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The Hellmann’s Split

August 17, 2016

Some might say that the Hellmann’s Split should be about the geographical line that is drawn across the country. To the east of the line, Hellmann’s is Hellmann’s. To the west of the boundary, Hellmann’s is known as Best Foods.

It’s the same thing.

After reading Monday’s post, someone suggested that Walmart’s Great Value private label branded mayonnaise is just Hellmann’s in disguise. And maybe that’s true. But private label stuff can be tricky, because even if a generic product is made at the same plant from the same ingredients, there can always be small but meaningful differences in the formulation.

Which isn’t to say that sometimes private label products aren’t simply identical versions of mass market brands. That happens too, however the whole point of today’s post is about shifting away from consumer packaged goods in general.

Specifically, I wanted to take a moment to explain why I split from my once beloved Hellmann’s.

For the first three decades of my life, Hellmann’s stood for quality. Part of that, I suppose, had to do with the astounding amount of commercial television I watched in my youth. Even today, I can’t say the name of the brand without the jingle running through my mind.

Bring out the Hellmann’s and bring out the best.

Growing up, it was the only brand of mayonnaise that was brought into the house. In my youth, I was tempted by the Miracle Whip commercials. But when I had the chance to try that product at a friend’s house, even in those early years I could tell it was an inferior substitute. And when I left home, I had the chance to try other mayonnaise brands, and those fell flat too.

This strongly established preference wasn’t entirely about the power of branding. Rather, it’s that a lifetime of use had established the characteristics of Hellmann’s as the definitive taste, texture, and appearance of what mayonnaise was supposed to be.

Then I started reading labels and learning about where food comes from.

Because in this case, the issue isn’t any kind of scary sounding ingredient. Sure, in an ideal world, I would prefer my mayonnaise without calcium disodium EDTA. But even Just Mayo has that. And like I mentioned before, as much as I enjoy making my own mayonnaise, I find myself eating an unhealthy amount of the stuff after whipping up a batch.

You know what isn’t the best? Soybean oil.

I’m going to spare you all the gory details, but here’s a list of oils ranked by healthfulness, and soybean oil is at the very bottom. There’s also an early study that suggests soybean oil is especially harmful.

Without a doubt, soybean oil is cheap, industrial, commodity oil. And in part, that’s why the stuff is so ubiquitous. Soybean oil is mostly grown from GMO seed so it is resistant to powerful herbicides. It is then extracted via chemical solvents. And before the resulting oil is appealing for human consumption it then literally has to be bleached and deodorized. The EPA has a convenient rundown of the process.

How this became known as the very friendly sounding vegetable oil is a post for another day.

The bottom line is that despite the bleaching and deodorizing, I still don’t find soybean oil to be all that appealing. Unfortunately, when I awoke to this fact and started looking at ingredient labels, you’ll never guess what I found. My once beloved Hellmann’s is pretty much a giant tub of emulsified soybean oil.

And no matter how you feel about the stuff, it’s certainly not the best.

Maybe at one point in time Hellmann’s was made with something better. But not now. And I’m glad to report that Hellmann’s is on the path to using 100% cage free eggs by 2020 in their mayonnaise. However when I walked away from the brand, this issue did not seem to be on its radar. While it might be a case of too little too late, I salute Hellmann’s for making the shift.

Perhaps down the road, Hellmann’s will make a product that lives up to the brand’s promise. But until that time, I’m not going to be conned into thinking it’s the best.

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