How to make a salad dressing

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In this article we tell you everything you need to know about how to make a salad dressing from scratch. We discuss three main types of salad dressings – creamy salad dressings, vinaigrette salad dressings, and fruit-based salad dressings. This article is organized into the following 4 sections.

  • Types of ingredients in salad dressings. In this section we discuss the high level categories of ingredients that are used to make salad dressings and give a few examples of ingredients in each high level category. 
  • Ratios of salad dressing ingredients. In this section we tell you the ratios at which you should combine the different types of ingredients to make a salad dressing. We provide separate instructions for making vinaigrette salad dressings, creamy salad dressings, and fruit-based salad dressings. 
  • Examples of salad dressing ingredients by type. In this section we discuss some of the most commonly used salad dressing ingredients for each broad ingredient type. We give advice on what ingredients do and do not pair well together and more. 
  • Salad dressing ideas. In this section we give some examples of specific ingredients that can be paired together to make different types of salad dressings.

A note on salt and pepper

We do not add salt and pepper to our lists of salad dressing ingredients. This is not because we do not use salt and pepper, but rather because we believe that you should finish pretty much any salad dressing you make with a dash of salt and pepper to taste. We simplify the ingredient lists and make them more skimmable by removing redundant ingredients that would otherwise appear in every single ingredient list.

Lemon poppyseed vinagrette with a spoon dripping off some of the dressing

Types of ingredients in salad dressings

We will provide a few types of ingredients in each category to give you a sense of the type of ingredients we are talking about. If you want more examples of ingredients that fall into each category, skip to the section entitled ‘Examples of salad dressing ingredients by type’. Here are the main categories of ingredients we will be dealing with. 

  • Acid. Some examples of acidic salad dressing ingredients are balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice. 
  • Fat (not creamy). Some examples of non-creamy fats that you might find in salad dressings are extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil,  and sesame oil.
  • Fat (creamy). Some examples of creamy fats you might find in salad dressings are mayo, greek yogurt, and buttermilk. 
  • Sweetener. Some examples of sweet ingredients you might find in salad dressings are honey, white sugar, and brown sugar. 
  • Spices. This category includes a mixture of spices, herbs, and aromatics. Some examples of spices and aromatic elements that might find themselves in salad dressings are garlic, chives, onion, and mustard. 

Summer berry salad with lemon poppyseed dressing

Ratios of salad dressing ingredients

In this section we provide the ratios for the different types of salad dressing ingredients (acids, fats, etc.) that should be used to make a salad dressing. We provide these ratios for 3 different types of salad dressings – vinaigrette salad dressings, creamy salad dressings, and fruit based salad dressings. 

Keep in mind that not all salad dressing ingredients are created equal and you may need to adjust the proportions of some ingredients up or down a little. For example, if you are using a strongly flavored oil like sesame oil you might want to use less oil than if you are using a more neutral oil like vegetable oil. 

That being said, the ratios we list here do work well for many types of salad dressing ingredients and they offer a great place to start. Even if you need to adjust the ratios up or down a little, the ratios we provide will get you in the right ballpark. 

Creamy salad dressings

Ratios for making creamy salad dressing

  • 6 parts fat (creamy)
  • 2 parts spices 
  • 1 part fat (not creamy)
  • 1 part acid

Example measurements for creamy salad dressing

  • 1 cup fats (creamy)
  • 1/3 cup spices
  • 2 1/2 tbsp fats (not creamy)
  • 2 1/2 tbsp acid

Tips for making a creamy salad dressing

  • When you are making a creamy salad dressing, the spices and herbs that you add to the dressing are really the star of the show. Make sure not to skimp on the spices, herbs, and aromatics. 
  • Olive oil is a common fat to add to creamy salad dressings. The strong flavor of olive oil adds another dimension to the smooth, creamy flavor of these dressings without overpowering them. 
  • Lemon juice is a common acid to add to creamy salad dressings. Lemon juice has a very fresh, bright flavor that cuts through the heavy creamy fats in these dressings and lightens them up a bit. 
  • Fresh herbs such as fresh chives, fresh parsley, and fresh dill taste great on creamy salad dressings.

How to make a creamy salad dressing

Vinaigrette salad dressing

Ratios for making vinaigrette salad dressing

  • 6 parts acid
  • 6 parts fat (not creamy)
  • 1 part sweetener
  • 1 part spices

Example measurements for a vinaigrette salad dressing

  • 1 cup acid
  • 1 cup fat (not creamy)
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sweetener
  • 2 1/2 tbsp spices 

Tips for making vinaigrette salad dressing 

  • Extra virgin olive oil is a popular oil that is used in many vinaigrette salad dressings. This is because extra virgin olive oil has a very strong flavor and it brings a lot to the table. Mild tasting vinegars like red wine vinegar can be easily overpowered be extra virgin olive oil. If you are using a mild acidic component you should either opt for a more neutral-flavored oil such as vegetable oil or decrease the amount of extra virgin olive oil used.
  • Conversely, if you are using a very strongly flavored acidic component and a neutral oil like vegetable oil you might want to increase the amount of oil in your salad dressing. 
  • Some vintagers have a sweet flavor on their own. One example of this is balsamic vinegar. If you are using a sweet vinegar as the main acidic component of your salad dressing then you might not need to add as much of the sweet component. 
  • If you are using a tart, biting acid component like lemon juice you might want to add a little extra sugar to your salad dressing. This will help balance out the tartness.

How to make a vinaigrette salad dressing

Fruit based salad dressing

Ratios for making fruit-based salad dressing

  • 6 parts fruit
  • 2 parts acid
  • 2 part fat (not creamy)
  • 1 part sweetener

Example measurements for fruit-based salad dressing

  • 1 cup fruit
  • 1/3 cup acid
  • 1/3 cup fat (not creamy)
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sweetener

Tips for making fruit based salad dressings

  • If you are using a circus fruit like lemon, orange, or yuzu I would recommend treating the dressing as a vinaigrette rather than a fruit based dressing. The juice of citrus fruits is highly acidic and it is just as acidic as some types of vinegars. 
  • If you are making an avocado-based dressing I would treat the dressing more like a creamy salad dressing. 
  • If you are making a fruit based salad dressing I would recommend using a more neutral oil such as vegetable oil or sunflower oil. When you are making fruit based dressings the fruit is really supposed to be the star of the show so you do not want to use an oil with a strong taste.    
  • When you are making fruit based dressings the fruits generally need to be blended into a liquid format. Make sure to have a blender handy. 

How to make a fruit based salad dressing

Examples of salad dressing ingredients by type

Acidic ingredients for salad dressings

  • Balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is a strongly flavored vinegar that is somewhat sweet in nature. Balsamic vinegar pairs well with strongly flavor oils like extra virgin olive oil. Salad dressings that use balsamic vinegar do not need as much sugar as salad dressings that use less sweet acidic components.
  • White balsamic vinegar. White balsamic vinegar has a flavor that is similar to balsamic vinegar but not as strong. White balsamic vinegar is not usually as sweet or syrupy as balsamic vinegar so you should add the normal amount of sugar to a white balsamic vinegar based salad dressing. 
  • Red wine vinegar. Red wine vinegar is lighter and tangier than balsamic vinegar. The flavor of red wine vinegar is more acidic and less sweet than other types of vinegar so salad dressings made with red wine vinegar usually have a little extra added sugar. Strong aromatics like shallots, garlic, and mustard go well with red wine vinegar. Red wine vinegar pairs well with neutral oils that will not overpower it. 
  • Apple cider vinegar. Unlike balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar is rarely the main flavor in a salad dressing. Apple cider vinegar is usually added as an accent to compliment other flavors. This is because apple cider is more sour and less fruity than the other types of vinegar we listed. 
  • Lemon. Lemon has a strong, bright flavor that pairs well with heavy oils like extra virgin olive oil. Lemon pairs well with refined sugars like granulated white sugar (as evidenced by its appearance in so many desserts). Lemon has a very sharp, tart flavor so you might want to add some extra sugar to lemon based salad dressings. 
  • Lime. Lime has more of a bitter undertone than lemon so it pairs well with light neutral oils in salad dressings. Limes also go better with rich, caramel-y sugars like honey and brown sugar. Because of the fresh, fruity flavor lime just is commonly used in fruit-based salad dressings. 
  • Orange. Oranges tend to pair well with the same types of salad dressing ingredients that limes pair well with. Oranges do have a stronger, fruitier flavor than limes so they can also be paired with stronger oils such as sesame oil. It is much more common for oranges to be used in marinades for meat and vegetables than salad dressings, but they are sometimes used in salad dressings. 
  • Yuzu. Yuzu is my all time favorite citrus fruit. It is an absolute treat! Yuzu is similar to orange in that it is more commonly used in marinades than salad dressings but it could be used in a salad dressing. I would recommend sticking with neutral oils and milder spices when using yuzu in a salad dressing because you really want the flavor of the fruit to shine through.

Non-creamy fats for salad dressings

  • Extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is a popular oil to use in salad dressings. Extra virgin olive oil has a bold flavor and is a rich, heavy oil. Extra virgin olive oil pairs best with strong, bold flavors such as balsamic vinegar and lemon. Olive oil is also commonly used in creamy dressings to add an extra dimension of flavor to smooth, creamy dressings. 
  • Vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is another popular choice because of how inexpensive and widely accessible it is. If a recipe for a salad dressing says to use a neutral oil then vegetable oil is a good option to reach for. 
  • Sunflower oil. This is another common example of a neutral oil. This oil pairs well with the same ingredients as other types of neutral oils like vegetable oil and avocado oil. 
  • Sesame oil. Sesame oil has a strong flavor as well. Sesame oil is most commonly used in Asian-inspired salad dressings but it can show up in other salad dressings as well.  

Creamy fats for salad dressings

  • Mayonnaise. Mayo is a common ingredient in creamy salad dressings and can sometimes be swapped out with equal parts sour cream or greek yogurt. Creamy ingredients like mayo go well with fresh herbs and spices such as fresh chives and fresh dill. They also go well with bright, fresh acidic flavors such as lemon juice. 
  • Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is a common ingredient in creamy salad dressings and can sometimes be swapped out with equal parts sour cream or mayo. Greek yogurt goes well with fresh herbs and spices and lemon juice just like mayo. 
  • Sour cream. Sour cream is a common ingredient in creamy salad dressings and can sometimes be swapped out with equal parts greek yogurt or mayo. Sour cream pairs well with fresh herbs and spices and lemon juice just like mayo and greek yogurt. 
  • Buttermilk. Buttermilk is another common ingredient in creamy salad dressings. Buttermilk cannot be swapped out with greek yogurt, mayo, and sour cream because buttermilk has a much thinner consistency than these other ingredients. Buttermilk goes well with the same types of flavors as the other dairy based fats so it is commonly used with fresh herbs and lemon juice. 
  • Avocado. Avocado is a common ingredient to reach for if you are looking for a creamy vegan dressing. Avocado oil pairs well with citrus juices like lime juice or lemon juice as well as minced garlic. Avocado pairs well with heavier, more flavorful oils like extra virgin olive oil. 
  • Parmesan cheese. Parmesan cheese can appear as an ingredient in vinaigrette salad dressings as well as creamy salad dressings. Parmesan cheese pairs particularly well with Italian spices such as oregano, thyme, basil, and parsley. It also goes well with garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes.  

Sweet ingredients for salad dressings

  • White sugar. White sugar is a sweetener that is commonly used in salad dressings. White sugar has a very neutral taste so it should be used in salad dressings that have one or two other ingredients that are really supposed to be the star of the show. For example, white sugar is a popular choice for lemon vinaigrettes and fruit-based salad dressings such as raspberry vinaigrette and strawberry vinaigrette. 
  • Brown sugar. Brown sugar has a little more of a rich, caramel-y flavor than white sugar. Brown sugar goes well in dressings that have a lot of spices and aromatic ingredients such as mustard, garlic, onion, and Italian seasoning. 
  • Honey. Honey has the strongest flavor of the sweeteners listed. The deep, rich flavor of honey works well to counteract bitterness so it is commonly used alongside lime juice. Honey also pairs well with mustard and it is common to use honey alongside dijon mustard in vinaigrettes. 

Spices, herbs, and aromatic ingredients for salad dressings

  • Mustard. Mustard is a super versatile ingredient that goes well in all sorts of salad dressings. If you are looking to add a little extra flavor to your favorite salad dressing, think about adding a little mustard. Dijon mustard and grainy brown mustard are most commonly used in salad dressings. Grainy mustards pair well with other aromatic seasonings like garlic, onion, and Italian seasoning. Dijon mustard is used most commonly in vinaigrettes. Dijon mustard pairs particularly well with shallots. 
  • Fresh herbs (chives, dill, parsley). Fresh herbs are most commonly used in creamy dressings. The light and fresh taste of these herbs helps to balance out the heavy nature of cream based dressings. Fresh herbs also go well with freshly squeezed lemon juice.  
  • Italian seasoning (oregano, thyme, parsley, basil). This is a common combination of spices that is used in salad dressings. These spices are often used in Italian vinaigrettes and creamy Italian dressings. They pair well with other fragrant ingredients like red chili flakes, garlic, and onions.  
  • Garlic. Garlic goes well in salad dressings that already have a lot of bold, fragrant flavors such as Italian seasoning, mustard, onion, and shallots. Garlic also goes well in cream based dressings. 
  • Sweet onion. Much like garlic, onions are often found in salad dressings that contain an assortment of aromatic ingredients, herbs, and spices. Onion pairs better with fresh herbs such as fresh dill and chives than garlic, which pairs better with dried herbs and italian seasoning. 
  • Shallots. Shallots are most commonly used in vinaigrettes. Shallots go particularly well with vinegars that have a light, fruity flavor such as red wine vinegar. They do not pair as well with vinegars that have sweet, syrupy flavors such as balsamic vinegar. Unlike garlic and onion, it is common for shallots to be the main aromatic ingredient in a salad dressing or for shallots to be accompanied by just one aromatic ingredient such as mustard. 
  • Red pepper flakes. Red pepper flakes are most commonly used in dressings that also contain Italian seasoning. Red pepper flakes can also be used in creamy dressings to contrast the creaminess of these dressings. 
  • Black pepper. Black pepper is kind of a jack of all trades. You can put black pepper in pretty much and salad dressings you can think of and it will enhance the flavor of the dressing.
  • Salt. Just like black pepper, salt is a jack of all trades. You should be putting salt and pepper in pretty much any salad dressing you make. 

Fruits that go well in salad dressings

  • Strawberry. Strawberries are one of the more common fruits that are put in salad dressings. Strawberries pair well with neutral oils and refined sugars that do not alter the strawberry flavor much. 
  • Raspberry. Raspberries also show up in vinaigrettes fairly regularly. Just like strawberries, raspberries pair best with light neutral oils and refined sugars. 
  • Mango. Mango can make a great base for a salad dressing. Mango is often paired with bold spicy flavors like chili flakes or freshly cut chilies that balance out the sweetness of the mango. 

Strawberry vinaigrette salad dressing

Salad dressing ideas

Creamy salad dressing

Ranch dressing. Mayo, sour cream, buttermilk, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, dill, chives, garlic powder, onion powder. 

Parmesan peppercorn peppercorn. Mayo, buttermilk, parmesan cheese, olive oil, red wine vinegar, freshly cracked peppercorns. 

Creamy Italian. Mayo, buttermilk, olive oil, red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, parsley, thyme), diced onion. 

Avocado dressing. Avocado, olive oil, lime juice, garlic, grainy brown mustard. 

Vinaigrette salad dressing

Red wine vinaigrette. Red wine vinegar, neutral oil, white sugar, shallots, dijon mustard.

Honey mustard vinaigrette. White balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, dijon mustard. 

Lemon poppy seed dressing. Lemon, olive oil, white sugar, grainy brown mustard, poppy seeds. 

Fruit-based salad dressing

Strawberry vinaigrette. Strawberries, lime juice, neutral oil, white sugar. 

Raspberry vinaigrette. Raspberries, lime juice, neutral oil, white sugar. 

Mango & chili salad dressing. Mango, lime juice, neutral oil, white sugar, chili slices or chili flakes.   

Our favorite salad dressings


Lemon poppyseed vinagrette with a spoon dripping off some of the dressing

This lemon poppyseed vinaigrette is probably our favorite salad dressing of all time! We love to use this salad dressing on traditional salads or as a dipping sauce for roasted vegetables such as roasted asparagus. 

Our favorite salads


Summer berry salad with lemon poppyseed dressing

This mixed berry salad is one of our favorite salad recipes. It features strawberries, raspberries, and raspberries. The base recipe is vegan friendly but there are also recommendations for cheese add-ons if you do not maintain a vegan or dairy free diet.

How to make a salad dressing

How to make a vinaigrette salad dressing, a creamy salad dressing, or a fruit based salad dressing.
Prep Time5 mins
Total Time5 mins
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Multiple
Diet: Gluten Free, Low Lactose, Vegan, Vegetarian
Keyword: dairy free, egg free, gluten free, nut free, paleo, vegan, vegetarian
Servings: 1 dressing

Ingredients

Creamy salad dressing

  • 6 parts creamy fats
  • 2 parts herbs, spices, & aromatics
  • 1 part non creamy fats
  • 1 part acid

Vinaigrette salad dressing

  • 6 parts acid
  • 6 parts non creamy fats
  • 1 part herbs, spices, & aromatics
  • 1 part sweetener

Fruit based salad dressing

  • 6 parts fruit
  • 2 parts acid
  • 2 parts non creamy fats
  • 1 part sweetener

Instructions

  • Combine all of the ingredients for the salad dressing and mix well.
  • If you are making a fruit based dressing, you should blend the dressing in a blender or food processor to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients.

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