The Untold Truth Of Hellmann's Mayonnaise

Some brand names are so iconic, so recognizable, that they are used interchangeably with the generic product name. There's Kleenex for tissues, ChapStick for lip balm, Popsicles for ice pops, and the list goes on (via Business Insider). And then there's Hellmann's. Whether you refer to the creamy condiment as mayonnaise, mayo, the holy emulsion, or Hellmann's itself, you can name the team behind the blue-ribbon jar. Here's what you may not know about the 100-year-old brand.

Hellmann's was born after 27-year-old German immigrant Richard Hellmann set foot in New York City in 1903, according to a historical article by Andrew F. Smith. Hellmann married Margaret Vossberg, the daughter of two deli owners, and the couple opened their very own Hellmann's Delicatessen on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. Hellmann's mayonnaise was featured in salads and other dishes at the deli, and customers liked it so much that the duo began selling the dressing, first packaged in one-gallon stone jars.

The story behind the Hellmann's blue-ribbon label

Hellmann's Delicatessen originally sold two versions of mayo, so Hellmann used a blue ribbon to distinguish his favorite, a dutifully tested blend of egg yolks, vegetable oil, vinegar, salt, sugar, and other seasonings (via Unilever). Customers also preferred this recipe, requesting the "ribbon version" so often that Hellman began selling jarred mayonnaise with the signature ribbon-adorned label that fans know today.

By 1917, Hellmann had trademarked the name "Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise," which sold so well that he closed the deli, opened a mayonnaise factory across the country in San Francisco, and marketed his product, which became the leading mayonnaise in the United States (via Southern Living). Why the blue ribbon? All Hellmann said, writes Smith, is that the touch completed "a proper package." Smith speculates that the logo was meant to be a symbol of the mayonnaise's high quality, since first-place prize winners at state fairs usually receive blue ribbons.

Hellmann's is actually called Best Foods in other parts of the country

If you're reading this from somewhere west of the Rocky Mountains, you may be scratching your head because you recognize the blue-ribbon jar, but not the Hellmann's name. That's because Hellmann's is instead sold as Best Foods in much of the western United States. The two products share the same recipe, have similar packaging, and are even made in the same factory (via HuffPost), but they simply have different names. Why's that?

As Hellmann's swept the East Coast in popularity in the early 1930s, California-based mayonnaise brand Best Foods became the spread of choice in the West. Postum Cereal Company took notice, purchasing both Hellmann's and Best Foods, Southern Living reports. Not wanting to sacrifice either well-known name, the company decided to sell the mayonnaise as Best Foods to the west of the Rocky Mountains and as Hellmann's in the east. Current company owner Unilever insists that the recipes are identical, but some fans say there's a difference; a HuffPost survey showed that a majority of tasters preferred Hellmann's over Best Foods, with many saying it tasted sweeter and less tangy than its West Coast counterpart.

Hellmann's helped popularize the infamous chocolate mayonnaise cake

Included in Hellmann's early marketing efforts was a 1937 booklet called Cakes and Cookies With Personality, writes Smith. Among the recipes was the iconic chocolate mayonnaise cake, developed by Mrs. Paul Price and now "an American classic," featured on the Hellmann's website to this day.

It's unknown if Price invented the chocolate mayonnaise cake; many websites refer to the dessert as World War II chocolate cake, or Depression-era chocolate cake, because its ingredients reflected the resourcefulness of home cooks during times of scarcity. While eggs, butter, and other pricey ingredients "couldn't be spared, but there was a jar of mayo in the closet," those living through the Depression could still make a mean chocolate cake (via Wide Open Eats). If you're skeptical, remember that the main ingredients in mayonnaise are eggs and oil, which are usually included in cake recipes. Plus, the vinegar enhances the flavor of the chocolate, according to Serious Eats.

Hellmann's is working to help the environment

If you caught Hellmann's 2021 Super Bowl commercial with Amy Schumer, you know that the mayonnaise brand is on a mission to reduce food waste. "They're doing so much work helping people with food insecurity," Schumer said in a Parade interview about why she is excited to be working with Hellmann's. "They've just educated me about how much food is wasted." As the brand's resident Fairy Godmayo, Schumer shares tips on the Hellman's website about how to waste less food, from freezing leftover pasta sauce to learning how to cook (or just marrying a chef, like she did).

Hellmann's also claims to be working toward a more environmentally friendly production process, using 100-percent cage-free eggs in its mayo and partnering with agricultural organizations to obtain sustainably sourced oils. The brand has also begun packaging some of its products with recycled plastic, and it aims to make all of its materials reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.

Chefs have long been loyal to Hellmann's, but that could change

For decades, chefs, professional tasters, and everyday eaters have considered Hellmann's to taste just plain perfect (via Slate). "It's what we would call a beautifully made product," said Joanne Seltsam, a professional taster for a company studying the relationship between the senses and purchasing decisions, when interviewed by Slate. "All the flavors blend together. Hellmann's is just so interwoven that tasters have a very difficult time saying anything other than, 'It tastes like mayonnaise.'" In the same article, a Boston-based chef said that when he makes mayonnaise from scratch, he uses Hellmann's as a reference.

Hellmann's had 50 percent of the U.S. market share in mayonnaise in 2017, but the industry has become increasingly competitive as niche brands, grocers' in-house labels, and specialty products have turned customers' heads (via the Wall Street Journal). And then there's Japanese Kewpie, the umami-rich, all-yolk mayonnaise that has become "a darling of food professionals," writes Salon. But as long as America's number-one mayonnaise brand continues to develop organic and vegan options and promote its sustainability practices, DMS Insights suspects, Millennials and Gen Z may continue to "Bring out the Best."