This is not a shame article. We’re in a pandemic. Do whatever you need to do. But in my food-coaching, I see people buying bottled dressings mostly because they don’t realize how truly sugary and generally bad-for-you the ingredients are. But more importantly, I also see how homemade dressing gets a bad wrap, when in fact it can be easy and fast and wildly delicious.
But first, let’s begin with the shaming. Jokes!
If you were going to make salad dressing, you would make it with good quality oil. You would never go buy canola oil to make dressing. That’s because it’s flavorless and requires more added junk and sugar to make it remotely decent tasting. Not to mention, low quality oils are usually highly processed and less nutrient-dense.
If you really knew what that dressing looked like in a clear bottle without fillers, stabilizers or preservatives in it, no doubt you’d take one look and walk away. Those additives make foods look more appetizing, they help keep all the ingredients homogenous, and they keep them on the shelf longer. They also give your dressing an unpleasant, slimy mouthfeel, and the gums can give you indigestion if you have a sensitive stomach. Why do you want to drown your fresh greens in shelf-stable slime? You don’t.
When you use poor oils, and no fresh ingredients, the flavor can be pretty flat. What’s the best way to improve flavor? Sugar. Sugar makes everything more delicious and it’s cheap. Those seemingly salty and savory dressings still list sugar as a top ingredient. And as we know, sugar is essentially the devil.
When I’m coaching people, salt is a popular topic of concern for them. But I’m usually not concerned about my clients adding too much salt to homemade food. The problem is when the companies add it for you. They add WAY too much salt to salad dressing for the reasons we’ve discussed above. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, and we’re eating salad in the first place to avoid all those things.
We need real, quality oils on our salads because we need good quality fats in our diets. Most standard dressings do what they did to dairy — take out the fat and add sugar to make it taste good. If you embrace the good quality fats of less processed oil, you will enjoy your salad more.
According to a 2017-2018 study by The Association from Salad Dressings and Sauces, ranch is the most popular dressing in the country. Italian, blue cheese, thousand island, and Caesar round out the top five. Yes. Ranch is fucking delicious. But Italian ranked number two. And Italian dressing is just a basic vinaigrette, and when you make it at home, it doesn’t have vegetable oil or corn syrup or sugar or garbage. It’s also fucking delicious.
We even have a simple formula on this site for making a vinaigrette. And if you want more tips on making a better salad, we’ve got you covered with a few salad hacks and some ingredient hacks overall if you’re feeling insecure about your cooking skills, but don’t really want to try that hard.
So, there is no excuse. None, whatsoever. Oh, except a pandemic. So, you know. Do whatever you want.
Jenny is a writer, cooking coach, and host of Cliffs Notes Kitchen, where she shows how simple, bite-sized shifts with minimal effort, can create lasting changes in your health. You can find more of her articles here.