Vanilla Extract Is The Key Ingredient To Unlock The Best Salad Dressing

To make a basic salad dressing, you really only need two ingredients: oil and vinegar. But to make it taste even better, it's customary to season it with ingredients like Dijon mustard, fresh herbs, and different spices. When it comes to sweeter additives, you'd probably only think to add raspberries to raspberry vinaigrette, honey to poppy seed dressing, or simply use citrus juice in place of vinegar. The truth is that vanilla extract has a place in salad dressing too.

While it's usually reserved for baked goods, vanilla often makes an appearance in savory recipes because, contrary to what you might assume, it does more than just make everything taste like vanilla. Some traditional Italian tomato sauces, for example, call for a splash of vanilla extract. Like sugar, the vanilla balances out the acidity of the tomatoes, but it doesn't overwhelm the sauce with too much sweetness. It's for a similar reason that vanilla extract works so well in salad dressing.

What happens when you add vanilla extract to salad dressing?

Adding vanilla to salad dressing is similar to adding salt or MSG to a dish. You may not taste the ingredient itself, but you will taste the effects of it. Vanilla inherently enhances other flavors, which means adding some to a salad dressing will make both the ingredients in the dressing and the ones in the salad taste more compelling than they already do.

It works because vanilla tames bitter and acidic flavors and brings out the natural sugars in sweet ingredients. In an apple gorgonzola salad, for instance, the addition of vanilla would highlight the sweet flavors of the fruit without adding any sugar, and at the same time, it would mellow out the sharpness of the gorgonzola, creating a better balance of taste. The same flavor-enhancing effect occurs in any salad that contains any sweet or sharp ingredients, whether it be fruit or raw onion, which means you can use vanilla extract in practically any dressing.

How much vanilla extract should you add to salad dressing?

Since the role of vanilla extract in dressing is to enhance, not add, flavor, you don't need as much of it as you might think. Given that it's more like salt or MSG (at least in the context of salad), it's best to treat it as such. Just like adding too much salt will ruin the taste of a dish, adding too much vanilla extract to the dressing can easily overpower a salad, so start by adding only ¼ teaspoon at a time and tasting as you go.

Beth Nielson, the legacy vanilla maker behind the famous Nielsen-Massey vanilla brand, shares with Taste Cooking that you shouldn't need more than half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. For best results, she recommends a 1:3 ratio of vanilla to vinegar. You won't be able to taste any vanilla once the rest of your dressing ingredients are mixed together, but you'll definitely be able to notice a difference once you take a bite of your salad.