What Exactly Is Miracle Whip? Why Isn't It Mayonnaise?

kraft miracle whip on a store shelf, salad dressing bottles
What Is Miracle Whip? It Isn't Quite MayonnaiseRoberto Machado Noa - Getty Images

When I was a kid, growing up in Ohio, we had two separate jars in the fridge that looked pretty similar: Hellmann's mayonnaise, and Kraft Miracle Whip.

My mom bought the mayo. She'd put it on both her and my sandwiches. But my dad didn't care for mayonnaise. He grew up eating chicken salads and tomato sandwiches that were made with something a little different: Miracle Whip.

For a while, I just thought it was a different brand of mayo. We had several different kinds of mustard in the house, after all. Then, one day, I was home from school and I decided to make myself a sandwich.

My very favorite sandwich at the time was possibly the pinnacle of blandness: salami on soft white bread with a generous spread of mayonnaise on both sides. It's a sandwich that is all salt and creaminess and it was what 8-year-old me loved to eat most in this world.

Perhaps we were running low on Hellmann's, or maybe I thought I'd just give my dad's brand a try. Either way, I dipped my butter knife in the jar of Miracle Whip and spread it generously across both slices of bread. I slapped a couple slices of salami onto one side, put it all together, and took a big bite.

It was startling!

Instead of mayonnaise's mild flavors, my mouth was overwhelmed by a bright, sour, unexpected tang. This was not mayonnaise. I looked at the jar and read something that both surprised and confused me: salad dressing.

People were supposed to put this on their salads?

It would be years before I tried Miracle Whip again, and while it's still not my favorite, I've come to understand and appreciate what it is, what it's trying to do, and why the people who love it, love it as they do.

What Is Miracle Whip? What's It Made Of?

A lot of confusion has resulted from Miracle Whip's designation as a salad dressing—and nowadays, you'll see they more accurately call it a "mayo-like dressing."

In fact, Miracle Whip is essentially a mayonnaise with some extra ingredients. Mayonnaise is an originally French dressing, or spread, made from eggs (or at least yolks) beaten with oil and vinegar or lemon juice (or both) until they form an emulsion—that is to say, beaten until they will no longer separate and fall apart, but instead remain stable.

Miracle Whip also contains vinegar, eggs and oil. However, it contains a lot more, including water, corn syrup, cornstarch, mustard flour, and many different spices (reportedly over 20). This gives it a sweeter, stronger flavor than most commercial mayos.

How Did Miracle Whip Get Its Name?

Miracle Whip was invented during the Great Depression — and was first launched by Kraft Foods at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. It was designed to be a more affordable version of mayonnaise—done by combining standard mayo with much less expensive salad dressing.

Those other ingredients can't typically be incorporated into mayonnaise without separating. However, Kraft was able to create a stable spread with a machine that could so thoroughly whip all the ingredients together that they would emulsify just as mayonnaise does.

The machine, invented by a man named Charles Chapman, worked so well it was dubbed the Miracle Whip Machine. And so when the product was released, Kraft named it after the machine that made it possible.

crusted chicken on a plate with a green salad
You can make this with Miracle Whip!Becky Luigart-Stayner

Is Miracle Whip the Same as Mayonnaise?

Miracle Whip looks just like mayonnaise. You can use it just as you do mayonnaise. You can stir it into dips, or spread it on sandwiches. You can even use it to make our less-mess Chicken Kiev recipe. (This is where mayo is substituted for an egg wash. It's quite smart, and you should try it!)

While Miracle Whip has a decidedly different, tangier flavor than most mayonnaises, it is used, for all intents and purposes, as a mayonnaise by most people.

So why isn't it called mayonnaise?

To prevent adulteration (that is, unwanted ingredients in foods), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has strict definitions of what ingredients can and cannot be in many standard foods, including mayonnaise. This prevents unscrupulous people from making and marketing a mayonnaise that has, say, sawdust, or other unsafe ingredients.

But it also means that Miracle Whip, which is only partially made from mayonnaise, cannot legally call itself mayonnaise.

Why Do People Prefer Miracle Whip Over Mayonnaise?

Miracle Whip is one of those foods that people either love or hate. For fans of Miracle Whip, like my dad who grew up eating it, there's just nothing else out there that tastes like it.

For people who prefer mayonnaise (be it Hellmann's/Best foods, Duke's, or another brand), Miracle Whip's flavor is both too much like mayo, but also too much unlike mayonnaise. So eating foods with it can be confusing. (Read The Fascinating History Behind Duke's Mayo.)

There are two more reasons, however, that I believe people prefer Miracle Whip to mayonnaise besides just the taste.

One is price. Miracle Whip was originally marketed as a cheap alternative to mayonnaise, and even today, in most cases, it is less expensive. If you're looking for a budget-friendly option, Miracle Whip will nearly always beat out mayo.

The other is for health reasons. Because the first ingredient in Miracle Whip is water—and because it uses far less egg and oil, Miracle Whip has fewer calories and much less fat (though more sugar/carbohydrates) than mayonnaise.

In the 1980s, during the height of the "low-fat" health movement, Miracle Whip even launched a "light" version, which contained even less fat and calories. Just like margarine, frozen yogurt, 2% milk, and other products, Miracle Whip works as a low-fat version of a popular ingredient.

Can You Use Miracle Whip Instead of Mayonnaise?

You absolutely can use Miracle Whip wherever you would use mayonnaise! Though they can't legally call it mayonnaise, as far as it goes in the kitchen, Miracle Whip is used exactly as you would use mayonnaise, and it performs the same functions.

However, it's worth keeping in mind that, as I discovered when I was 8 years old, Miracle Whip definitely tastes a little different. The flavor is much stronger, sweeter, and tangier than mayonnaise. While many people like—even love—the flavor, it can be a surprise to anyone who isn't expecting it. I would highly recommend testing it out first in a simple recipe. But if you like it, then you're free to experiment!

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Photo credit: Becky Luigart-Stayner
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