Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Mayonnaise Label Collection: Kewpie (J1)

Having seen – in last Saturday’s post - one of the best pre-fab Mayonnaises ever bottled (Dutch Duyvis), let us now proceed with one of the most astonishing, extraordinary and bizarre brands to come from the other side of the globe:

J1. Kewpie Mayonnaise. Frankfurt, July 2000.
No price, 500 grs. (2012 price: approximately € 6)

The Japanese belong to the yellow races. There is nothing wrong with that.

Mayonnaise is a yellow sauce. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Mayonnaise (On the contrary!)

Yet birds of a feather do not always successfully flock together. This brand, which for some obscure reason known only to its importer “JFC International”, found its way to a German airport supermarket, might as well be re-baptised Hara-Kiri Mayonnaise; for the correct translation of ‘Hara-Kiri’ is ‘cutting the belly’. And that it does, dear reader, most convincingly!

Because of the wasabi mustards used in its manufacture, Kewpie Mayonnaise is immensely spicy (Banzai!! cries the palate). It is sour like nitric acid (Morituri te salutant!! answer the taste buds) due to a merciless cocktail of yuzu juice and rice vinegar, sharp as samurai katanas. It overwhelms the flavour of anything it is eaten with – no, wait, worse: like a high-tech guided taste-killer, it assassinates the tang of every dish that inadvertently finds itself on the same dinner table!

All this is, to put it mildly, somewhat in contradiction to the cuddly, innocent babe-style image that the brand tries to cultivate, witness that little android-fellow printed on the cellophane wrapping of the plastic squeeze bottle. To put it in a nutshell: this sauce is so very strong and spicy that the last thing you want to do is to feed it to your toddler or your underage child! As a matter of fact, it is so hot it really ought to be X-rated.

So where does this unlikely logo come from? Well, I guess it roots in that same habit of Optimistic Denial that induces factory hands in the Japanese chemical industry to start the working day singing cheerful poetic company songs about blooming flowers and twittering songbirds, as they contemplate, outside, the deep brown, barren wasteland of the local Ruhr that their industry has left. 

The Kewpie logo – it turns out - was adopted from the plastic Kewpie dolls, a kind of winged Manniken Piss without the pee (despite the name), based on Ms Rose O’Neill’s 1909 illustrations in the Ladies’ Home Journal. Soon after publication, these figurines became so very famous and popular, that all sorts of products were named after it, like Kewpie Hamburgers in the USA, Kewpie condoms in Sweden (1), and – ever since 1925 – this Kewpie Mayonnaise manufactured by the Q.P. (sic) Corporation, a Japanese food manufacturer. All of which, if you ask me, only adds absurdity to injury of your gastric system…

Mannikin and Mayo from the Kewpie site

But what is the harsh truth? The harsh truth is that hosts of honest Mayonnaise addicts chose this dreadfully over-spiced sauce as their absolute favourite brand! I find this hard to believe and more difficult to accept, but there you have it. As far as I am concerned, the only truly good quality of the brand is its texture. That comes close to perfect. When one squeezes the bottle, a true and most decorative star-shape emerges. But does one ever want to squeeze the bottle? Not if one can help it! For it is made from a soft, fluffy, slightly greasy plastic, as horrid to the touch as it is dreadful to behold, which gives the inescapable impression that one is cruelly pinching one’s sister’s favourite doll in forbidden places, or handling a bottle of Rising-Sun-tan oil.

As for its chemical composition – and I suspect that several mad scientists have contributed to that one – it is and remains a mystery. Only those with a working knowledge of Japanese may figure it out from the label. But please, Oh ye kind and merciful people with a working knowledge of Japanese: 

Please don’t tell us?!! 

It also comes is bottles nowadays

P.S.: Kewpie Mayonnaise is not widely available in stores. The truly adventurous and the mentally insane may however go search the internet, where a large variety of unscrupulous postal order companies offer to sell you squeeze bottles of 350, 500 and 1000 grams!  

P.P.S. Those who wish to learn more about the Kewpie doll, visit this Kewpie site, from which I pinched the third picture above (with apologies...). And those who wish to have a special visual experience ought to type 'Kewpie Mayonnaise' into the Google Image search machine and see what comes up. The things people do with Mayonnaise! Astonishing!

(1) Explicable, since the name Kewpie derived from Cupid, the Latin winged god of erotic love, and the Swedes are animals when it comes to makin’ whoopee.


  1. Thanks for this post, dear Alfred! Keep up the good work. I appreciate your Linnaean work on maionesa. I noticed you seem to have a systematic numbering for the different entries in your mayography. As an ex-librarian (well... once a librarian, always a librarian) I am interested in it. Could you elaborate in a future post on the systematics?

    Your description of the taste of the Kewpie Mayonnaise reminds me of the taste of the French Bouton d'or I recently told you about, though this one seem even more exaggerated.

    Cheers, Je R

  2. Dear Jerry,

    Thank you for your positive reaction.

    Indeed there is a system of categories, but I fear it is far more simplistic than you, as a genetic librarian, suspect or hope. The labels n the collections are ordered according to country of origin of the mayonnaise. Thus, H. stands for Holland, and J. for Japan. The number that follows is, I fear, sadly chronological, indicating only the order in which I discovered, bought and ate the various sauces.

    In the near future, I guess I will add a shortlist of abbreviations to my previous post called Manifesto. Thank you for pointing out this oversight.

    As for Bouton d'Or versus Kewpie: I know Bouton d'Or in its Portuguese variety, and I assure you that it comes nowhere near the gastronomic attack of Kewpie. Do try it for yourself. You will not know what hits you. Kewpie belongs, in fact, to chemical warfare. Which does not imply it is a bad Mayo, of course!

    Yours, Alfred.