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Aioli A-Hole

August 28, 2018

Words. Words matter.

Perhaps it wasn’t my finest moment of blogging, but once upon a time I used to stand up to defend food words from attack. Ice cream is ice cream dammit. If it’s made without cream, guess what? It’s not ice cream. Period.

I’ve staked positions on pesto, the Manhattan, and Greek-style yogurt. At one point I even went to war about the presence of shredded lettuce on an authentic Mexican street taco.

Albany is a small town, and many of us run in similar Facebook circles. So if you live around here, you may have picked up on the heat about a vegan spot being declared to have some of the best wings in the Capital Region. By the way, a hearty congratulations to Berben & Wolff’s for the accomplishment.

That’s rubbed some people the wrong way. But when a culture allows something called boneless wings—which are made out of breaded breast meat pieces—to prosper, the very notion of “wings” is crippled. This has been going on for a very long time. Trying to dial it back now seems futile at best.

We can mourn the passing of the wing, but there’s another victim of misuse I’d rather talk about today which dates back even further. And that’s aioli dammit.

People have long forgotten that aioli used to be a thing. Maybe some of you never even knew. Like mayonnaise, it’s an emulsion. But unlike mayonnaise, it historically did not contain egg or vinegar. There are still a few places where aioli is simply garlic, oil, and salt, pounded into a creamy mass. And while it might be labor intensive to produce, the results are fantastic.

Over time, egg yolk was added to help stabilize the emulsion. But the origins of this dish make it more similar to toum. It’s estimated that aioli could be well over a thousand years old. When did the egg yolk enter the picture? It’s not clear. But Escoffier called for it. So the use of egg yolks has been well established for over a hundred years.

It’s no wonder there is a lot of confusion on the matter.

We can argue the semantics of it, if you wish. Aioli means garlic and oil. So if you add an egg yolk to it, it’s still garlic and oil. And with an egg yolk, aioli becomes similar to mayonnaise. But once the word aioli started to be used as a shorthand for a garlic flavored mayonnaise, things started to deteriorate very quickly.

Then, any flavored mayonnaise, became an aioli. Throw some chipotle in mayonnaise to make chipotle aioli. And people on the front lines of food have largely given up holding the line. Bon Appetit back in March wrote, “Stir some paprika into Hellmann’s and call it aioli—we’re not gonna stop you.”

I think that was probably the final nail in the coffin.

Thankfully, there are other versions of this marvelous mixture. Just recently in Philly, I was at a bar that had a squeeze bottle of toum available for french fries, and it was fantastic. Effectively it’s a Lebanese version of the classic aioli, except for the addition of lemon juice and water.

However, you can ask for toum and be certain that what you are getting is actually an emulsion of garlic with oil, and not mayonnaise with some crap thrown in it.

So yeah. Wings aren’t always wings. Sometimes they are seitan nuggets covered in buffalo sauce. At least we haven’t fallen so far that they are being served with blue cheese aioli… yet. But when that day comes, I’ll be prepared.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lakesider permalink
    August 28, 2018 12:34 pm

    I enjoyed the hummus rant a few years back.

    • August 28, 2018 2:13 pm

      Indeed! How could I have forgotten about that one? Thanks for the reminder. I’m sure there are more lurking out in the archive too.

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