What fresh Hellmann’s is this?

What fresh Hellmann’s is this?
(Photo: Tony Jackman)

The sauce that Richard Hellman started selling in his New York deli in 1905 has travelled the world and even in South Africa it is so prized that, when the brand was suddenly and summarily pulled from our shelves earlier this year, outrage and consternation ensued. But we have some hacks for you.

What fresh Hellmann’s is this? First, they take Marmite away from us, then fish paste bites the dust, not just one brand of it but both Wedwo and Pecks. Who’s old enough to remember the Redro fish paste advertisements, which today no doubt would be considered inappropriate, unwoke and worthy of cancellation? Because having a sense of humour and employing it is out of fashion. The humourless are in the ascendant and those with a sense of levity and wit are the new targets of contempt. Nobody in the Sixties saw any of this coming. But forgive me that little digression (transgression?).

In home kitchens throughout the land, people have taken to trying to replicate that distinct creaminess of Hellmann’s, that subtle tang, that bite that almost isn’t, the tinge of sweetness, but hey, hey, hey, are we getting carried away here? Was it/ is it really that good? Isn’t it just a simple mayo that is not too tangy, that has a light feel and that we can easily make ourselves with a handheld stick blender?

At times these days, it feels like even our food is being censored. You can’t have that, so you’ll have to eat this instead — or make your own. Turns out, we can. In my own quest, I went in search of the secret ingredient that is not on the Hellmann’s label.

You can have Vegemite, Bruce

For many, Hellmann’s is to any other mayonnaise what Marmite is to the despicable Bovril or the laughable Australian Vegemite with its comical name. To paraphrase a song by US band Chapel Hart, You Can Have It, Bruce. Chapel Hart’s You Can Have Him, Jolene is a delightful sequel to the Dolly Parton Country & Western masterpiece, Jolene:

Well, I’m tired of second chances, and these sad ass circumstances | He’s your problem, good luck keepin’ him home | Oh Jolene, you can have him ’cause he don’t mean much to me | Well, I cried so much ’til rivers turned to seas | Oh Jolene, when you think that he’s in love, he’ll surely leave | Like he did me | You can have him, Jolene

Well, you can have your Vegemite, Bruce, and you can have your Hellmann’s, Unilever; we’re okay and we’re learning how to get by without you. Or is it unwoke to call our Ozzie mates Bruce and Sheila now? Is the old ‘Brace yourself Sheila’ joke on the list of terms that the word censors in their supreme[ly dull] wisdom have decreed verboten, to use a term redolent of Nazism? Are we all to be sent for Sensitivity Training in barbed wire camps in the icy wastelands?

No one really managed to replicate Marmite, and thankfully it eventually returned to the shelves, although every time we visit that aisle at the superstore we glance at the shelf to check, just in case. Once bitten, twice shy of presuming it will be there forever. Clearly, nothing is safe anymore. It seems, suspiciously, as if the grocers-that-be are determined to deprive us of all the things we snack on, our every favourite treat. If they can take Marmite (why couldn’t they have taken bloody Bovril?!), fish paste and even Hellmann’s from us, where will it all end? Are there secret grocery agents spying on us in our kitchens to see what they can deprive of us next? I’m no conspiracy theorist but isn’t it all too much of a coincidence? Is there a Third Force of comestibles out to bring us to heel? Are we all to be murdered on our kitchen countertops?

The most cynical marketing ploy yet?

Since we’re down this conspiracy theory rabbit hole, is it possible that everything, or some of it, is an intentional ploy to create a media storm of awareness around a popular product? Take it away, let the hungry proletarian rats stir themselves up, then slide it back into the market and chuckle on the sidelines as the hapless lemmings do the bidding of the puppeteer grocers-who-will-be-obeyed? Is this the most cynical marketing ploy yet devised by the cunning minds of the avaricious?

Any bets on Worcestershire sauce being next in line? “What will we do without our beloved Worcestershire sauce? Will a braai ever be the same again if we can’t baste the mutton ribs with it?” All Gold Tomato Sauce? Cadburys Flake? Colman’s Hot English Mustard? “But what about my Eskort pork bangers? They have to have Hot English!” Or, horror of horrors, will we soon be deprived of our favourite porkies? Or is somebody telling porkies?

In a world in which levity and wit are unacceptable, in which cartoonists are pilloried more than they pillory, in which stand-up comedians are presumed dangerous while dangerously narrow-minded people are presumed woke, and in which marketing cynicism and manipulation trounce decent trading practices such as the rarely seen honour system, is the breach being filled by the green-eyed merchant class, alongside the self-appointed wokeoisie who would censor the humour we’re being deprived of?

When last did you see an honour system such as the deserted stoep in a Karoo dorp where ornaments and clothes are put out with a box nailed to the wall saying ’Take what you want/ Pay what you like’. It happens, or used to.

In a world in which outrage is more popular than wit, and that is a very sad state to live in, shall we stock our pantries to the rafters, barricade the perimeter, go inside, bolt the doors and spend time in our kitchens as if in a new self-imposed lockdown, conjuring our own sauces and relishes, our secret recipes with their own secret ingredients, like a Merlin or a Hogwarts senior? If a reference to something written by JK Rowling is not entirely verboten?

In my kitchen, I’ve had a go at making “Hellmann’s”, although the first thing I’m going to acknowledge is that I did not try to replicate it exactly but rather attempted to find the taste and texture of it.

To that end, I became rather creative and fixed, in my head, my memories of what it tastes like, how it feels on the palate, and what its notes were, in the sense of a perfumier looking for certain notes of bergamot and frankincense, and the like.

A hint of caper brine

In my palate’s memory, and this may surprise you, there’s just a hint of caper brine in there. I do not for one second think there is really caper brine in Hellmann’s mayonnaise. It’s less complex than that, but if you see my point you’ll perceive that I’m looking for a mayo that will please me as much as Hellmann’s pleases/pleased us. Not a replication but a homemade alternative.

But first, some of the supposed Hellmann’s “recipes” to be found online.

In fact, no less than the Hellmann’s Canada website offers this as the recipe, without giving relative quantities: “Canola oil, water, liquid whole egg, vinegar, liquid yolk, salt, sugar, spices, concentrated lemon juice and calcium disodium edta (maintains flavour). Hellmann’s spreads better than butter right out of the fridge,” it adds, none too subtly.

Todd Wilbur’s Top Secret Recipes Unlocked claims to have hacked the actual recipe, unlike many other “copycat” websites which do not necessarily claim theirs is the precise one. This lifetime hacker, who has been ostensibly “borrowing” the recipes of major US brands for three decades, offers the following recipe, which I quote verbatim from his website. I paid 79 US cents to have the recipe sent to me.

His recipe as per his website:

1 egg yolk

2 ¼ tsp white vinegar

¼ tsp water

¼ tsp plus ⅛ tsp salt

¼ tsp plus ⅛ tsp granulated sugar

¼ tsp lemon juice

1 cup vegetable oil

Whisk the egg yolk by hand for 15 seconds.

Combine the vinegar, water, salt, sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl or glass measuring cup. Add a few drops of oil into the yolk and whisk and continue to add oil a little bit at a time while whisking non-stop. When you have used about half of the oil, your mayonnaise should be very thick. Add the remaining vinegar solution. Whisk some more. Now you can add the remaining oil in a steady stream while whisking until all of the oil has been added. Your mayonnaise should be thick and off-white in colour when it’s done.

Put the mayonnaise in an old mayonnaise jar and seal it with a lid. Keep up to two weeks in your refrigerator. Makes 1 cup.

I made mayonnaise to that precise recipe on Thursday and it came out runny and more like salad cream. My bad, I’m sure, not his. This was most likely my own fault though I read it through again after the flop and I couldn’t spot an element I had missed out. I probably mismeasured all those quarters and eighths. Very hard to do.

There are many other hacks online calls for 1 egg, at room temperature, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 dash cayenne pepper, 1 1/4 cup oil (corn, vegetable, or canola), and 3 tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar. makes it with exactly the same ingredients and quantities. A second version offers  1 egg, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1⁄4 teaspoon table salt, 1 dash white pepper and 1 cup canola oil, room temperature. offers: 1 egg yolk, 2 1/4 tsp white vinegar, 1 tsp water, 3/8 tsp salt, 3/8 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp lemon juice, 1 cup light oil such as safflower or canola (do not use olive oil) offers a version that’s “better than Hellmann’s”, made with “1 egg yolk pastured preferred, room temperature”, 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice use a real lemon, 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar and 3/4 cup avocado oil, not olive oil., in a recipe suspiciously similar to Wilbur’s, calls for 1 egg yolk, 2 1/4 tsp white vinegar, 1 tsp water, 1/4 tsp plus 1/8 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 tsp plus 1/8 teaspoon of granulated sugar, 1/4 tsp lemon juice and 1 c vegetable or canola oil.

Ons eie Sam Linsell’s Drizzle & Dip gives us a detailed lowdown of the whole story in her inimitable professional way. It’s recommended reading and you’ll find it here. Her instructions about using a stick blender to make mayonnaise mirror my own method, which I find quick and very efficient. With a stick blender you may never need to buy any commercial mayonnaise again, let alone Hellmann’s.

Key to understanding any recipe purporting to be for “Helmann’s” is to know that even their own label does not list everything. Something is always kept in reserve, and that’s what we don’t know about Hellmann’s.

But my money is on caper brine.

The Hellmann’s label lists vegetable oil (soybean 75%), water, whole eggs and yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, EDTA, flavouring. But what’s the missing link? We may never know and even our US hack doesn’t seem to know.

I began this Hellmann’s journey several weeks ago by contacting Unilever and asking for confirmation that the brand was off and would remain off the SA market. They confirmed “that we have had to pause imports of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise in South Africa due to a lack of local manufacturing capability, which means that this product will be discontinued until further notice. I deeply regret any inconvenience this may have caused. Should you require further assistance, do not hesitate to reach to us.”

But let’s sign off with the mayonnaise I made right after I messed up the Todd Wilbur recipe. I used no lemon juice at all, opting instead for the brine from a jar of capers. It came out wonderfully creamy and light, with a tinge of sweetness and an underlying mystery that might make you think, what’s that?

Here’s how:

Tony Jackman’s caper brine mayo

1 cup canola oil

1 tsp caper brine

1 whole egg

A few grindings of salt

Spoon the caper brine into the deep flask that comes with a handheld blender and add an egg. Whisk well using a handheld whisk.

Using a stick blender, start blending while pouring in the oil in a constant, thin stream. If it behaves the way mine did, it will thicken very quickly. Continue blending until the oil is all incorporated, moving the stick blender up and down.

Spoon/ pour into an old mayo jar or suitable bottle and refrigerate. If you have a go at your own “secret ingredient” please share it with me at [email protected]. DM/TGIFood


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Allan Taylor says:

    “Despicable Bovril”? Wars have been started for less Mr.J.

    • Theresa Avenant says:

      When Marmite was taken off the market, we had to settle for Bovril. I quickly acquired a taste for it and now prefer it to Marmite. It has a wonderful creamy texture and a much smoother taste, without the slight sting that Marmite has. So, will the manufacturers and distributors of Bovril in South Africa please keep it on the market. I have come across many people that prefer Bovril.

    • Penelope Meyer says:

      I love both. Sometimes I am in the mood for bread, butter and marmite (or matzo, butter and marmite) or sometimes bread butter and bovril.

  • I’m too weary to be woke, your wit has made my Friday. TGITJ!

  • Andy Thesen says:

    For 30 years I have made my own mayonnaise. Three egg yolks, three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, one large teaspoon powdered English mustard, salt/pepper to taste. Put that all in the jar you want to keep your mayo in. Offenau mild dill gherkins’ jar is wide mouthed enough for my stick blender to fit. Blitz it hard then trickle in pure sunflower oil till thick. Works perfectly every time, except when are thunder storm threatens. (Make meringues with the egg whites.)
    A note though: I would never put mayo in a silver bowl with a plated spoon … chemical reaction.

  • Angelika Alberts says:

    I’ll certainly give your mayo recipe a try! Haven’t found anything to replace Hellman’s.
    Re Marmite versus Bovril: I’ve always preferred Marmite, and don’t even think about buying Bovril, BUT the marmite we get now seems somewhat stickier than previously, and also thickens quite quickly if you don’t use it every day!

  • Vincent L says:

    Marmite relies on the beer brewing industry. If there is no brewing (covid restrictions) then there is no dead yeast (lees) to make Marmite. Secondly, beware of American recipes, their teaspoons are HUGE!

  • Alan Hirsch says:

    Surely mustard is the missing link in the Hellman’s recipe and the one that failed you? Mustard adds viscosity like other fine flours.

  • “that we have had to pause imports of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise in South Africa due to a lack of local manufacturing capability”. Could someone translate this phrase please? How is it that this product disappeared off the shelves of all supermarkets on the same day? Was its success rate too much for the local competition?

  • David Pennington says:

    Take 1 egg yolk

    2 ¼ tsp white vinegar

    ¼ tsp water

    ¼ tsp plus ⅛ tsp salt

    ¼ tsp plus ⅛ tsp granulated sugar

    ¼ tsp lemon juice

    1 cup vegetable oil

    Whisk the egg yolk by hand for 15 seconds.
    Throw the lot in the compost heap and open a jar of Helmanns you got from your dealer 😉

  • John Weaver Weaver says:

    Proper Hellmans use SoyBean Oil.
    All these other recipes use other vegetable oils, canola, sunflower avocado etc

  • Wanda Hennig says:

    Good news for Hellmann’s fans, at least in KZN, although I suspect around the country. I saw bottles of Hellmann’s about a month ago in the Spar at Nottingham Road. Pricier than what we were used to paying when Unilever was bringing it in, but Hellmann’s all the same. Wondering if it was a Spar thing, I went to look for it at Hillcrest Spar about a week ago and sure enough, they are stocking it too. They had sold out of the smaller large jars. Only had huge containers of Hellmann’s that were about the size of four rugby balls. But they had thoughtfully decanted small quantities into unlabelled containers. (What I purchased.) So yes, while sure, you can make your own mayo and make it to your taste, for Hellmann’s purists, it seems some Spars are now doing their own importing so look out for it. Probably the more people ask for it, the more will stock it.

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