Friday, November 9, 2012


The Mandoline: A Culinary History

The mandoline was invented in the late 18th century by Doctor Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (better known for his eponymous creation) and named after his ex-girlfriend, Mandy. Marie Antoinette, struck by their cunning charms and miniature stature, ordered that one be placed in every room of the Petit Trianon, for doll executions. Following her death in 1793, her nephew, Francis II, asked for and received his aunt's remaining mandolines (four having been irreparably damaged during their attempted escape from Paris.)

"This morning, it slid sideways and took my hand with it–avulsing the top digit of my pinky finger." —Savvy Skeptic

Francis's father (Leopold II) having abolished capital punishment in the Holy Roman Empire since 1786, the mandolines were kept for purely sentimental and aesthetic reasons, remaining in Francis' possession until his sudden death in 1835. His exsanguinated corpse was found, one hand still clutching the most cherished of the six remaining mandolines (eight having been irreparably damaged during their time in Vienna).

"The safety food holder does not slide easily nor does it do a good job of holding the food. So my zucchini, etc. slips and slides all over the place while I'm trying to cut the vegetables and avoid maiming myself on those blades." —clarita apple

An autopsy suggested that Francis's death was likely due to a fever, with severe blood-loss (probably from nail-biting) being only a contributing factor. Blame was placed on his private physician, who became the first man to receive the Empire's newly-reestablished death penalty. His final words: "the blade! the blade!" have been widely interpreted to refer to "blatt," the German word for "leaf," doubtlessly spoken in self-castigation for his failure to apply the correct poultice to the late Emperor.

"The insructions are only about 30 per cent in English, the parts you really need are in German. It slices 95 percent of the piece, then. You have to dig out the rest between razor sharp blades." —backroadsrider

It was well over a full century afterwards before the serendipitous discovery of the mandoline's culinary utility; a young page at Hofburg Palace, gingerly attempting to clean rust from the one remaining instrument (five having been irreparably damaged during the First World War), accidentally removed his index finger.

"I am typing this w/ my left hand because during my second use of this product last night, the food holder slipped and I sliced off a large part of the tip of my index finger." —Nancy A. Thome

On seeing the smooth, delicate slices, the imperial chef carefully washed the blood from the blade and attempted to recreate the effect using a carrot. News of his success spread swiftly across Europe, and within a matter of months the mandoline enjoyed a ubiquitous presence in both stately kitchens and private homes.

"It feels cheap and while opening it one of the razor sharp blade sets dropped out of the weak plastic case and just missed my foot. A knife can be dangerous but at least its clear where the sharp end is. This is just a cheap plastic case with jagged blades everywhere." —Charles India

"Julienning" (named after Julien, the unfortunate Hofburg page) continues to be the knife cut of choice for the discerning chef. With extraordinary ease, these thin, uniform portions of vegetable (and occasionally meat and fish) can be incorporated into any salads or gratins. What if Francis II could have foreseen the strange, second life of his beloved toy? What would Marie Antoinette herself have thought? Sadly, we can only speculate.

"Don't buy this product if you value digits and appendages. I nearly lopped off my thumb (lots of blood EVERYWHERE) using the safety guard. This is perhaps the most evil appliance ever created. I think the germans are trying to get back at us!!! DO NOT BUY IF YOU WANT TO LIVE." —Dan Glunt

(Mandoline pictured not necessarily immediately fatal. Purchase at your own risk.)

29 Comments / Post A Comment


Sliced off part of the tip of my right hand ring finger and got some nail, too. Couldn't save the bit that came off, so now my finger is ever so slightly angled.

I am also now terrified of eggplant.


@chrysopoeia Three weeks ago today I got the end of my pinkie while slicing cabbage and almost fainted. Mandolines are the devil's utensils.

Kristen Nobis Cervantes@facebook

@chrysopoeia That's a feature, not a bug: beveled fingers! All the rage in Europe I hear.


One of the most contentious arguments I can recall between my parents was over my mother's desire to purchase a mandoline. She sends herself herself to the emergency room for cooking injuries once every few years, and once did it using a cheese grater.

That being said, we have the OXO one, and so far, no major injuries (currently intact fingers crossed).


I love my mandoline! This is my favorite lazy lady healthy dinner recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/zucchini-carpaccio-recipe/index.html

I mandoline drunk WAAAAAY more than I ought to, but the OXO ones are pretty great and easy to use--don't cheap out if you buy one, get a good one so you don't have to worry about jams and accidents as much. If I'm doing something small like brussel sprouts I just use a food processor...

Oh, squiggles

@parallel-lines That recipe is very intriguing to me. Thanks for sharing it!


@parallel-lines - It is my never-ending shame as a recreational cook that I do not own a decent mandoline. Having bought a cheap one, I can verify that they are, in fact, worthless - no point in even having one if it is not decent.

My other shame is not having a food processor. I just don't have the damned shelf space, even though a proper, good sized cuisinart would save me countless hours.


@leon s This one is a bit of an investment but the blade is removeable/replaceable so it stays sharp:


@leon s Me too. Although I do have a food processor, it lives in the cabinet above my fridge, behind the stacks of other stuff that are up there. No counter space + no dishwasher = washing sharp things is always an adventure.


I love my mandoline so so much, and it's about 20 bones on Amazon.

It's sharp and sturdy and the food pusher has little tines that hold onto the vegetable so you don't lose skin. And it folds up and fits in a storage box.

This summer I used it so shred about a million zucchini and make faux Thai papaya salad.


@parallel-lines Respectfully disagree about the OXO mandoline! I have one that can't slice a durn thing. I finally got OXO to send me a replacement and that one doesn't work either. I've become an evangelist for a sharp knife and a steady hand.

Oh, squiggles

They are terrifying to use, but the only way to get such thin slices! I am the slowest person on a mandoline. I only want to make that mistake once!

FYI, onions cut paper thin will caramelize quickly and easily!


I'll never forget my friend playing the violin as part of the orchestra for a Christmas musical with his left thumb sticking up from the neck swaddled in about six inches of gauze after they sewed his thumb tip back on. I had never heard of a mandoline slicer before and still have yet to use one.


ok, currently on my walk to work there is a festival happening with lots of little stalls selling stuff, and EVERY DAY i walk past one with the guy doing advanced mandoline demos, and damnit if the mountains of paper-thin vegetable slices haven't totally convinced me over the past week. i thiiiiiink i'm going to buy one, but i'm so scared!

Kristen Nobis Cervantes@facebook

@plonk I have the Pampered Chef one and I haven't yet sliced anything off. I did have to have someone SHOW me how to use it, but once I did that, it made sense.


I got a cheap one at BB&B and promptly slices off an angled corner off my right ring finger. It still looks funny.


@Hollydoll85 Twinsies!


My grandma let me use a mandolin when I was ten and I promptly sliced off the corner of my right index finger. Blood all over the cucumbers! I probably should have gone to the emergency room, but didn't and then it got infected--it was this whole big thing.

Now the only way I will use one is if I am wearing an oven mitt on the hand I am slicing with. It seems to work pretty well.


I just finished using mine HOW DID YOU KNOW? (French onion soup!) I have injured myself on it once, but that was because I was trying to push some apple through it with my finger. Could've told you that was going to happen.

Valley Girl

I've never been injured by my mandoline but it might be because I'm extra careful, always thinking of Ramona Quimby and her bloody carrot salad.


As a professional cook, I use or see someone using a mandoline nearly daily, I've never cut myself (badly) with one, but am terrified of them. Especially the ones I see in stores with the V shaped blade! I can't suppress a shudder just thinking about it! Even though I am currently finding it hard to type because of a knife cut on my left index finger, I don't find knifes scary at all. (actually, that just made me think of an explanation! If I cut myself with a mandoline it will be on my working hand not my idle hand and therefore much more serious!)


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Nicole, this is the best historical review of a kitchen utensil I have ever seen. Will you perhaps be covering the sad tale of the Swedish mother who invented the cheese grater for her consumptive son, under the guidance of an English quack who assured her that "piecemeal, in the smallest dimension, cheese will succor and revive your ailing child"?


A bit late to this thread, but: my mom wears a small protective glove when using her mandoline. I believe it is made of steel mesh, almost like mini chain mail.


i own the particular brand of mandolin you've excerpted those reviews from. you know, the one that currently has a FOUR AND A HALF STAR RATING on amazon, with over 500 reviews, nearly 400 of which were 5 stars, and only 22 of which were one star. what's up with the cherry-picking?

Samreen Khan@twitter

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