Use this guide to make your own salad dressing at home. Homemade dressings can be just as delicious as they are simple and are a great way to turn an average salad into something special. I’ve also included tips on how to maximize the nutrition in dressings, as well as flavour variations for the best tasting dressing at home.
I love converting salad skeptics, all it really takes is a delicious dressing! Let’s face it, there is nothing exciting about a runny and bland dressing. The trick to a delicious salad dressing is getting the ratio of creamy fats and tart vinegar or citrus just right, and don’t forget the healthy and aromatic additions such as garlic, mustard or ginger. See below for my top tips on how to make the best salad dressing!
Guide On Making Your Own Salad Dressing
- Why Make A Homemade Dressing?
- Nutritional Benefits
- A Guide To Making Your Own Salad Dressing
- Making A Dressing From Scratch
- More Recipes
Why Make A Homemade Dressing?
They Are A Nutritious Vessel
Making your own salad dressings is one of the easiest ways to boost the nutrient content of a meal. Dressings should be more than just a side thought, they can be a great vessel to add nutritious ingredients that would otherwise be more difficult to get.
Dressings a great way to add in fermented foods and ingredients. Fermented foods are rich in live-active cultures that are beneficial for gut health. See – 5 Tips On How To Improve Gut Health Naturally – Prebiotics, Probiotics and Fermented Foods. Some of my favourite fermented foods to add to dressings include:
- Miso paste – adds a salty, savoury, umami flavour
- Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar – great as a replacement for regular vinegar
- Kefir or Yogurt – a good alternative to mayonnaise
- Fermented pickle juice (not the conventional stuff) – use in place of vinegar
Want some inspiration on how to add a fermented food to your next dressing? Try this totally delicious Japanese Salad Bowls Recipe with Miso Tahini Dressing.
Dressings are a way to add in prebiotic foods; prebiotics are food for the probiotics. Prebiotic foods are high in the type of fibre that our healthy bacteria love to eat. See 5 Tips On How To Improve Gut Health Naturally – Prebiotics, Probiotics and Fermented Foods for more info on the topic. Some great prebiotic sources that can be added to salad dressings include:
- Green onion
I love blending green onion, shallot, garlic, cilantro and lots of lime for a tangy Mexican dressing. This Baked Tofu Kale Quinoa Salad Recipe with Glory Bowl Dressing uses fresh garlic for a healthy a prebiotic dose, as well as apple cider vinegar for the bacteria itself.
Healthy fats not only add that creamy texture that we love in salad dressings, but they also offer important omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial omega-6 fatty acid (gamma linolenic acid) and monounsaturated fats. It is a good idea to try to have a source of fat with each meal to ensure adequate absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. Some great healthy fats for dressings include:
- Avocado – Try blending avocado with cilantro and lime for a Green Goddess Dressing
- Tahini – My favourite seed butter for salad dressings thanks to its neutral flavour
- Peanut Butter – I love peanut satay salad bowls, simply blend peanut butter with garlic, ginger and lime
- Almond Butter – Try blending with some coconut milk, ginger and lime for a tasty dressing
- Olive Oil – My top oil choice for health benefits, highest in monounsaturated fats
- Avocado Oil – Also high in monounsaturated fats, and has a more neutral flavour than olive oil
- Flaxseed Oil – An important ingredient for those following a plant-based diet (see How To Get Your Omega-3s For Vegetarians and Vegans )
- Mayonnaise – Yes, a good quality mayonnaise made from olive oil can be a healthy choice
- Eggs – Make your own Caesar salad dressing
- Cashews – Soak cashews for 6 hours and use as a creamy base for a vegan mayonnaise alternative
- Hemp Hearts – Another great way to get that vegan creamy texture, without mayonnaise
Use your dressing as a means to add in some additional nutrient-rich foods. Try adding:
- Ginger – Flavour and antioxidant benefit – try it in my Japanese Salad Bowls Recipe with Miso Tahini Dressing
- Fresh Herbs – High in antioxidants and plant polyphenols, blend leftover fresh herbs into your dressing
- Citrus – Try adding vitamin C rich fresh lime juice in place of vinegar
- Turmeric – Use for its bright colour and anti-inflammatory benefit
Homemade dressings can be a great source of fermented foods, prebiotic fibres and healthy fats, and they also eliminate the need for many unhealthy additives. The things we want to avoid in store-bought dressings include:
- Highly processed omega-6 rich oils including safflower oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil. These can also leave a greasy taste in your mouth.
- Added refined sugar
- Added preservatives and stabilizers
Guide On Making Homemade Salad Dressing
How To Make A Salad Dressing Creamy
Traditionally, the creaminess comes from mayonnaise and oil. Plant-based options for creaminess include tahini, other nut and seed butters or avocado. Try adding 1 1/2 tbsp of tahini to your next dressing recipe.
How To Make A Salad Dressing Thicker
The thickness of a dressing comes from the oil. The longer it is left to set, the thicker the oil in the vinegar will become. Adding tahini or mayonnaise can also make a thicker dressing.
How To Make A Salad Dressing Thinner
There is no problem with adding some water to your salad dressing recipe to make it thinner. I do so here in my Kale Quinoa Salad with Glory Bowl Dressing and my Japanese Salad Bowls with Miso Tahini Dressing. Adding an alternative liquid source such as vinegar, lemon or lime will also make the salad dressing thinner, though it will also change the flavour.
How To Make A Salad Dressing with Avocado
To make an avocado salad dressing, remove the skin and seed from the avocado and using a spoon scoop the avocado into the blender along with other ingredients. I like adding lime juice, fresh cilantro and salt to my avocado dressing.
How To Make A Vegan Salad Dressing
You can make most salad dressings vegan.
- Use vegan mayonnaise, or soaked and blended cashews or hemp, in place of regular mayonnaise
- Use miso paste in place of anchovy paste
- Use nutritional yeast in place of parmesan cheese
Want to try to make your own vegan dressing with hemp hearts in place of mayonnaise? Try this Vegan Ranch Dressing with Hemp Hearts.
How To Make A Salad Dressing with Lemon
Lemon can be used in any salad dressing recipe in place of vinegar. Lemon and other citrus fruit will be more acidic tasting than a rice wine vinegar, but less than a distilled white vinegar.
How To Make A Dressing Less Acidic
The best trick for cutting that acidic taste is adding mustard and honey to balance out the flavours. If it is particularly acidic, try adding some more tahini which can mellow the acidity further.
How To Make A Dressing With Oil and Vinegar
A traditional vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Often an emulsifier is used to help combine the oil and vinegar. Mustard is one of the best emulsifiers, as are eggs (think mayonnaise!). Honey can also work, as well as miso paste.
How To Make A Dressing Without Olive Oil
If there is a creamy base to your salad dressing, such as avocado or tahini, the oil can be omitted. See my Kale Quinoa Salad with Glory Bowl Dressing and my Japanese Salad Bowls with Miso Tahini Dressing for examples of dressings that use water (oil can be omitted in both).
How To Make A Dressing With Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can be difficult to work with in a salad dressing because it is solid at room temperature. It also has a very strong and distinct coconut flavour. To use coconut oil in a salad dressing, heat before use and make just enough dressing for serving.
How To Make A Dressing Without Tahini
Trying using sunflower seed butter which also has a neutral flavour. For some recipes, almond butter or peanut butter can be used to make a salad dressing without tahini.
Using Balsamic Vinegar
Use in small amounts in dressing, to not overpower other flavours. It is best when cut with another lighter vinegar, such as red wine vinegar – try a ratio of 1 part balsamic vinegar to 4 parts red wine vinegar in your dressing. See my recipe for The Best Lentil Salad Recipe with Balsamic Red Wine Vinaigrette.
Making a Dressing From Scratch
Choose a Vinegar for Your Salad Dressing Recipe
- Balsamic Vinegar – Balsamic vinegar has a deep, complex and interesting flavour. A lengthy ageing time creates a more concentrated, thicker, sweeter and darker vinegar. Use smaller amounts and cut it with red wine vinegar (see The Best Lentil Salad Recipe with Balsamic Red Wine Vinaigrette)
- Wine Vinegar – Ranges from white to red; they are not as intense as balsamic vinegar and are a common base for many dressings
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Can be used in place of wine vinegar, choose unpasteurized for the added benefit of the live active cultures
- Rice Vinegar – Use this slightly sweeter and lighter vinegar in Asian style dressings such as this Baked Tempeh Asian Cabbage Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing
Try this Baked Tempeh Asian Cabbage Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing which uses rice wine vinegar, along with flavour packed sesame oil and ginger.
Choose A Healthy Oil
- Olive Oil – Extra-virgin will have a delicate flavour, so best not to overpower with other flavours
- Avocado Oil – Not as strong of a flavour as olive oil, a good choice for healthy monounsaturated fat
- Grape Seed Oil – The most neutral flavour, contains higher amounts of omega-6 fatty acids so have in smaller amounts
- Sesame Seed Oil – Packs a lot of flavours, and goes well in Asian style dressings
Choose a Creamy Base
If you want to go past a simple vinaigrette, choose a creamy base:
- Tahini – My go-to for a creamy and a mellow flavour
- Sunflower Seed Butter – Also relatively neutral in flavour, and just as creamy as tahini
- Avocado – Great for Mexican salad dressings
- Mayonnaise – Choose a good quality one, ideally based on olive oil
- Hemp or Cashews – Soaked and blended, these offer a creamy plant-based base for dressings
Bonus – Choose Something Fermented
Using unpasteurized apple cider vinegar as the acidic additive to a dressing is the easiest way to ensure at least one fermented food per day is consumed for a healthy gut (see My Favourite Fermented Food Recipes – 6 Recipes Using Ferments!). Miso paste is another great fermented option for dressings.
Bonus – Choose Something Savoury or ‘Umami’
The fifth and often overlooked taste is savoury or umami. Dressing ingredients that offer the umami flavour include soy sauce (or tamari), nutritional yeast and miso. Capers, anchovies and parmesan cheese also have the umami flavour.
Want More Recipes?
Looking for more plant-based recipes? Here are my favourite recipes using ferments – My Favourite Fermented Food Recipes – 6 Recipes Using Ferments! Check out my Complete and Comprehensive One-Week Vegan Meal Plan below.
Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition, and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.