How Duke's Mayo Became The Go-To Condiment In The South

Brand loyalty is an interesting phenomenon. Generational, cultural, and geographical lines have been drawn over decades, causing consumers to fervently choose between Coke or Pepsi, McDonald's or Wendy's, and Hostess or Little Debbie (or Tastykake if you're from Philadelphia). It may surprise some to learn that this brand loyalty is readily apparent in the mayonnaise industry. While some Northerners may be deciding between Hellman's or Kraft, in the Southern United States, the choice is simple: Duke's Mayo.

Duke's is a Southern establishment because that is where its roots are. A woman from Greenville, South Carolina named Eugenia Duke started making sandwiches with her homemade mayo for WWI soldiers stationed nearby. The sandwiches were so memorable that she would receive letters after the war, asking specifically for her mayo recipe. By 1923, Duke was bottling and selling her spread, and a Southern legend was born. 

To this day, Duke's is still produced in Greenville, and its popularity has traveled far into other states. Through clever marketing, Duke's has aligned itself with Southern pride and folks' renowned hospitality with their slogan "It's got twang!" — calling to mind the iconic quality of country music singing. But this twang has a double meaning; it's also a reference to Duke's unique recipe that contains a dash of paprika and no added sugar, which has remained unchanged since Eugenia first made it over 100 years ago.

Duke's recipe sets it apart from other mayonnaises

There are three main components to mayonnaise: eggs, oil, and acid from lemon or vinegar. Commercially processed mayos will add several other ingredients for various reasons. Hellman's, for example, adds a bit of sugar to their mayo, which helps to cut that tang that comes from the lemon and vinegar, creating a relatively neutral taste. Duke's Mayo distinguishes itself from Hellman's and its other competitors in several ways.

First, they don't add sugar, making them the only big brand that doesn't. Added to this is the fact they include lemon juice, paprika, white vinegar, and cider vinegar; by comparison, Hellman's only uses white vinegar and lemon juice concentrate. Finally, Duke's has a higher ratio of egg yolks in each jar, which creates a much different texture than other mayos.

The overall result provides the advertised "twang" that Duke's promises; it's more vinegar-forward. Also, the higher egg yolk content creates a thicker, creamier, smoother mayo that is deliciously decadent. It really is special, so much so that it is Alton Brown's favorite brand of mayonnaise; the brand loyalty with him is strong.

Duke's is an essential element of many iconic Southern dishes

Thanks to its longevity and quality, Duke's has become a Southern institution. This also means that it has become an intrinsic ingredient in many iconic Southern foods. One of these is pimento cheese, a mixture of cheddar cheese, cream cheese, mayo, and pimentos. Adding this on top of fried green tomatoes is about as Southern as it gets, and it's delicious. Another uniquely Southern food is Alabama white barbecue sauce, a mixture of mayo, apple cider vinegar, and some element of heat like mustard, horseradish, or black pepper. It's often drizzled on chicken wings, pulled pork, fried fish, and even burgers.

No Southern meal is complete without one of the multiple mayo-based salads; potato, macaroni, egg, chicken, and coleslaw are all made better with Duke's. The condiment is also a welcome addition to deviled eggs and as a butter replacement when making grilled cheese.