Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Real Story Behind Cinco De Mayo

They layperson believes that Cinco de Mayo is simply a celebration of the Mexican army's defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862. Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín is credited with bringing about this unlikely victory, which really didn't amount to much because a year later, French forces successfully occupied Mexico City, installed their own Emperor, and didn't withdraw until they were pressured by The United States to do so (you're welcome, Mexico, by the way).

So, why is it that this seemingly insignificant battle seems to be celebrated so heartily world wide? The truth has been covered up over the years due to Mexican nationalism and European shame. The truth is that a greater victory was won at the Battle of Puebla. The truth is, May 5, 1862 was the day that Mexico captured the secret recipe for Mayonnaise.

This emulsified sauce concocted from the fusion of olive oil and egg yolks was created by French Chef Marie-Antoine Carême while trying to create a cheap substitute for ketchup. The sauce, which Carême had called "Creme de Vomit", was quickly confiscated by the French government after they discovered it had many strange and unusual properties, the most obvious being its ability to adhere sliced meat and cheese to bread.

For decades, the recipe was a closely guarded secret overseen by the Duke of Meyenne. When General Seguín defeated the French on that fateful day, a French courier happened to be among the men who were captured. That courier had been planning to bring a copy of the recipe to the Russians for a joint venture to create a yogurt substitute (which would eventually become Thousand Island dressing) but his transport had gotten re-directed to help with the Mexican affair. General Seguín, upon winning the Battle of Puebla, intercepted the copy of the recipe for the glory of Mexico.

Losing control over the recipe for Mayonnaise was akin to allowing the serfs to discover movable type. Enraged by the global implications of this loss, the French military finally felt their testicles descend and sacked Mexico City in a futile attempt to contain and re-capture the formula. By then, it was much too late. The recipe had been leaked to high ranking officials in the U.S. Government in exchange for putting political pressure on the French to end their occupation. Soon, a German-American double agent named Richard Hellmann won the recipe in a poker game against President Theodore Roosevelt and decided to make it commercially available via his delicatessen which served as a staging point for French/German negotiations over the First Moroccan Crisis.

What Cinco De Mayo really refers to is not, as is commonly believed "The fifth of May", but rather, "The Five Mayos" which refers to the five internationally recognized types of mayonnaise. While the condiment has many minor variations, only five versions are recognized by the International Condiment Commission. Those five varieties are:

  1. Traditional: Made by slowly adding olive oil to an egg yolk, while whisking vigorously to disperse the oil. The oil and the water in yolks form a base of the emulsion, while the lecithin from the yolks acts as the emulsifier that stabilizes it. Mustard is added to sharpen its taste, and further stabilize the emulsion.
  2. Russian: Made with sunflower seed oil rather than olive oil and quail egg yolks. 
  3. Japanese: Made with apple cider vinegar with MSG in place of mustard. 
  4. Miracle Whip: Created in 1931 by Cafe owner, Max Crosset when he accidentally dropped a mixture of high fructose corn syrup and various spices, which was meant for his own soft drink concoction (which he called Tab Cola) into the mixing bowl where he had been making mayonnaise.
  5. Vegenaise: A vegan friendly mayonnaise made with soy products and the tortured souls of the damned.
Over the years, the reason behind celebrating General Seguín's victory became lost as mayonnaise became more accessible around the world and as dislike for the French increased. Hence, Mexican citizens went from seeing Cinco De Mayo as a victory for condiment lovers around the world to celebrating the fact that they kicked some French ass.

That's your history lesson for today. Just remember, it's pronounced "Cinco de May-o" not "Cinco de MY-o". Now go out have a margarita with a pastrami on rye with mayo.


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  2. Thanks Sedna and thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you again soon.

  3. You had me right up to the poker game.

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