One of the video channels I like to follow on YouTube is Food Wishes, and recently Chef John posted a video on how to make a hollandaise sauce. This got me thinking. I’ve never had eggs Benedict in my life, and the main reason is that I’ve always feared hollandaise is too close in format to mayonnaise. A little research recently told me that it is in fact a form of mayonnaise, just one where butter is the main fat and the egg yolks are cooked.
I am fundamentally incapable of eating mayo. I discovered this at a very young age. It probably ties in with the fact that I really can’t do any of the classic condiments, like ketchup and mustard—and the best theory I have going for this to date is that they’re all vinegar-based. I hate ketchup on two prongs, one of them being that I can’t stand tomatoes. I loathe both the smell and the taste of mustard. But mayo stands out above them, because I’ve been forced to “try” foods based on it before, and it triggers my gag reflex something hideous.
My parents really pushed me on a lot of foods, from time to time anyway, when I was younger. I don’t blame them for that, because you kind of have to nudge kids out of their comfort zone, and mine has always been limited. But the experiences I remember the worst all came from mayo.
I don’t think I’ve ever tried macaroni salad, but I have been made to eat potato salad on at least two occasions. I recall, all too vividly, pushing around a chunk of potato in my mouth, smearing the interior with a sauce that lit up my taste buds like a pinball machine—if the ball was spiked and made of hate—and being unable to make it stop because I physically could not swallow. Nor could I chew, which made the torment worse. Every attempt to force it down caused a gag spasm.
Tuna fish was worse. I gave up fish forever a long, long time ago, and will never look back. When I was a kid I used to eat fish sticks, and they were just sort of okay, but one time I finally had enough and realized I didn’t care for the flavor of fish anyway. Now combine that with mayo. At least once, tuna fish was all there was for dinner, and I know that at least once, I tried. I tried, and failed. I don’t remember that crap in my mouth, because I think I’ve blacked it out, but I did try. I found skipping dinner and going hungry far preferable than suffering through that.
My most recent encounter with mayo (and ketchup) was a burger accident, not discovered until I got home even though I thought I’d checked the burger well enough, that rocketed me up to an instant 20 on the Nicki Minaj rage scale. I had to scrub my mouth out with a paper towel, and even then I couldn’t get rid of the lingering taste.
There are hard limits and soft limits, and many that when challenged did eventually go away. I know I had many soft ones. I wouldn’t touch mushrooms as a kid because they squicked me out—although I now think it’s because I associated the smell of them with one Christmas when I was sick as a dog—but as an adult I love them. I wasn’t a big eater of beef when I was little, but thankfully that didn’t last; although I’ve still never developed a taste for beef in a roast. I don’t do gravy, and I’ve never minded. There have even been many times—none recently, or ever again—that I’ve struggled through something with tomatoes out of politeness. But condiments, mayo in particular, are a hard limit. (So is salad dressing, on a lesser level. I don’t eat salad because a salad without dressing is inedible, and with dressing is gross.)
Which brings us back to hollandaise. Most hollandaise is, as I understand it, made with lemon juice and not with any vinegar at all. And butter, lots of butter. I love lemons, and have been happy to eat them raw. Sourness itself does not scare me; I love it. I know that some people make hollandaise with vinegar, but for the most part I think it’s usually just lemon. And this makes me wonder: Could I eat hollandaise sauce, or would it be so much like regular mayo that it’d trigger a gag?
I will remain curious, because this is not an experiment I dare try. I know my limits now. I know which ones I can push and which I can’t; when to try new things and when not to. Family members who know me consider me positively adventurous now in comparison to my youth, but certain borders of the food landscape may as well be guarded with barbed wire and concrete. And so it shall stay.