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What makes an aioli sauce?

Aioli is a rich, garlicky mayonnaise that originates from the Provence region of France. It’s made by emulsifying olive oil and egg yolks with garlic and sometimes lemon juice or vinegar. The result is a creamy, pungent sauce that goes well with everything from grilled meats and fish to boiled new potatoes. But what exactly makes aioli aioli? Let’s take a closer look at the key ingredients and techniques that give this sauce its distinctive flavor and texture:


Garlic is essential to aioli and is what gives the sauce its robust flavor. Aioli typically calls for raw garlic that is finely minced, crushed, or pureed. Using raw garlic ensures the sauce has that bright, pungent bite. Slowly whisking the minced garlic into the emulsion is what infuses the olive oil with intense garlic flavor. The amount of garlic can range from 2-12 cloves depending on how garlicky you want your aioli. Just a couple cloves will give it a delicate garlic undertone, while 10 or more will make it intensely garlicky.

Olive oil

Olive oil is the base oil used to make aioli. Traditional recipes call for extra virgin olive oil, which has a fruity, peppery flavor that pairs nicely with the garlic. Olive oil is also key to achieving aioli’s rich, velvety texture. As the olive oil is slowly drizzled into the emulsified egg yolks, it creates a thick, luxurious consistency. The quality of the olive oil matters, as lower grade oils can result in a greasy, unstable emulsion. Splurging on a good extra virgin olive oil is worth it for aioli with a balanced flavor and creamy texture.

Egg yolks

Egg yolks are the key emulsifier that allow aioli to form a thick, stable emulsion. Egg yolks contain lecithin, a natural emulsifier that blends the oil and water-based ingredients together. To make aioli, egg yolks are typically blended with garlic, lemon juice, and a dash of salt before the olive oil is slowly drizzled in. This lets the emulsifiers in the yolks disperse throughout the oil and bind the ingredients together. Using whole eggs can make aioli dense and clumpy, so sticking with just the yolks makes for optimal texture.

Neutral oil

In addition to olive oil, some aioli recipes call for a small amount of neutral oil like canola or grapeseed. Adding a bit of neutral oil can help balance out the strong olive oil flavor. But more importantly, it stabilizes the emulsion so the sauce doesn’t break or curdle. About 10-20% neutral oil is often used along with the olive oil to reinforce the emulsion.


Lemon juice and vinegar add a bright, acidic tang that balances out the rich oil and pungent garlic. Traditionally, aioli is seasoned with lemon juice for a fresh citrus flavor. White wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, or sherry vinegar are also commonly used. The acidity helps stabilize the emulsion while cutting through the oiliness. A teaspoon or two is usually enough to provide an acidic note without overpowering the other flavors.


Seasoning with salt is vital for bringing out the flavors in aioli. The salt enhances the garlic, lemon, and olive oil so they really sing. Salt is also necessary from a food science standpoint, as it helps the egg yolks swell up and form a stable matrix for the emulsion. Typically a teaspoon or more of salt is whisked into the yolks at the beginning. Taste as you go, adding pinches more until it tastes well-seasoned.


Making aioli is all about proper technique. Successful emulsification is key, which takes patience and a careful hand when adding the oil. Oil should be drizzled in very slowly at first while constantly whisking the yolks. If added too quickly, the emulsion can break. The goal is to disperse the tiny oil droplets throughout the yolks so they stay suspended evenly in the sauce. As the aioli starts to thicken, the oil can be added a little faster while whisking continuously. Using a large bowl gives room for the sauce to expand and emulsify properly. Taking your time is the best way to prevent a broken, greasy mess.

The Step-By-Step Process

While aioli recipes vary slightly, the general method for making homemade aioli is as follows:

1. Prepare the garlic

Peel and finely mince, crush, or puree the garlic cloves. Allowing the minced garlic to sit for 10-15 minutes will activate the flavor enhancing alliinase enzymes.

2. Combine egg yolks, garlic, and seasoning

In a large bowl, whisk together 2-3 egg yolks, minced garlic, lemon juice or vinegar, and salt. The salt and acid will help denature proteins in the yolks for better emulsification.

3. Slowly whisk in the oils

Gradually add in the olive oil drop by drop, whisking constantly to form an emulsion. Continue whisking while slowly streaming in the olive and neutral oil until thickened.

4. Taste and adjust seasoning

Once thick and emulsified, taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Add more salt, lemon, or garlic to taste.

5. Decant into a bowl or jar

Transfer the aioli to a bowl or jar. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to 4 days.

Tips for Making Perfect Aioli

Follow these tips for aioli that comes out emulsified and full of flavor every time:

  • Use ultra fresh, high-quality eggs and olive oil
  • Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature
  • Work in a wide, shallow bowl to maximize surface area
  • Go slow adding the oil and whisk vigorously
  • Use a neutral oil along with the olive oil
  • Start with less oil and add more as needed
  • Taste frequently and season thoughtfully
  • Stop whisking as soon as the aioli thickens
  • Refrigerate for storage to prevent breaking

Troubleshooting Common Aioli Problems

Even when using proper technique, aioli can sometimes break or turn out incorrectly. Here are some common issues and how to fix them:

Broken emulsion

If the aioli looks oily, watery, or curdled, the emulsion has broken. Try whisking in 1 teaspoon water or another egg yolk to re-emulsify. Gradually whisk in more oil.

Not thick enough

For a thicker aioli, add more egg yolk or neutral oil. Make sure to whisk vigorously when adding the oil.

Too garlicky

If the garlic flavor is overpowering, stir in a spoonful of yogurt or mayonnaise to mellow it out.

Too acidic

If your aioli tastes too sour, slowly whisk in a bit more oil which will balance the acidity.

Oily texture

If your aioli is greasy, you may have added the oil too fast. Try whisking in a touch of water or lemon juice to liven it up.

How to Use Aioli

Once you’ve mastered how to make aioli, it’s time to enjoy it! Here are some of the best ways to use this versatile sauce:

As a sandwich spread

Slather aioli on a sandwich for a flavor boost. It’s delicious on turkey, roasted vegetables, grilled cheese, and more.

To dip fries or vegetables

Use aioli for dunking French fries, sweet potato fries, artichokes, asparagus tips, or other veggies.

In pasta or grain salads

Stir a few spoonfuls of aioli into farro, noodle, or potato salads for a creamy dressing.

As a seafood topping

Dollop aioli over grilled or poached fish, shrimp, mussels, crab cakes, and other seafood.

To roast potatoes

Toss cubed potatoes with aioli, oil, and herbs before roasting for delicious garlic-rosemary potatoes.

As a burger topping

In place of ketchup or mayo, spread aioli on your favorite burgers.

To season grilled meats

Use aioli as a baste for grilled chicken, pork chops, ribs, lamb, or other meats.

As a dip for artichokes

Serve chilled aioli alongside steamed or grilled artichokes for dipping the leaves.

To make rémoulade

Amp up aioli with mustard, capers, pickles, and herbs to make a classic rémoulade sauce.

To top crostini

Top toasted baguette slices with aioli, cheese, roasted peppers, or other ingredients for easy appetizers.

In place of mayo or sour cream

Up the flavor in chicken or tuna salad by swapping in aioli for the mayo. Use it to top baked potatoes too.

Fun Aioli Flavor Variations

Plain garlic aioli is just the beginning. You can infuse aioli with all kinds of flavors by adding extra ingredients. Get creative with mix-ins like:

  • Roasted garlic
  • Saffron
  • Chipotle chilies
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Truffle oil
  • Capers
  • Smoked paprika
  • Harissa
  • Curry powder
  • Roasted red peppers

The possibilities are endless for jazzing up basic aioli!

Storing and Freezing Aioli

To extend the shelf life of homemade aioli:

  • Refrigerate aioli for up to 4 days
  • Freeze aioli for 1-2 months
  • Store in an airtight container
  • Prevent discoloration with a bit of lemon juice
  • Cover surface directly with plastic wrap before sealing

The garlic flavor will mellow over time. Give aioli a taste before serving and adjust seasoning if needed.


Real aioli is all about technique and the quality of the core ingredients: garlic, olive oil, egg yolks, and acidity. Taking the time to make aioli by hand results in a luxurious emulsion brimming with bright garlic flavor. Aioli is extremely versatile, pairing beautifully with vegetables, seafood, meat, and more. Play around with unique aioli variations by adding different flavor combinations. With a little practice, you can master the art of making silky, aromatic aioli at home.