Just Mayo – Shots Fired by the FDA on Hampton Creek's Vegan Alternative to Mayonnaise
“According to the standard of identity for mayonnaise, egg is a required ingredient…based on the ingredient information on the labels, these products do not contain eggs. We also note that these products contain additional ingredients that are not permitted by the standard, such as modified food starch, pea protein, and beta-carotene, which may be used to impart color simulating egg yolk. Therefore, these products do not conform to the standard for mayonnaise.”
I heard the news about the semantics dispute yesterday and immediately looked up the FDA’s guidelines on what constitutes “mayonnaise” and found the following:
(a) Description. Mayonnaise is the emulsified semisolid food prepared from vegetable oil(s), one or both of the acidifying ingredients specified in paragraph (b) of this section, and one or more of the egg yolk-containing ingredients specified in paragraph (c) of this section. One or more of the ingredients specified in paragraph (d) of this section may also be used. The vegetable oil(s) used may contain an optional crystallization inhibitor as specified in paragraph (d)(7) of this section. All the ingredients from which the food is fabricated shall be safe and suitable. Mayonnaise contains not less than 65 percent by weight of vegetable oil. Mayonnaise may be mixed and packed in an atmosphere in which air is replaced in whole or in part by carbon dioxide or nitrogen.
(b) Acidifying ingredients. (1) Any vinegar or any vinegar diluted with water to an acidity, calculated as acetic acid, of not less than 2 1/2 percent by weight, or any such vinegar or diluted vinegar mixed with an optional acidifying ingredient as specified in paragraph (d)(6) of this section. For the purpose of this paragraph, any blend of two or more vinegars is considered to be a vinegar.
(2) Lemon juice and/or lime juice in any appropriate form, which may be diluted with water to an acidity, calculated as citric acid, of not less than 2 1/2 percent by weight.
(c) Egg yolk-containing ingredients. 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.
(d) Other optional ingredients. The following optional ingredients may also be used:
(2) Nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners.
(3) Any spice (except saffron or turmeric) or natural flavoring, provided it does not impart to the mayonnaise a color simulating the color imparted by egg yolk.
(4) Monosodium glutamate.
(5) Sequestrant(s), including but not limited to calcium disodium EDTA (calcium disodium ethylenediamine- tetraacetate) and/or disodium EDTA (disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetate), may be used to preserve color and/or flavor.
(6) Citric and/or malic acid in an amount not greater than 25 percent of the weight of the acids of the vinegar or diluted vinegar, calculated as acetic acid.
(7) Crystallization inhibitors, including but not limited to oxystearin, lecithin, or polyglycerol esters of fatty acids.
(e) Nomenclature. The name of the food is “Mayonnaise”.
(f) Label declaration. Each of the ingredients used in the food shall be declared on the label as required by the applicable sections of parts 101 and 130 of this chapter.
It seems to me that the FDA, the same organization that allegedly kept the news of Bayer’s contaminated hemophilia blood products (that resulted in many hemophiliacs becoming infected with HIV and hep C) “out of the public eye…having wanted the matter solved ‘quickly and quietly’” in the late seventies until 1985, is participating in a straightforward attack against a popular product that’s found its way into major chains like 7-Eleven that’s not only vegan, but produced by a company with a mission statement that intends to “…bring healthier and affordable food to everyone, everywhere.” I bring up this ‘blunder’ (for lack of a better word) because it’s one of the more extreme cases of criticism that the FDA can’t really wiggle out of, but it’s definitely not the only one. Yes, organizing bodies like the FDA are inevitably placed in a position that’s chock-full of conflict. They have to determine how to regulate as products (and science) progress and occasionally find themselves at war with an entire industry. I’ve found myself openly critical of the free-reign that supplements have been given in the United States and very rarely take any due to the relatively recent findings that most of the products out there don’t seem to do much of anything.
Let me be clear here: the FDA is not some tragic sacrificial hero in this story, I’m just saying they aren’t always bad. This is simple special interest in the form of condiments intertwined with culture that’s centered around the so-called “king of American condiments” – a product that’s consumed at a rate of $2 billion per year by Americans alone.
Mayonnaise is the last thing on Earth I’d ever expected to see in the news with regard to regulations, especially when the product in question is a healthier alternative. This is the same sandwich topping that even the least health-conscious realize isn’t particularly healthy and the lack of eggs is somehow the tipping point for an organization that’s supposed to be concerned about the health of US citizens? Please.
While the above criteria set by the FDA is oddly complicated for a condiment, let’s just call a spade a spade: the $48.3 billion egg industry likely put pressure on the FDA and this is the result, problematic terminology with the sole intent of denting the popularity and profitability of Simply Mayo. I can only wonder if Ben & Jerry’s will get a letter over their new vegan ice cream.