Why Duke's Mayonnaise Has A Cult Following In The South

Potato salad, pimento cheese, deviled eggs — besides being delicious, all of these beloved southern dishes have one thing in common: they rely on high-quality mayonnaise. Given the eggy emulsion's key role in so many regional staple foods, it's no surprise that Southerners take mayonnaise very seriously. Although mayonnaise as we know it most likely originated in 18th-century France or Spain (a subject of much debate among the French and the Spanish), the South can confidently take credit as the birthplace of Duke's, the favorite mayonnaise brand of millions of Americans, and what many Southerners consider the only store-bought mayonnaise worth slathering.


Duke's Mayo was founded by Eugenia Duke, an astute culinary genius and businesswoman born in Columbus, Georgia in 1881. After marrying and moving to Greenville, South Carolina, Duke started selling sandwiches made with her famous homemade mayonnaise to soldiers at Fort Sevier in 1917. By 1918, Duke had sold a whopping 11,000 sandwiches. She shed the bread to focus solely on mayonnaise in 1923, and in 1926, Duke opened her first official mayonnaise plant.

What makes Duke's mayonnaise special?

The less mayo-obsessed may argue that all store-bought mayonnaise tastes the same, but Southerners know this is simply not true. Duke's is condiment aisle royalty for several reasons. For one thing, it does not contain any sugar. The lack of added sugar was a feature of Eugenia Duke's original recipe (possibly as a result of wartime sugar rationing), and many customers find it results in a higher-quality, better-tasting, more "homemade"-feeling product.


Another unique feature of Duke's Mayo is that it is richer in egg yolks than most other supermarket mayonnaise brands. The higher yolk-to-oil ratio results in a thicker, creamier product that can stand up well to heat without separating (considering how often Southerners cook with mayonnaise, this is a very important quality). Finally, a touch of vinegar, a pinch of paprika, and that iconic yellow twist-top jar make Duke's irreplaceable for its loyal fans across the South.

How do Southerners use Duke's Mayonnaise? 

Beyond Duke's obvious utility as a sandwich spread and binding agent for many iterations of southern salads — potato, tuna, chicken, and egg — it's also a surprising (yet essential) secret ingredient in many southern recipes. The official recipe for Duke's mayonnaise chocolate cake was introduced in 2006 (although unofficial versions had been around much longer). And forget butter — a slather of Duke's on the outside of a grilled cheese is the key to crispy perfection in many southern households. Others swear by using mayonnaise as the secret ingredient in macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs, and mashed potatoes. Some even go so far as mixing mayonnaise into ice cream.


Eugenia Duke passed away in 1968 at age 86, but her legacy of spreading high-quality mayonnaise across America lives on. In my house in North Carolina, that iconic yellow twist-top jar can always be found in the fridge door — for us, when it comes to mayonnaise, it's got to be Duke's.