salad dressings

What I learned analyzing 3233 salad dressings

June 20, 2015
Dressings & Sauces + Products

Although a household staple, salad dressing averages ~19 ingredients. Do you know how your salad’s dressing?



Store-bought salad dressings gradually became available when restaurants began packaging and selling their dressings in the 1920s.   As the decades passed, increasing focus on health and demand for convenience contributed to salad dressing sales.  In 1950 sales totaled just 6.3 million gallons, but by 1970 this figure totaled 34.3 million gallons.

Today, the salad dressing industry is ~ a $4B one, and its growth is sustained by the explosion of ready to eat, pre-washed salad greens, a $7B industry as well as consumers using dressings beyond salads as sandwich toppers and the like.


Since Kraft launched its French salad dressing in1925, companies have taken dressings to a new level by adding spices, vinegar, lemon juice, and oils. Manufacturers have also added food additives to help with emulsification, shelf life and appearance.


The result? Let’s examine the data.



The data

Calories, Sugar and Sodium

Health and diet experts always caution one way salads become unhealthy is through the type and quantity of dressing used. With an average of 86.3 calories and a range from 0-320, it’s obvious calories can add up.


Interestingly, sugar averages only 3.2g. However, the full range of sugar grams across the products is 0-31g, and 191 options have more than 2 teaspoons (8g) of sugar.

Sodium also has a huge range of 0-940mg.



The average ingredient count across all brands and flavors of dressings was 18.6 with the range from 3-70 ingredients.


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The most common ingredient was Lecithin, with 98% of the products containing it.


Additionally, preservatives, HFCS and colorings factored significantly in the ingredients list.  Of the 3233 products:

  • 93% contained preservatives
  • 81% contained HFCS
  • 65% contained colors, which were about evenly split between artificial and natural ones


Insights and Vinegar

Balsamic and Vinaigrette flavor options  generally had the shortest ingredient list as well as the cleanest.  However, interestingly, more than several Balsamic vinegars did not turn up as clean as I would have expected.


In addition to the 3233 salad dressings, I analyzed 56 Balsamic Vinegars. On average, these products contained 3.4 ingredients. Vinegar does appear in 100% of the products and Grape Must shows up in 73%. Flavors, colors and sugar round out the most common other ingredients.


Foodwise Bottomline

With salad dressing, it pays to read the label hard.  With ~19 ingredients, the ability to easily buy a clean label option is near impossible.  There were several options with just 4 ingredients by DeLallo, Holly Hock, Stonewall Kitchen, Cuisine Perel, Rachel Ray, Pancho’s and La Martinique; all were either Balsamic dressings or Vinaigrettes.


And while making your own dressing is always an ideal option, be careful what vinegar you buy as often manufacturers add additional ingredients including colorings, preservatives and sugar to simple vinegars.


What brands do you buy?


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