The FDA Insists On Egg In Your Mayonnaise, But Not In Your Mayo

Just Mayo is a vegan mayonnaise substitute produced by Hampton Creek.  I’ve had it, and it persuaded my pedestrian palate that it tastes like mayonnaise (something comparable substitutes have not).  The product does not contain any eggs, so it can’t be labeled as mayonnaise, at least in the United States.

As defined in the Code of Federal Regulations Section 169.140, mayonnaise must include egg-yolk containing ingredients including:

“Liquid egg yolks, frozen egg yolks, dried egg yolks, liquid whole eggs, frozen whole eggs, dried whole eggs, or any one or more of the foregoing ingredients listed in this paragraph with liquid egg white or frozen egg white.”

As Just Mayo doesn’t contain eggs, there was disagreement as to whether or not the product could include Mayo in its name.  Quartz has a recap of the events, but one company sued Hampton Creek for false advertising (the suit was withdrawn), and the American Egg Board (whose members are appointed by the Agriculture Secretary) also acted against the company, and Board documents showed it was seriously worked up over the success of Just Mayo.

This attention eventually prompted a letter from the Food and Drug Administration to Hampton Creek in August warning the company that it could not use mayo in its product name if the product wasn’t legally mayonnaise.  (There were additional health claims questioned by the FDA in the letter.)

Hampton Creek has been in discussion with the FDA on the matter, and will make changes to its label that the FDA considers satisfactory.  A closeout letter from the agency is anticipated.

The insistence on using eggs to legally be mayonnaise in the U.S. might remind readers of the fact that tomatoes, while botanically fruits, are vegetables in the U.S. for purposes of a tariff.  In that case, the rationale from the court focused on how tomatoes are considered in ‘everyday life’ compared to their botanical nature.

That rationale could be applied to mayonnaise, with the everyday conception of mayonnaise as including eggs.  The apparent accommodation from the FDA appears to stake out a middle ground.  The product will still be called Just Mayo, but the new labels will call it a spread and dressing.  The forthcoming closeout letter might address this hair-splitting, as it might prompt other mayonnaise substitutes to move toward this middle ground.

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