Political commentator Ron Reagan (son of the Ronald Reagan) recently speculated on Mitt Romney’s potential Vice Presidential running mates, and characterized the possible choice of Ohio Senator Rob Portman as “Mayonnaise meets Tapioca.” His point was that it would make an unexciting ticket of two bland white guys.
Tapioca is a starchy food extracted from the root of the South American cassava plant. Its name derives from word tipi'óka, in the language of the Tupí, an indigenous Brazilian people who also gave us the words jaguar, jacaranda, and carioca.
Mayonnaise is much harder to pin down. Its ingredients are simple enough—oil, egg yolks, and vinegar—mixed to form an emulsion. But the origin of the word has etymologists scratching their heads (not a pretty sight).
The most common story is that it came from Port Mahon, capital of the Spanish island of Minorca, where the French defeated the British in 1756 during the Seven Years’ War. To celebrate, the French commander, Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, organized a banquet, for which his chef planned a sauce of cream and eggs. But, alas, there was no cream, so he substituted olive oil. Voilà! Sauce Mahonnaise, named for the seaport and later modified to Mayonnaise.
But there are problems with this theory. There is no contemporary verification that it happened, and the earliest record of the word mayonnaise in print is not until 1804—almost half a century after its supposed invention. It’s odd that no one mentioned it in all that time.
Another view, championed by Larousse Gastronomique, is that the word is a corruption of moyeunaise, derived from Old French moyeu, which means “eggyolk.”
Don’t care for that explanation? OK, possibly it was originally called mayennaise, after Charles de Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne, who reputedly insisted on finishing his meal of chicken with cold sauce before being defeated in the Battle of Arques in 1589. But that’s an even longer lag before the word’s first appearance in print!
Going still further back in time, the 19th-century writer Pierre Lacam suggested that in 1459 a London woman named Annamarie Turcauht stumbled upon the condiment while trying to create a custard. Who she was or how Lacam knew about her is a mystery.
Yet another theory came from French chef Antonin Carème, who thought mayonnaise derived from the verb manier, “to stir.”
Grimod de la Reynière, a gourmand writing in 1808, surmised that the original name was actually sauce Bayonnaise, from the French town of Bayonne (famous for its ham). Today Bayonnaise can mean a special kind of mayonnaise flavored with chili peppers.
In the immortal words of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, “Hold the mayo and pass the mustard.” And now for some of his tartly flavored mortal words:
Old Mitt Romney went to town,
Riding on his pony,
To find a V.P. of renown,
Who’s only slightly phony.
“The election will be nip-and-tuck,
Therefore, my Number Two
Must be someone who’ll bring me luck,
Oh, how I wonder who!
“No Sarah Palin do I seek,
‘You betchas’ don’t assuage me,
And every time she tried to speak,
She’d probably upstage me.
“Rob Portman’s just like tapioca,
Or is it mayonnaise?
I need a guy who’ll carioca,
With moves like Tom DeLay’s.
“That fellow, Marco Rubio--
He’s very big in Florida,
But he’s too much of a newbie, oh,
Outside the Senate corridor.
“The moderates have made a case
For me to choose Mitch Daniels,
But all those wing-nuts in my base,
Would prefer my cocker spaniels.
“Perhaps my man will be Paul Ryan,
But I’m not sure how to judge it—
Oh, he’s quite an up-and-coming lion,
But he lugs around that budget!
“I mustn’t overlook Chris Christie
To be my running mate,
He’s not easy to resist—he
Pulls a lot of weight.
But what if Democrats should thwart
The best-laid plans of men?
And suppose the vote winds up in court—
Now who could help me then?
“Aha! I know the ideal guy,
If shove should come to push--
My choice is Jeb, for in a tie,
You cannot beat a Bush!”