What Is Aioli?

The magic of an emulsification coming together is awe-inspiring. Aioli is no exception. It’s not mayo but it comes into being with the same steps and principles.

September 01, 2021


Aioli sauce and ingredients on wooden background

Photo by: etorres69/Getty Images

etorres69/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

What is aioli? Is it mayonnaise? Can you make aioli from mayonnaise and vice versa? Well, sort of. Our definition of aioli has changed in the past couple of decades and that’s why the lines are a bit blurred today. We can separate the fine points with some historical background, but in the end, it’s just all about what you like.



Fish stew in a brown bowl with parsley, olives, potato, salmon, cod and tomatoes. Topped with toasted bread and aioli.

Photo by: jerrydeutsch/Getty Images

jerrydeutsch/Getty Images

What Is Aioli?

True aioli is an emulsion of just mashed garlic, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Making it is laborious, because you have to add the oil a drop at a time, pounding it together with a mortar and pestle. Aioli is extremely thick and used as an ingredient in traditional Mediterranean dishes. In much of France, making the emulsion is helped along with the addition of egg yolks, mustard and lemon, similar to mayonnaise.

An emulsion is when you bring ingredients together that would, under normal circumstances separate into layers when put together. Oil and vinegar separate when they’re in a jar: you have to shake them up to remix right before dressing a salad. When making an emulsion, you are forcing the oil into droplets so small you can’t even see them, and it’s their size that allows them to break the rules of chemistry and stay together.



Man in the kitchen preparing a dressing with olive oil

Photo by: Halfpoint/Getty Images

Halfpoint/Getty Images

How Do You Make Aioli and Garlic Aioli?

Making aioli requires brute force (albeit on a small scale) to coerce the tiny oil droplets to become so small that they stay suspended in the mixture. The force can be provided by a whisk in a bowl, a food processor, a blender or the mortar and pestle.

  1. Simmer the garlic cloves until soft. Place a whole garlic bulb's-worth of peeled garlic cloves in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer until the cloves soften. This will remove the very spicy bite of raw garlic. Grate a couple more cloves of raw garlic to pack some punch and set them aside.
  2. Add all the ingredients to the food processor except for the olive oil. Add the cooked garlic and garlic paste, 2 pasturized egg yolks, 1 teaspoon mustard (which acts as an abrasive to break down the oil into droplets) and a big pinch of salt to a food processor. Pulse to blend, scraping down the sides as needed.
  3. Stream in the olive oil while the food processor is running. With the motor running, add 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil in a steady stream and blend until thick. When it becomes thick, lemon juice and salt can be added in to taste.

What Is the Difference Between Aioli and Mayonnaise?

Although both aioli and mayo are creamy, white emulsions made with egg, the two condiments have distinctly different flavors. That's because aioli is made with olive oil, while mayonnaise is made with a neutral oil. Sometimes shortcut aioli recipes will call for starting with mayonnaise as a base, then adding garlic and other flavorings. While fast and tasty, these recipes do not create true aioli.



Steak sandwich with salad, grilled onions and aioli.

Photo by: robynmac/Getty Images

robynmac/Getty Images

What Is Aioli Good With?

If you’re a serious aioli fan, you might flip that question into “Is there any savory dish that aioli isn’t good with?”. In its thickest form, a dollop of aioli is almost required in Mediterranean fish stews. It can stand in for plain mayo in a sandwich. Thinned, it is drizzled over any number of things, from fried potatoes to roasted veggies to grilled seafood. It's also a fantastic dipping sauce for any sort of fried food, including french fries.

Is Aioli Vegan?

Aioli in its most pure form of just garlic with oil and salt is vegan. Obviously making it with egg yolks is not vegan but going the quick and easy route with a purchased vegan mayo and adding pulverized garlic would certainly be a great substitute.

Flavored Aioli

If it’s a savory ingredient and you like it, there’s no reason you can’t stir it into mayonnaise or aioli. Adding your flavoring a bit at a time and tasting along the way is your best bet: you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. Popular flavors are sriracha, chipotle, roasted red pepper and lemon. Fish sauce or anchovy paste with fresh parsley would bring umami to the bowl and be tasty as well. Your imagination is the only limiting factor here.

Recipes that Involve Aioli 

Air Fryer Rack Lamb

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

Rack of lamb will be ready in about 20 minutes with an air fryer, but if you don’t have one, 25 to 35 minutes at 450 degrees F in a regular works too.

entwine, May 2011

Photo by: Yunhee Kim ©2011, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Yunhee Kim, 2011, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Spanish chorizo is similar to tiny pepperoni, and it comes hot or not.



Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero Prop Stylist: Pamela Duncan Silver ,Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero Prop Stylist: Pamela Duncan Silver

Photo by: Anna Williams

Anna Williams

We give you the recipe for the aioli, you pick the veggies.



Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero Prop Styling: Pamela Duncan Silver

Photo by: Anna Williams Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

Anna Williams Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

Aioli can have all sorts of variations. Keep this recipe handy; the aioli on its own is great with beef, or use it in place of mayo on a sandwich.



Photo by: Gentl & Hyers

Gentl & Hyers

Garlic and saffron-infused oil plus egg yolks give you an amazing aioli to drizzle over roasted yams.

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