Everyone struggles with the vinegar and oil not mixing until they discover the science of emulsifiers.
What are the best emulsifiers for salad dressings? The best emulsifying ingredients for salad dressings and vinaigrettes are egg yolks, mustard, mayonnaise, honey, and mashed avocado. Other options include miso, tahini, tomato paste, agave nectar, and maple syrup. A small amount of these binding agents is enough.
You should use these emulsifiers sparingly in dressings to not overpower the rest of the ingredients. A little goes a long way when creating some salad dressing magic.
Read on to learn more about emulsifiers in salad dressings, how and why they are used, as well as some salad dressing combination ideas to test the best emulsifiers we recommend.
Why Does Salad Dressing Separate?
Have you noticed that when making a salad dressing with some kind of vinegar and oil the mixture is well-combined only right after mixing it? And no matter how hard you whisk or shake it, the effect doesn’t last long.
There is nothing worse than pouring a freshly-made salad dressing on your salad to only find that it has already separated and you have vinegar on one side of your salad and oil on the other.
You may think that it won’t make a big difference. But it does. And it deteriorates the taste of your salad. Vinegar is too harsh on its own. And oils make the ingredients too oily when not diluted.
So why does salad dressing separate?
Everything is quite clear and simple to explain. Oil and vinegar don’t mix together because of the differences in their molecular structure.
Vinegar contains water. And as you probably know by now, oil and water do not mix. You would have to be continually shaking a mixture of oil and water to keep it at all “mixed”.
In addition to water, vinegars also contain acetic acid. Some vinegars, such as red or white wine vinegars, contain alcohol too.
The molecules of water, acetic acid, and alcohol are positively charged on one end and negatively on the other.
Oils, on the other hand, are charged neutrally – so they’re neither negatively nor positively charged. They are fats consisting of fatty acids. The molecules in fatty acids gravitate toward each other.
This is why when you put a droplet of oil in water it forms a circle and doesn’t mix with water. There aren’t opposite charges to attract each other.
Oils drive water molecules away. This makes them hydrophobic, so you can think of oil molecules as water-fearing.
How to Keep Salad Dressing From Separating?
The only way of making oil and vinegar mix together and not separate within minutes is by making an emulsion.
In other words, you have to introduce another type of molecule into a mixture of oil and vinegar to bring them together. Here is when emulsifiers come into play.
One end of the molecules in emulsifying agents is hydrophobic, while the other end is hydrophilic, i.e. attracted to water.
With these two ends, the molecules of emulsifying agents have the superpower of pulling the molecules of oil and vinegar together, turning them into a uniform mixture.
Adding an emulsifier to your salad dressing will prevent it from separating or cause it to separate much later than it would if you haven’t added it.
Emulsifiers are also widely used in store-bought salad dressings. Otherwise, you would have never bought them sitting on the supermarket shelves all separated and unappealing.
If you look into the ingredient list of commercial salad dressings, you will find a list of emulsifiers and stabilizing agents. These include lecithin found in egg yolks, xanthan gum, various extracts, etc.
Best Emulsifiers for Salad Dressing
Making an emulsified salad dressing is key if you want your salad ingredients to be evenly coated in this flavorful liquid. Additionally, emulsified salad dressings are creamier and cling to the vegetables and other ingredients in your salad.
When making salad dressings with an emulsifier, it is best to mix the emulsifying agent with vinegar first and only then add the oil. Add the oil gradually for the best results.
Here are the best emulsifiers you can use to make uniform salad dressings and vinaigrettes without having to shake them constantly.
By adding one of these ingredients, you won’t have to worry about a circle of oil floating on the acidic liquid.
Egg yolks are one of the most widely used emulsifiers for salad dressings. They contain lecithin, which works to combine vinegar and oil seamlessly.
Some people avoid using raw eggs from the fear of salmonella. However, using egg yolks from pasteurized eggs will solve the problem and make it safe to use them for salad dressings.
The buttery texture of egg yolks makes it a great option to go for next time you need an emulsifier. Salad dressings made with egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard taste exceptionally good.
Mustard can be your magic ingredient in salad dressings and vinaigrettes. It holds all ingredients together. Plus, it makes a tasty addition to salads made with fresh or roasted vegetables, meat, and chicken.
Dijon mustard is the most popular type of mustard used for dressings and vinaigrettes.
You can make the simplest, classic vinaigrette with Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, and olive oil.
And still, granted the perfect consistency of the dressing and its ability to coat every leaf in your salad, the impact will be just as great as with a salad dressing with a complicated ingredient list.
Mayonnaise is a good emulsifier as it contains egg yolks. Many of the commercial salad dressings have mayonnaise as a base. This is because it provides the ultimate creamy and uniform texture.
You can pick mayonnaise as an emulsifier for your salad dressing if you are looking for something with a more neutral flavor.
The thick consistency of honey makes it one of the best emulsifiers for salad dressings. It effectively combines oil with vinegar while adding some sweetness that brings perfect balance to the flavor of the dressing.
When using honey in dressings, try not to overdo it. Just use it sparingly. Otherwise, your salad dressing may turn out too sweet.
One of the easiest vinaigrettes to make with honey is to mix it with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and seasonings. This vinaigrette will go well with almost any salad.
You may be surprised to learn that mashed avocado can also be used as an emulsifying agent in salad dressings.
The pulp of avocado is rich in phospholipids. These natural binding compounds are capable of forming a stable liquid. It will help blend oil, vinegar, and other acidic liquids together resulting in a creamy and uniform sauce.
The taste of avocado is quite muted, which prevents the risk of overshadowing other components in your salad. It is the texture of avocado that counts, and the healthy fats it contains.
Avocado dressings work especially perfectly on chicken salads.
If you are after not so ordinary ingredients in your salad dressing combinations, use miso as an emulsifier. You will enjoy miso paste in your dressing if you like salty and umami flavors.
Tahini is another great alternative. It will add a slightly nutty hint to your salad dressing.
For a sweeter emulsifier, you have more options than just honey. You can also choose agave nectar or maple syrup.
Agave nectar is similar to honey in terms of sweetness but its flavor is not as strong. Maple syrup, on the other hand, has a more complex flavor profile. You can detect vanilla and caramel notes in maple syrup.
Tomato paste may not be an ingredient you will gravitate towards, but it certainly works as an emulsifier for salad dressings.
But if you use it right, you can make some delicious vinaigrettes. Tomato paste paired with red wine vinegar, olive oil, and fresh basil leaves makes a great topping for heavier salads with meat and vegetables.
How to Use Emulsifiers in Salad Dressings
Ratio is key when it comes to making a well-balanced and delicious salad dressing.
Memorize it once and make perfect salad dressings for the rest of your life: Use 1 tablespoon of acid (vinegar or citrus juice) for every 3 tablespoons of oil.
Ass for the emulsifier, 1 teaspoon of emulsifier will do the job. That’s 1:3:1 (acid, oil, emulsifier). That’s not so hard, is it?
Here are some salad dressing combination ideas. You can mix and match the ingredients to come up with a new flavorful combination every time.
You can make anything work with the right ratio of ingredients as well as maintaining the balance between the sweet, salty, and spicy.
|Egg yolk||Olive oil||White wine vinegar||Parsley|
|Mustard||Avocado oil||Red wine vinegar||Dill|
|Mayonnaise||Flaxseed oil||Apple cider vinegar||Cilantro|
|Honey||Grapeseed oil||Lemon juice||Mint|
|Avocado||Sesame oil||Orange juice||Thyme|
Don’t forget to add seasoning to your salad dressings.
If you are looking for unusual and bolder combinations, you can add such ingredients to your salad dressing as green olives, capers, and anchovies. For milder combinations, finely chopped shallots or garlic will do.
Up Next: Can You Freeze Salad Dressing?