The Phantom Spell of Mayo

In life there are few things that one can reasonably expect to not be too surprised about. Condiments come to mind. Paprika is paprika, right? And while I am sure Hunts and Heinz ketchup have their adherents, its doubtful substituting one for the other is nothing more than a mild annoyance. So it was a pretty big surprise when I found myself inexplicably drawn to Japanese mayonnaise.

It started innocently enough when on a stroll through a local Japanese supermarket, my girlfriend suggested buying Kewpie mayonnaise to replace our just-finished bottle of Hellmanns. I figured, sure, why not? I had heard the stuff was tasty, and even addictive (there even is a word to describe this phenomena in Japanese—mayoraa.) But the scope of such a cultural phenomena escaped me. That is….until recently.

Kewpie mayonnaise has a huge following in Japan. Since it began in the mid-20s, it has consistently been rated the number one mayo in the country (much to the dismay of competitor Ajinomoto who have gone as far as hiring mayo-addict celebs to hawk their product on TV). While the taste is more tangy than US mayo (no doubt due to the use of apple cider and  rice vinegar) it has a clean aftertaste that enhances literally anything you put it on. Seafood, no prob, meat, no prob, veggies, no prob…on and on.

The more things I ate, the more I was tempted to try Kewpie on it to see how it would taste. Soon after realizing I was reaching for the bottle far more than I felt comfortable doing, I decided to do some research. A little digging online led me to one of Kewpies secrets….a small dollop of MSG. Now the whole food enhancement angle made a little more sense.

Armed with my newfound knowledge I headed to Kewpie’s Japan site and decided to check out their marketing angle. I ran across some amazing ayurveda-themed commercials which didn’t even show the product at all (no need to I guess) but just consisted of a voice-over philosophizing about nature, and greens and ending by suggesting you keep up your intake of veggies—with Kewpie mayo.

A quick jump to Ajinomoto’s site and after one viewing of SMAP idol’s Shingo Katori’s mayo-overjoyed mugging, I can see why the baby continues to rule the mayo wars. As for me, I’ll stick to Kewpie as well…just not quite so much.

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