I recently decided that it was time to look at the ingredient lists of salad dressings, whatever that means, so I picked four popular brands to examine. You will be very interested to learn what I discovered. The first ingredient in the first product I picked up, Wishbone Italian dressing, was water. Frankly, that seems like a very expensive way to buy water. And surprising, too, given that Italian dressing consists primarily (and traditionally) of olive oil and vinegar. Not Wishbone Italian dressing, though. After water, the ingredient list contains soybean oil, canola oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, dehydrated garlic, onion, and red bell pepper, maltodextrin, xantham gum, spices, autolyzed yeast extract, EDTA, natural flavor, lemon juice concentrate, caramel color, and annatto, which colors the dressing yellow to make it seem more like olive oil, which it does not contain.
The second product I picked up was Hidden Valley Fat-Free Ranch. Like Wishbone Italian, the ingredient list starts with water, followed by corn syrup, maltodextrin, sugar, and modified food starch (usually from corn or wheat). These are all different ways of saying “sugar,” for which there are an infinite number of reasons to limit your intake. I’m not against treats, but I am against hiding them in what passes for real food. The sixth ingredient in Hidden Valley Fat-Free Ranch is buttermilk, but there can’t be much because, despite the fact that buttermilk is a protein-rich food, the nutrition information label lists its protein content at 0 grams.
Next I looked at Kraft Catalina, a sweet, tomato-based dressing. The first ingredient is high-fructose corn syrup, followed by water and tomato paste (called “tomato puree”), soybean oil, vinegar, salt and 12 more ingredients that constitute less than 2% of the total, including red dye 40, yellow dye 6, and blue dye 1, which, I imagine, likely account for the product’s remarkably intense orange color. Two tablespoons of Kraft Catalina contain 10 grams of carbohydrate, 9 grams of which are sugar. Catalina is like pouring low-quality pancake syrup on your salad.
Finally, I examined Kraft Balsamic Vinegar, and, once again, the first ingredient was water. Then came “vegetable oils” (further defined as “canola, soybean, extra virgin olive oil”), followed by “balsamic vinegar” (wine vinegar, grape juice, water), and a long list of ingredients each of which constituted less than 2% of the total.
In other words, the majority of commercial salad dressings drown your fresh, delicious, nutritious greens and other colorful produce in manufactured nonsense. Water? Corn syrup? They waste your money, and convert your lovely salad to a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The only impressive thing about commercial salad dressings is the markup.
Need a better alternative for when you’re in a hurry? First, throw away those salad dressings. Instead, when you are in the mood for a salad, add approximately 3 tablespoons of olive oil to approximately 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, mix, pour over your lettuce greens (washed, dried, and shredded), toss well, and eat.
And what other alternatives are there? I picked out a few of my favorite salad dressing recipes for you. These dressings are all flavorful and nutritious.
1) Make your own balsamic vinaigrette by combining 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, 2 tsp. soy sauce or tamari, 3 garlic cloves mashed to a pulp with 1/2 tsp. coarse salt (using a fork or mortar & pestle), and fresh ground pepper to taste. Combine ingredients in a small bowl, mix or whisk until blended, and enjoy. Refrigerate the remainder for up to a week.
2) Tahini Salad Dressing (one of my long-time favorites) is really delicious, whether on simple greens or on a Lebanese salad (composed of 2 small diced cucumbers, 2 small diced tomatoes, 3 diced radishes, 1 sliced green onion, 10 sliced mint leaves, and 1/3 bunch chopped parsley). Make it with 1 minced clove of garlic, 3/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste, available everywhere), 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 2 Tbsp. olive oil, with salt to taste. This dressing will keep in the refrigerator for just a couple days, so plan to use it up soon.
3) Classic French Vinaigrette is made by whisking together 1/2 cup white vinegar with 1 Tbsp. honey, 1 Tbsp. prepared Dijon-style mustard, 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, 1 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. minced garlic. Then continue whisking as you slowly pour in 1 cup of olive oil. Refrigerate any unused dressing for up to a week.