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Salad dressing reviews

If you have the basics, making your own salad dressing can be quick and easy.
 
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01 .Introduction

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We review 36 popular Caesar, French and Italian salad dressings for nutrition and taste.

On this page:

A fresh salad teamed with the right dressing, becomes a light, tasty and healthy accompaniment to a meal. Salad dressings are simple to put together with everyday ingredients you’ll find in your pantry. 

However, take a look down the supermarket aisle and you’ll find a vast variety of dressings – boasting traditional recipes, fat-free alternatives, and seasonal flavour sensations. According to Retail World’s 2010 Annual Report, salad dressings are worth:

  • $79.4 million in grocery value and have 
  • 51.3% of market volume. 
  • 26.5 million units were sold.
  • Goodman Fielder (which manufacturers Praise and Paul Newman’s Own) and Kraft are the main brands in the category.

For more information about Groceries, see Food and drink.

Brands and dressings tested

Caesar
  • Beerenberg Creamy Parmesan Caesar Dressing (A)
  • Cardini's The Original Caesar Dressing
  • Coles Caesar Dressing with garlic and parmesan cheese
  • Coles Caesar Salad Dressing
  • Kraft Caesar (A)
  • Kraft Caesar 99% fat free (A)
  • Michaels Fine Foods Caesar Dressing (A)
  • Paul Newman's Own Caesar
  • Paul Newman's Own Creamy Caesar
  • Praise Caesar
  • Praise Caesar 99% fat free
  • Woolworths Select Salad Dressing Caesar
French
  • Kraft French Herb 100% fat free (A)
  • Kraft French Salad Dressing (A)
  • Michaels Fine Foods French Vinaigrette Salad Dressing (A)
  • Praise Deli Style with extra virgin olive oil French Vinaigrette
  • Praise French
  • Praise French 100% fat free
  • Taylors French Dressing
  • Woolworths Homebrand French Dressing 99% fat free
  • Woolworths Select Salad Dressing French 99% fat free
Italian
  • Coles Italian Salad Dressing
  • Kraft Italian (A) (B)
  • Kraft 99% fat free Italian Salad Dressing (A)
  • Maleny Cuisine Italian Style Salad Dressing (A)
  • Michaels Fine Foods Oil free Italian Salad Dressing (A)
  • Praise Deli Style with extra virgin olive oil Italian Herb Vinaigrette
  • Praise Italian
  • Praise Italian 100% fat free
  • Red Kellys Tasmania Italian Dressing (A)
  • Woolworths Homebrand Italian Dressing 99% fat free
  • Woolworths Select Salad Dressing Italian
  • Woolworths Select Salad Dressing Italian 99% fat free
(A) These products are gluten free.
(B) This product has been replaced with new packaging and slight changes to the nutritional and ingredients list information and is labelled Kraft Italian Salad Dressing. 

How we test

CHOICE reviewed three popular types from the major supermarkets and delis:

  • French salad dressings
  • Italian salad dressings
  • Caesar salad dressings

Nutritional assessment We analysed the nutritional panels of each applying our traffic light labeling criteria. The criteria is based on the latest nutrition recommendations and dietary guidelines established by government health experts in Australia and internationally.

Taste test We also conducted a blind taste test where each product was tasted by up to 35 (and no less than 30) CHOICE staff members. The samples were presented in a plain container with no brand identification and tasted in a random order. Each sample was accompanied with iceberg lettuce for tasting. Tasters were asked to consider the taste, flavour and overall acceptablity of each salad dressing using a scale of 1-7 (very poor to excellent) and whether or not they would buy it.  

What we found

Oil and seasoning (salt and pepper) are the core ingredients in all three dressing varieties we tested, so it’s not surprising that many products are high in fat and sodium. However, some are very salty, and half list sugar as one of the first three ingredients. The products in our What to Buy list rate best for taste, and are reasonable for sugar too. But go easy on how much you use – an average 20g serve size won’t contribute too much to your daily fat and sodium intake, but it could quickly add up if you’re heavy handed with the bottle. 

These pre-prepared dressings may appeal to consumers because of their convenience, but for the best taste and the ability to control the amount of salt added we recommend making your own. With basic ingredients you can whip up a simple salad dressing in no time allowing you to control what goes into it. Our home economist, Fiona Mair, shares some of her recipes on the French dressings, Italian dressings, and Caesar dressings pages.

 
 

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French salad dressings or vinaigrettes traditionally consist of a mixture of vinegar, oil and grain mustard. Additional ingredients like herbs and garlic can also be added, and this is common in the dressings you’ll find in the supermarkets. 

Only the Michaels Fine Foods French Vinaigrette reflected a more traditional recipe. It includes Dijon mustard in its formulation.

Our findings

All the French dressings except the Taylors get a red light for sodium. The Praise French 100% fat free, Woolworths Select and Taylors get a red light for sugar, and while Michaels Fine Foods is the only French dressing to get the green light for sugar, it’s also the only one to get the red light for total and saturated fat with 60.6 and 6.4 grams per 100g respectively.

Interestingly, from our taste test the top three brands are all fat free alternatives and the number one, Woolworths Homebrand is the cheapest of the bunch. On the other hand, two of the more expensive dressings, Michaels Fine Foods and Taylors, rank at the bottom of the list. In our analysis, we found that when it came to assessing taste and texture:

  • Descriptors such as “smooth”, “herb”, “vinegar”, “sweet”, and “garlic” were associated with higher overall scores.
  • Dressings that were described as “watery” tended to get lower overall scores.
  • Taylors ranked at the bottom – 76% described its texture as “watery” – significantly more than the other dressings in the group. This dressing is also the sweetest in the group and 44% of triallists noticed, describing its flavor as “sweet”.
  • Despite Michaels Fine Foods having a more traditional formulation, it wasn’t widely accepted among the tasting panel with only 17% giving it a positive rating overall. Some commented saying that it’s, “too creamy/heavy for a French dressing,” and “not quite what you expect from a French dressing.”

French dressing recipe

Making your own French dressing is so simple, allowing you to control the amount of salt you add to it. Here is Fiona’s recipe; at $1.37 per 100mL you can make a quick and easy French vinaigrette.

Ingredients 

(makes one cup)

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¾ cups olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Method
  • Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake until mixture is slightly thickened.

Note: The dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. The oil will solidify but bring the dressing back to room temperature and shake well to bring it back to normal consistency.

Nutritional information

This recipe contains per 100g:

Total fat - 72.1g  (red)
Saturated fat -  10.2g (red)
Sugars -  0.04 (green)
Sodium -  29.6mg (green)

In comparison to the supermarket dressings, this recipe is the lowest for sugar and sodium. However it's the highest for total fat and saturated fat in comparison to the supermarket dressings. All the supermarket dressings (except Michaels Fine Foods) use water as their first ingredient which is why their formulations are lower in fat. 

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Traditional Italian dressing is a simple combination of oil and vinegar; however, to spice it up you can also include garlic and Italian herbs like basil and oregano.

Our findings

Only the Red Kelly’s Tasmania and Maleny Cuisine get the green light for sodium. However, the Maleny Cuisine is the sweetest across all categories with a staggering 42.5g of sugar per 100g. Interestingly, the most expensive dressing in this group is the Coles Italian Salad Dressing at $2.40 per 100ml. On the other hand, the cheapest, Woolworths Homebrand Italian Dressing 99% fat free, gets the same overall score from the triallists and costs less than a quarter of the price.

In our taste test we found:

  • The tasting panel seemed to like the presence of herbs, with dressings described as having a “herb” taste tending to receive higher overall scores. Other descriptors that had a positive impact were “oily” and “smooth.”
  • Dressings that were described as “watery” or “bitter” tended to receive lower overall scores.
  • Maleny Cuisine was the worst for this group. While it has an equal overall rating to the Praise 100% fat free it came out significantly worse on individual flavour and texture scores. Its texture was described by 71% as “watery” while 69% were on the mark when describing its flavor as “sweet”.

Italian dressing recipe

Once again we recommend making your own - not only can you control the amount of salt that goes into the dressing but you can add as many or as few herbs as you want, or even choose to simply use olive oil and vinegar. Here is Fiona’s recipe, costing $1.00 per 100mL.

Ingredients
(makes one cup)

  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red or white wine vinegar 
  • ½ clove garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano 
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: Add 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley to the dressing just before serving. You can also substitute one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar for one tablespoon of white vinegar if you like. 
Method
  • Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake until mixture is slightly thickened.

Note: The dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. The oil will solidify but bring the dressing back to room temperature and shake well to bring back to normal consistency.

Nutritional information

This recipe contains per 100g:

Total fat - 72.3g  (red)
Saturated fat -  10.2g (red)
Sugars -  0.01g (green)
Sodium -  124.6g (amber)

In comparison to the supermarket dressings, this recipe is lowest for sugar and one of the lowest for sodium.  However it's the highest for total fat and saturated fat in comparison to the supermarket dressings. Most of the supermarket dressings use water as their first ingredient which is why their formulations are lower in fat.

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Egg yolks are the creamy base for a Caesar dressing and Parmesan cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano) is a key ingredient. It can be grated and mixed through the dressing and/or shaved over the dressed salad. 

Typical background flavours of this dressing include garlic, anchovy fillet, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Olive oil acts as the emulsifier, blending all the ingredients together. 

Only the Paul Newman’s Own Caesar and Cardini’s The Original Caesar Dressing use anchovies in their formulation – garlic, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice are more commonly used ingredients across all dressings.

Our findings

Once again, all the Caesar dressings on test get red lights for sodium; a 50ml serving of the Michaels Fine Foods Caesar Dressing will give you enough sodium for the day (the Adequate Intake is 460mg-920mg of sodium per day). Bear in mind, that its recommended serving size is twice that of most of the others on test. Only two, from Kraft and Praise get the green light for total and saturated fat.

In our taste test we found:

  • The only fat-free alternatives in the bunch (from Kraft and Praise) didn't score well among our tasters, ranking them at the bottom of the list.
  • Beerenberg Creamy Parmesan Caesar Dressing and Paul Newman’s Own Creamy Caesar were the favorites among our tasting panel, followed closely by the cheapest in the group Coles Caesar Dressing with Garlic and Parmesan Cheese.
  • As you would expect, dressings that were described as having a “creamy” texture tended to receive higher overall scores followed by other descriptors like “herb” and “smooth”.
  • Dressings that were described as “oily/greasy”, “bitter” or “gritty” gathered lower overall scores.
  • You expect a Caesar dressing to be creamy however only three per cent of triallists described the texture of the Paul Newmans Own Caesar this way. For this reason it ranked significantly lower for texture than other dressings - one triallist commented that it’s “like a vinaigrette – not creamy at all.” Instead, 90% said it’s “oily/greasy”, with some saying it’s “too oily.”

Caesar dressing recipe

This dressing is slightly more complex to make from scratch, but once you have all the ingredients putting it together can be a breeze. Our home-made recipe will cost you more than the supermarket dressings at $1.94. per 100ml; however it’s worth it if you’ll use the remaining ingredients in other recipes. Here’s Fiona’s recipe:

Ingredients
(makes one cup)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice 
  • 2 cloves garlic 
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 1 cup olive oil 
  • ¾ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese 
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Cos lettuce, washed and dried (cut crosswise into 2 cm thick slices)
  • Croutons, fresh
  • Shavings of Parmesan cheese to serve
Method
  • Combine egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, anchovies and Worcestershire sauce in a food processor (you could also use a stick blender or hand whisk).
  • While blending slowly drizzle in oil until thick and creamy.
  • Stir in parmesan. 
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Chill in the refrigerator before serving.
  • Pour over lettuce and croutons top with shavings of Parmesan cheese.

Note: This dressing should be stored for no longer than one week. This dressing contains raw egg so you need to ensure that it is refrigerated correctly if you want it to last the week. The lemon in the mixture helps to cook the raw egg but to get longevity out of the mixture you should use the freshest eggs and store correctly. 

If making by hand mash the garlic and anchovies and add water or extra lemon juice if the dressing is too thick. 

Nutritional information

This recipe contains per 100g:

Total fat - 58.6g  (red)
Saturated fat -  11.1g (red)
Sugars -  0.9g (green)
Sodium -  281.9mg (amber)

In comparison to the supermarket dressings, this recipe is the lowest for sodium and gets the green light for sugar. It's high for total fat and saturated fat, however this is also the case for the supermarket dressings that use oils as their first ingredient. You'll find that those that use water as the first ingredient have lower levels of total fat and saturated fat. 

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