Step forward if there was ever a time when you weren’t certain of the difference between mayonnaise and aioli.
(Tiptoes to the front.)
Even if that time is right now, you’re still welcome to pull up a sandwich and stay a while. We’re about to get into the basics.
I always knew there were a few minor differences.
For example, if mayonnaise was a country, it would be America. It would crush Bud Lights on the weekends, and order mozzarella sticks as an appetizer.
On the other hand, if aioli was a country, it would be France, sporting a tiny mustache and exclaiming, “Oui! These hors d’oeuvres are marvelous!”
But is aioli actually just a fancier version of mayo? Not exactly.
Here are the fundamentals:
Both condiments are emulsions, which is the forcing together of two things that don’t mingle well.
Kind of the same premise as all reality dating shows.
Mayo is a stable emulsion of egg yolk and tiny droplets of a neutral oil that often has an acidic component like vinegar or mustard blended in to provide tartness. Aioli, however, is essentially a thick oil-based garlic sauce.
Aioli literally translates to “garlic oil,” from the Provençal “ai” for garlic and “oli” for oil. So, if you’re wondering why it’s not called a garlic aioli, well… that would be like saying mayo mayonnaise.
Or something along those lines. The etymology of the word mayonnaise is far more complicated, but we’re not going to get into that right now.
Truly authentic Mediterranean aioli is produced solely from a boatload of garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, and a touch of coarse salt ground together into a paste in a mortar with a pestle and then whipped. Adding egg yolk as an emulsifier doesn’t make it any less of an aioli, it just allows things to come together a bit more easily.
Now that you’re schooled in the subtle differences between the two, you can continue slathering both on anything you damn well please. And if you’re having a hard day and decide to whisk together some store-bought mayo with minced garlic and present it to your family as an aioli, your secret’s safe with me.
The raw garlic gives this smooth sauce an intense zip of flavor that, for me, is everything. I use it in all sorts of condiments, like a roasted red pepper dip.
I don’t make the entire recipe in my mortar and pestle, but I use it to accomplish the first step of pounding the garlic into a paste.
There’s something rustic and old-timey about sprinkling salt over the pungent cloves and crushing them into a spicy, aromatic mash. It makes me feel like Julia Child is going to appear over my shoulder and smack me on the hand for not rotating the bowl correctly.
I love time traveling through food.
The bright lemon juice in the aioli gives the spread a refreshing pop, and cuts through the sharpness of the garlic. But the dominant textural experience here is creaminess, and I’ve always adored creamy condiments. Probably a little too much.
I’ve never met a chicken salad sandwich that I didn’t want to dollop some extra mayonnaise on, and if Moules-frites (mussels and fries) are on the menu, it’s double aioli for me, please.
Crispy, salty skinny fries slam-dunked into this dip are a match made in mouth heaven.
Once you make this savory spread completely from scratch, you’ll be like, “Ketchup who?” You’ll also become an expert in the great aioli vs. mayo debate.
The next time you spy aioli on a menu, one taste and you’ll know whether it’s a true garlic and oil mashup, or simply mayo wearing a frilly dress.
Either way, everyone wins.Print
Creamy, dreamy, and loaded with sharp garlic and tart lemon, this silky homemade aioli is a French fry’s dream come true.
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 ½– 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon water
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- Using either a mortar and pestle or a cutting board and a sharp knife, pound (or chop) the garlic cloves with a pinch of salt until you create a paste. Set aside.
- In a sturdy bowl with a hefty bottom, whisk together the egg yolks and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Once the eggs are emulsified and a uniform yellow, slowly begin adding a drop of oil at a time, vigorously whisking as you pour to keep the mixture thick.
- When the aioli has become very thick and stiff, continue to whisk while adding 1/4 teaspoon water and the lemon juice in a thin stream. Whisk until the mixture loosens up a bit.
- A few drops at a time, continue whisking in oil until the aioli comes together. Whisk in the garlic paste and fresh parsley. Season to taste with additional salt if necessary. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Category: Dips and Spreads
- Method: No-Cook
- Cuisine: Condiments
Keywords: aioli, garlic aioli, dip, garlic
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Mash the Garlic
Pound the garlic cloves with a pinch of salt in your mortar and pestle until you create a paste.
If you’re using a cutting board and a knife instead, start by rough chopping the garlic and then sprinkle it with a pinch of salt. The salt will help break down the garlic and release its moisture. Use the flat side of your knife to crush the chopped garlic and spread it into a paste across your board.
Step 2 – Whisk the Eggs and Salt
In a sturdy bowl with a hefty bottom, whisk together the egg yolks and 1/2 teaspoon salt until they become emulsified.
If you only have lighter, more delicate mixing bowls, you can wrap a towel around the bottom of the bowl to keep it in place as you whisk.
Step 3 – Slowly Drip in the Oil to Thicken
Very slowly, just a few drops at a time, begin adding the oil while vigorously whisking as you pour to keep the mixture thick.
Step 4 – Loosen Up the Mixture
When the mixture has become very thick and stiff, add 1/4 teaspoon water and the lemon juice in a thin stream, while you are still whisking.
Whisk until the mixture loosens up a bit.
Step 5 – Blend in the Remaining Oil
A few drops at a time, continue whisking in oil until the aioli comes together. You may not need the full 2 cups of oil, so eyeball the mixture until it reaches your desired thickness.
For a thinner aioli, use less oil.
Step 6 – Mix in the Final Ingredients
Chop the fresh parsley.
Whisk in the garlic paste and parsley, and season to taste with additional salt if necessary. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Move over Ketchup, French Fries Have a New Friend
Roll up your sleeves and break out the garlic, we’re going aioli-ing.
Although this recipe calls for some serious elbow grease, it’s all worth it in the end when you realize the infinite dip-and-spread possibilities of this decadent mixture.
All those calories you burned whisking can be spent smearing this aioli onto the best BLT you’ll ever meet. Spoon it into your homemade Caesar dressing, shower it over roasted veggies, or use it as a finishing sauce for simply seared fish.
Not enough of an emulsion education for you? Take on these recipes to learn more:
- The Best Homemade Mayonnaise
- Quick Fixes for Broken Homemade Mayo
- Carrot Raisin Salad with Lemon Aioli
What mix-ins do you reach for to give your aioli a little flair? Cayenne? Citrus? Lemongrass? Share your favorite fold-ins in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on September 21, 2012. Last updated: February 25, 2023 at 12:51 pm. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”