It’s slathered on every gourmet sandwich. It takes a basket of fries from tasty to exquisite. And no crab cake is complete without it. We’re talking about aioli, the fancy mayo we can’t get enough of. But um, what is aioli in the first place? Settle in, friends. Here’s the breakdown on everyone’s favorite dip—plus how to make aioli at home like a pro.
What Is Aioli?
Just like mayonnaise, aioli is an emulsion, aka a forced mixture of two ingredients that naturally don’t want to mix. The oil never truly combines with the rest of the ingredients, but rather becomes suspended in the liquid after being vigorously whisked in, one drop at a time (though the old school method would call on a mortar and pestle). In mayo’s case, that means oil and a water-based liquid, like vinegar or lemon juice, plus egg yolk.
Aioli, which translates to “garlic oil” in French, is a different story, yet still similar. The traditional condiment (made with olive oil, rather than mayo’s typical canola) is also an emulsion, but as you can imagine, it’s tough to get oil to combine with raw garlic alone. Since this emulsion was prone to breaking, meaning the oil could separate from the garlic and leave you with greasy, unappetizing mush, people started to use egg yolk in aioli, too—the lecithin helps keep the oil suspended.
With that addition, aioli became more similar to mayonnaise. And over time, aioli and mayo basically became interchangeable terms. Aioli today is often just mayonnaise spiked with a lot of garlic, but it can also refer to any specially seasoned mayo (sriracha, we’re looking at you). We’re guessing the evolution happened once everyone got tired of painstakingly mashing raw garlic into paste and vigorously stirring in oil until their hands went numb just to get their dip on.
While today’s “aioli” may not exactly be true to the original, we’re not complaining—it saves us the elbow grease, plus the flavor can still be just as heavenly. Even if you start with store-bought mayonnaise.
How to Make Aioli
There’s no need to spend your whole day trying to perfect an emulsion. You can simply spruce up homemade or store-bought mayonnaise with garlic, citrus juice and any other ingredients you crave in a creamy, decadent dip, sauce or spread. Here’s our recipe for roasted garlic aioli—you can save a half-hour or so by using minced raw garlic, but roasting it makes it easy to mash and gives it a subtle, buttery, almost caramelized flavor. (P.S., it pairs beautifully with our crispy roasted artichokes.)
- 4 to 6 garlic cloves, skin on
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the garlic cloves in olive oil.
2. Roast the garlic the oven on a baking sheet until golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
3. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins into a small bowl. Mash the cloves with a fork until smooth. Stir in the mayonnaise and lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.
Ready to whip up a batch of aioli? Here are a few creative recipes we love.
- Spicy Sriracha Aioli
- Browned Butter Lemon Aioli
- Chipotle Aioli
- Roasted Garlic Saffron Aioli
- Oil-Free Avocado Aioli
- Wasabi Cilantro Aioli