Homemade Salad Dressing

The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films.

– Paul Newman


Photo of Salad Dressing
Salad Dressing

On hot summer days like this, you really can’t beat a good salad!   They are light, easy to prepare, and you don’t need to turn on the stove!  The possibilities with salad are almost endless.

Often it might seem convenient to just buy some salad dressing from the store. But, there is another way. Making your own can be quick and easy.  There are no additives or preservatives, and you can have variety without a bunch of old salad dressing bottles cluttering your fridge door.

What’s Wrong with Store Bought Salad Dressing?

Salad dressings are like another food. You need to read the label and make sure you are comfortable eating the listed ingredients. Some brand name salad dressings may contain some questionable items.

First, here are the ingredients in homemade Caesar dressing:

Olive oil, eggs, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, anchovy paste, salt.

Obviously, this isn’t a list of all 100% natural products unless you’ve made your own Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and anchovy paste.

At least you can read and understand the list.

Now, here are the ingredients found in Kraft Creamy Caesar dressing:

Water, soybean oil, Parmesan and Romano cheese, egg yolks, vinegar, sugar, salt, modified corn starch, garlic, spices and seasonings (contains wheat and soy), anchovy paste, lactic acid, lemon juice concentrate, dried onions, natural flavour, sorbic acid, xanthan gum, poly sorbate 60, dried garlic, calcium disodium EDTA.

Let’s take a closer look at these ingredients to see what they are and why they are in the dressing.

Modified Corn Starch
Modified corn starch is a vague term found on ingredient labels. It refers to corn starch that has been treated to change its properties. How it is modified, and what properties are changed depends on how it is going to be used. In the salad dressing, it is probably used as an emulsifier, helping to keep the oil and water from separating. It may also be used as a thickener.

Spices and Seasonings

Lactic Acid
Lactic acid is used to adjust acidity. It is also used as preservative. It is naturally found in dairy products such as yogurt, kombucha and some cottage cheeses. However, when produced industrially, lactic acid is formed through fermentation. Bacteria convert glucose and sucrose to lactic acid.

Sorbic Acid
Sorbic acid is an antimicrobial agent. It is used as a preservative. It prevents the growth of mold, yeast, and fungi. Last year, Kraft joined a growing trend of companies removing additives from their products. They said that they would be removing sorbic acid from Singles™ cheese slices. Natamycin will be the replacement.

Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a food additive used to thicken or stabilize products. This makes it useful in salad dressings, especially creamy dressings. It’s name comes from the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. Xanthan gum is produced as the bacteria causes sugars to ferment.

Polysorbate 60
Polysorbates are food additives used mainly as emulsifiers. Polysorbate 60 is used to prevent the oil from separating out.

Calcium Disodium EDTA
Calcium disodium EDTA is a commonly used a preservative and sequestrant. It binds to metals. When the metals are bound (or sequestered), they are prevented from taking part in chemical reactions that would lead to colour or flavour deterioration.

How Do You Make Your Own Salad Dressing?

Easy? Yes. A basic vinaigrette salad dressing can be made using the simple ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid. In actual fact, I don’t even measure. I just adjust the quantities until I like the taste.

You can whisk all of your ingredients in a bowl, but I prefer putting everything into a small jar with a tight fitting lid and just shake it.

  1. Start with the oil.  You can use pretty much any oil with a mild or neutral flavour.  I generally like olive oil, but any oil will do. Canola oil can be used.
  2. Choose your acid.  There a literal dozens of possibilities here.  When in doubt, I usually go with balsamic vinegar, but you could use red or white wine vinegars, rice vinegar, lemon, lime, or orange juice.
  3. Add an emulsifier.  Oil and vinegar don’t mix, and will quickly separate if an emulsifier is not user.  I like to use Dijon mustard because I almost always have some on hand, but you could try dry mustard powder, honey or eggs yolks as well.
  4. Finish with some flavourings.  If you have them, chopped fresh herbs are great.  Thyme, rosemary, and oregano are particularly good.  Minced fresh or roasted garlic is another good choice.  Other possibilities include a bit of sesame oil, honey, maple syrup or anything else you think might taste good.  Salt and pepper can always be added to suit your taste.
  5. Taste it.  Is it too sour?  Add something sweet.  Too sweet? Add more acid.

If you’ve made too much dressing for one night, it can be kept in the fridge for one or two days, but note is that if olive oil is used, it will solidify.  Don’t worry.  Take it out of the fridge and let it warm up.  Shake or stir well, and it’s as good as new.

Finally, if vinaigrettes are not your favourite salad dressings, creamy dressings can be made in much the same way using mayonnaise, sour cream, or yogurt as a base.
Salad dressing infographic
Check out my salad dressing page for more recipes.

There are also some good tips over at the Fostering Change blog.

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2 Comments on “Homemade Salad Dressing

  1. Hello,
    I am attempting to recreate a dry salad dressing mix that is no longer on the market. Is there a way to determine how much of each of the ingredients should be added by weight? The total equals 18gms and makes 8 ounces of dressing when combined with 120ml’s of oil and the remaining ingredients being water and vinegar.

    Specifically trying to figure out how much lactic acid to add.

    Sugar, Salt, Blue Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes), Garlic (Dried), Whey, Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes), Spice, Maltodextrin, Onions (Dried), Xanthan Gum, Parsley (Dried), Sodium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid.

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