Kewpie Mayo Is One of Japan's Most Popular Condiments: Here's How to Cook With It

Trust us, it deserves a spot in your fridge.

If you've ever been to Japan, you're likely aware of one of the country's most popular condiments—Kewpie mayo. And even if you haven't hopped on a flight to Tokyo lately, chances are you may be familiar with this mayonnaise that has a dedicated following and is becoming increasingly popular (with chefs and diners alike) in the United States.

In fact, if you caught that viral salmon bowl that made the rounds on TikTok earlier this year, you've already been acquainted with Kewpie mayo in all of its glory—recipe developer Emily Mariko used it in the video to top her meal, which also included leftover salmon and rice, as well as dried seaweed. The TikTok, which has been viewed more than 74 million times since September, helped catapult Kewpie mayo to star status. According to Instacart, in the seven days following Mariko's post, orders for Kewpie mayo went up 155 percent, as many consumers wanted to recreate the dish at home.

Kewpie, the Japanese brand that produces Kewpie mayo, invented the condiment in 1925 and it has since become a staple in Japan. The company's founder, Toichiro Nakashima, was inspired to create it after he was introduced to mayonnaise during a trip to America. He originally envisioned Kewpie mayo as an accompaniment to vegetables, but today it is used in everything from sushi to egg salad.

What is Kewpie mayonnaise and how does it differ from American mayonnaise?

The key difference between Kewpie mayo and American mayonnaise is that Kewpie uses only the egg yolks to make its mayo, whereas American brands typically use the entire egg. Additionally, Kewpie mayo is made with a "unique blend of vinegars" that typically includes rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar. American mayonnaise, on the other hand, is made with distilled vinegar. One final thing that sets Kewpie mayo apart? It's made with monosodium glutamate—aka MSG.

As you may have guessed, these differences mean that Kewpie mayo looks and tastes different than your average jar of Hellmann's. For starters, it comes in an easy-to-squeeze bottle that is designed to keep out oxygen and keep the contents fresh, and boasts a deeper yellow hue since it's made with only egg yolks. That, in turn, means Kewpie has a rich, bold taste and a fuller texture that almost resembles custard.

According to the Kewpie website, the mayo contains precisely four egg yolks per 500g. The amino acids yielded from the protein of the egg yolks is a key factor in Kewpie's distinct "tasty, savory flavor." And since rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar tend to be a touch sweeter and less acidic than the distilled vinegar found in American mayonnaise, Kewpie mayo has a "refreshing aroma and a tangy depth of taste."

Last but not least, Kewpie mayo goes through a rigorous emulsification process that really binds all the ingredients together and results in a superior mouthfeel. In fact, the ingredients are blended together using proprietary machinery, and are whipped until the final product is creamy and smooth.

"I find Kewpie mayonnaise to be richer and creamier [than American mayonnaise]," says Tokyo-based chef and author Yukari Sakamoto. "It has a nice acidity that makes it food-friendly. It is made with egg yolks, which gives the mayonnaise more natural umami. Kewpie mayonnaise enhances a variety of dishes with its umami and soft tartness."

Tyler Akin, chef and partner at Le Cavalier in Wilmington, Del., loves that Kewpie has a sweetness that American mayo lacks. "Kewpie is sweeter and richer than American and European mayos," he explains. "Its acidity comes only from rice, apple, and other vinegars, so the zing doesn't have the citrus aspect found in most mayos on American grocery shelves or homemade versions."

What is Kewpie mayonnaise used for?

What isn't Kewpie mayo used for is probably an easier question to answer. Much like American mayonnaise, Kewpie has a wide variety of uses, and there really isn't a wrong way to use it. In Japan, people love to eat it with sushi and as a companion to Japanese fried chicken (aka karaage). It's also a vital component in Japanese egg sandwiches—aka tamago sando.

"Kewpie mayonnaise is mostly used as a mayo substitute," says Sakamoto. "It is essential for tamago sando and potato salad—a classic dish served at izakaya."

While chef and Family Dinner host Andrew Zimmern opts not to use Kewpie mayo for his egg or potato salad, he's found plenty of other uses for the popular condiment. "I make yuzu-chile sauces with it for dipping Japanese fried chicken, I use it as a condiment for savory seafood pancakes, and I use it as a condiment for fried pork cutlets," he says. "I love the stuff and encourage everyone to taste it and use it as they like."

Word to wise: If you want to stock up on Kewpie mayo, make sure you purchase the stuff that's made in Japan. Kewpie also sells a version made in America, but that one uses distilled vinegar and doesn't contain MSG, so it won't taste the same.

The below recipes call for regular mayonnaise, but feel free to use Kewpie mayo instead if you want that bold, richer taste with a touch of sweetness.

01 of 05

Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches

Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches
Annie Schlecter

Substitute Kewpie for regular mayonnaise here to add some umami to these tea sandwiches. If you're not familiar with the taste of Kewpie mayo, mix it into the egg salad a little bit at a time and taste as you go, as the flavor can be a tad overwhelming for those who aren't used to it.

02 of 05

Creamy Potato Salad With Bacon

Creamy Potato Salad With Bacon
Con Poulos

Give this potato salad a richer flavor by using Kewpie mayo instead of American mayonnaise. Kewpie's slight sweetness will complement the bacon and celery. Again, just taste as you go to make sure it's not too overpowering.

03 of 05

Soufflé Pancake With Miso Mushrooms

Soufflé Pancake with Miso Mushrooms
This is likely unlike anything you’ve made before—and that’s exactly why we love it. Folding whipped egg whites into a savory pancake batter makes it puff up as it cooks, resulting in a buttery, crispy crust and a tender, fluffy center. The mushroom-bok choy mixture served overtop is just as delightful. Get the recipe: Soufflé Pancake With Miso Mushrooms. Greg DuPree

Sakamoto is a big fan of using Kewpie to top her savory Japanese pancakes called okonomiyaki. The condiment will also work with this similar take on savory pancakes, which is topped with sautéed scallions, bok choy, and mushrooms.

04 of 05

Oven Fries With Garlic Aioli

Oven fries with garlic aioli dipping sauce on a serving tray with napkin.
Bob Hiemstra

Use Kewpie in place of mayonnaise here to give the aioli a more complex, umami-like flavor. This aioli (using Kewpie) would also go great with fried chicken or even roasted vegetables.

05 of 05

Poke Lettuce Cups With Wasabi-Lime Mayo

Poke Lettuce Cups With Wasabi-Lime Mayo
The Hawaiian poke bowl has been making its rounds recently. Seaweed, sesame oil, and soy sauce are all common ingredients in this raw fish specialty. We turned those flavors into hand-held lettuce cups then topped them with a wasabi-lime mayonnaise, sesame seeds and nori. If you can find furikake in your supermarket, feel free to top the cups with that instead. Get the recipe: Poke Lettuce Cups With Wasabi-Lime Mayo. Jen Causey

Akin is a big fan of combining Kewpie with wasabi "for a riff on dijonnaise," and that's exactly what you can do when topping these tasty lettuce cups. If you really want to upgrade the sauce, Akin suggests using sake instead of mirin.

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