer that way, too. End of story. Turn the page.

If you bother to stop and read the copy (which is made difficult to read by placing white type over a yellow background) you find this:

At Hellmann’s, we make our mayonnaise with real, simple ingredients like good eggs, delicious vinegar and oils rich in omega 3. So it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Lean about he Real Food Project at hellmanns.com.

When they say they use good eggs, it’s not clear whether they’re referring to the quality of the eggs or whether they’re stating that eggs are good for you. Either way, I’ll let this slide.

Strangely, they claim to use delicious vinegar. If I asked you to write a list of 10 adjectives to describe vinegar, would delicious make it onto the list? How about a list of 1,000 adjectives? I mean, who considers vinegar to be delicious? It’s acetic acid.

Can you imagine saying to your kid, “Here, Bobby, I poured you a nice cup of delicious vinegar. Drink it up!”

If you made your kid drink vinegar, social services would come to your house to take him away. The conversation would go something like this:

Social Services: We have a report that you made your son, Bobby, drink a glass of vinegar.
You: Yes, I did.
Social Services: Can you tell me why you did that?
You: Because vinegar is delicious!

The next thing you know, they’d hand you some paperwork with a hearing date and then escort little Bobby out the door where they would take him to a waiting van.

But I digress.

Mayonnaise is really just a fancy way of saying “oil and egg fat.” Here’s the nutritional information, taken from the company’s website:

A one-tablespoon serving contains 90 calories and 90 calories from fat. This is another way of saying that 100% of the calories come from fat. One tablespoon of the stuff has a whopping 10 grams of fat, which is as much fat as four chocolate chip cookies (source: Nutrition Lifestyles).

Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise also contains delicious EDTA. According to Wikipedia:

(EDTA) has been found to be both cytotoxic (emphasis mine) and weakly genotoxic in laboratory animals. Oral exposures have been noted to cause reproductive and developmental effects.

Cytotoxic means “toxic to cells.” Genotoxic is a little more complicated. According to Wikipedia:

Genotoxicity describes a deleterious action on a cell’s genetic material affecting its integrity. Genotoxic substances are known to be potentially mutagenic or carcinogenic, specifically those capable of causing genetic mutation and of contributing to the development of tumors.

In other words, EDTA is a potential cancer-casusing agent in laboratory animals.

At the bottom of the ad, in tiny print, it says that Helmann’s Real Mayonnaise contains “a small amount of EDTA to protect quality.” Small compared to what?

Is Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise healthy and good? You decide. Then ask yourself this question:

“If we knew more about our food, would we eat better?”

By Marc Librescu

16 responses to “Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise: Be Careful What You Ask

  1. Random Answerer

    A small defense of vinegar: it can be quite delicious. Try an aperitif of *good* balsamic sometime; try a bit of white vinegar in old-fashioned vegetable soup. The word “delicious” may very well come to mind (or it might not).

  2. Random,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. In reply, I can tell you that Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise doesn’t contain balsamic vinegar, malt vinegar, or any other vinegar that someone may try to defend as being “delicious.” It’s plain old cheap white vinegar.

    White vinegar may be a valuable recipe ingredient but no sane human being would ever call it “delicious.”

    Marc

  3. I would call vinegar delicious! Every once in a while I’ll take a little sip of it.

    But then again, I like sauerkraut and salt ‘n vinegar chips, so maybe it’s just some mental association making me think diluted acid burning ulcers into my lips is delicious.

    Oh, and your other posts are really of high quality. Funny observations and intelligently thought out points.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. As to finding vinegar delicious, I do like it as an ingredient and I have to confess that I do like malt vinegar on fish and chips. But white vinegar by itself…no. But if you like it, all I can say is de gustibus non est disputandum.

  4. Ah, yes, there is no disputing tastes…
    Just had to add that after battling a terrible sinus infection, I discovered “Bragg’s Vinegar Health Drink, ” which did wonders in providing relief. My 3-yr-old got jealous watching me drink my special tonic (literally about a tablespoon of this organic apple cider vinegar with a few ounces of water), and would steal it any time I turned my back. Occasionally, I would even make a small one for her. I laughed out loud at your post–as I essentially did say to my child “Here, daughter, I poured you a nice cup of delicious vinegar.”

  5. I’m quite surprised by the comments from vinegar aficionados.

    People all over the world eat all kinds of crazy things. French people quite like to eat snails. Australian Aboriginal people eat grubs. The Masai in Africa mix cow blood with milk, and no doubt find it to be quite delicious. In Mexico, they eat escamoles, which is probably Spanish for “disgusting ant eggs.” In Alaska, Eskimos eat something called stink heads, which are fish heads buried in the ground and left to rot until they turn into a gelatinous disgust-fest.

    Some people find vinegar to be tasty. Hey, it takes all kinds of people to make a world.

  6. You have some very good points. But calories don’t matter its just energy, its good for you. And you need some fat to. Thanks for the great pointers🙂

  7. Eggs are normally healthy (although maybe you have a point about not so much in mayonnaise!). This type of ad would be questioned in the UK.

  8. Thanks for the chuckle this morning…

  9. Found this when I googled “why does hellman’s think it’s real food”. I used to use Hellman’s. Now I make my own. And my mayonnaise contains no water or soybean anything whatsoever. It does contain olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and whole egg and egg yolk. Go figure – with all that naturally occurring yellow in the ingredients, my mayo is yellow. Hellman’s is not yellow. Real? Food? Meh.

  10. I confess I buy Hellman’s mayonnaise. I have tried making my own in the past and I found I didn’t use it enough (I am single and live alone) and it molded. Hellman’s lasts forever in the fridge. I guess there’s somewhat of a risk that I will drop dead of something (sooner than I want to) but I guess I’ll just take the risk rather than waste a lot of food and time. I’m 52 y/o, healthy, and not dead yet! So, I guess I’ll just take Hellman’s and “kiss it up to heaven.” Nevertheless, point well taken; the advertising is totally misleading.

  11. Fat is a nutrient. Read the label again. It says 10g of fat, but only 1.5g of Saturated and “0g” of Trans. that means, there’s 8.5g of unsaturated fats (AKA Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s), which are vital for brain health and development as well as cholesterol reduction. That makes the fat content of mayonnaise is 85% unsaturated. That’s better than can be said for Avocados!
    And the little bit of cholesterol present in the mayonnaise comes from the egg, which is mostly HDL (good) cholesterol which helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
    I’ll give you the EDTA thing. Granted that study’s results are still unconfirmed, but it’s still enough for me to limit or avoid it. I’d recommend an organic or all-natural mayonnaise as part of a healthy diet.

    • The bottom line is that mayonnaise is fat and water. Children get enough fat over the course of a day without parents having to spoon in more fat. While a little mayonnaise every now and then is most likely not going to hurt children, I was responding to what I believe is the deceptive nature of the ad, positing that mayonnaise is wholesome and good to feed to children. As you say, there are natural brands, and there are also low-fat varieties to choose from. Call it a nutrient if you like, but for all intents and purposed, mayonnaise is a jar of fat.

  12. One needs three nutrients: calories must add up to about 30 % lipids compared to proteins 20 % and carbohydrates 50%. It’s perfectly reasonable for some of that 30% to come from eggs and oil.Now of course lipids have more calories than proteins, so you need less to equal more.

    Kids in our society are not fat because of lipids, they are fat because of breakfast cereals, stupid little fishy things, sodas, chocolate milk and Nintendo.

  13. Some time ago I detected a change in the consistency of Hellman. It was not my imagination. It now fells as though it has a modified starch additive. It is also more translucent. Anybody notice this ? I still like it and buy it. I can always taste the vinegar.