What Is Aioli?

And is aioli really just a fancy word for mayonnaise?

<p>Etorres69/Getty Images</p>

Etorres69/Getty Images

Aioli has popped up on fancy (and not-quite-so-fancy) restaurant menus more and more. And while most people compare aioli to mayonnaise, that's not exactly what this zesty condiment is. So what is aioli—and how can you make it and use it to elevate your own home cooking? Here's the scoop on this stellar sauce.

Related: A List of 12 Essential Condiments You Should Have at All Times

What Is Aioli?

Aioli may give off fancy vibes, but it's really just a very simple emulsified sauce. Traditionally, aioli is made from only two ingredients whipped together—mashed garlic and olive oil. Done right, it creates a rich, thickened sauce that's been a staple of Mediterranean cooking.

Fun fact: Like many great sauces, the origins of aioli have been traced back to France, and the Provence region in particular. And its name basically means garlic and oil.

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But as with many basic sauces, there's lots of room for creativity when you're making your own aioli, and people have been adding raw egg yolks to create an extra-creamy mouth feel, lemon or vinegar to punch up the flavor, mustard to add flavor and help the sauce take shape, and of course, different herbs and spices to dress it up even more.

Is Aioli Just Mayonnaise?

Mayonnaise is made by whipping together olive oil and egg yolks—so aioli is kind of like its garlicky cousin. Since egg yolks are a common aioli add-in, it's no surprise that many chefs are calling their mayonnaise sauces and spreads aioli instead.

And in fact, our garlic aioli recipe actually uses mayonnaise as a starting point. All you do is add in garlic, lemon juice, and paprika to give it that aioli flavor. (Another benefit to using store-bought mayonnaise as an aioli building block—it doesn't require using raw egg yolks, so it helps you reduce the risk of causing a food-borne illness.)

Related: 8 Mistakes You're Making When Handling and Storing Eggs

How to Make Aioli at Home

Aioli is relatively simple to make completely from scratch. The biggest challenge (as with most emulsified sauces) is to mix it just long enough to get the olive oil and other ingredients to meld together, without mixing it so much that it "breaks" and separates.

You can make aioli in a blender, but using a whisk can help you avoid the overmixing that will break your aioli.

Start by whisking together a couple of egg yolks, a mashed garlic clove, and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Add in a half-cup of oil while you're whisking. Start by dripping it in slowly, making sure each addition of oil is fully incorporated before you add in more. As the sauce starts to take shape, you can drizzle in the oil more quickly. Once the aioli is nice and creamy, add in salt, pepper, and any herbs or spices you'd like to include.

How to Use Aioli in Your Recipes

Aioli can be used pretty much anywhere where you'd use mayonnaise. It'll punch up sandwiches, salads (think potato salad, macaroni salad, and tuna or chicken salad), veggies, potatoes, or meat.

We kick the aioli up with sriracha for everything salmon skewers, add it to a Spanish omelet (Spain is also home to some of the earliest versions of aioli!), or do it up European style as a dipping sauce for fries.

This tasty smoked sardine toast recipe calls for lemon-garlic mayo, which is basically aioli with a less fancy name. So go ahead and call it aioli to add that extra touch of gourmet panache.

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