A vinaigrette is a dressing made from oil and an acid, most typically olive oil and vinegar. It’s one of the oldest and most popular types of salad dressings. You’ll find different versions of vinaigrettes on every grocery store shelf and on every restaurant’s menu.
Vinaigrettes are also easy to make and can be used on salads or marinades for meat or vegetables. Many start with premium olive oil and high-quality vinegar, but there are endless variations on this basic recipe.
We’ll show you how to customize this classic to your own taste so you can make your own vinaigrette anytime you want one.
The Basics Of A Vinaigrette
Combine one part acid, such as vinegar or citrus juice, to three parts oil. That means if you’re using one tablespoon of Italian vinegar, you’ll need to combine that with three tablespoons of your favorite Italian olive oil.
Typically, salt will be added to the ingredients as they are mixed.
Yes, it’s that simple! But you’re not done yet. So let’s take a deeper dive into the vinaigrette pool and chat about the importance of the right olive oil, how using different acids can transform your vinaigrette and why adding aromatic, pungent ingredients will give more flavor to the dressing.
Choosing An Olive Oil
Olive oil is a fantastic ingredient to use in dressing because of its health benefits and olives’ potential as a sustainable agricultural resource. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), a “good” kind of fat that’s been shown to reduce heart disease and lower cholesterol. Olive oil also contains antioxidant properties due to the presence of compounds called polyphenols, meaning it can protect your cells from free-radical damage. However, not all olive oils are created equal.
To maximize the health benefits of olive oil, look for oils that are “extra-virgin” or “first cold-pressed.” These products have not been exposed to heat during the extraction process. Heat exposure can degrade some of the olive oil’s healthy compounds.
Additionally, consider organic extra virgin olive oils as they are grown and cultivated without exposure to herbicides and pesticides, which means the workers who tend to the olive groves are also spared this exposure.
Where Does Olive Oil Come From?
Olive oil is produced worldwide, but most of it will come from Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy and Greece. Their climates are ideal for olive trees to thrive. Regional variations will exist in flavor depending on where the olive oil comes from. For example, Italian olive oils are known for their herby, sometimes nutty flavors.
In contrast, Spanish and Greek olive oils are more aromatic with fruit and pepper notes. You’ll also find olive oils from various other locales, including Argentina and California. With so many olive oils out there, it’s important to do your research before purchasing if you’re looking for something specific.
Different Sources Of Acidity – Vinegar
As we’ve already mentioned, vinegar is the most common acid source for vinaigrettes. But vinegar comes in many flavors, colors and varieties. We’ll assume you’re familiar with plain white vinegar and introduce you to a few others to help you create the best vinaigrettes possible.
Apple cider vinegar is sweeter than most other vinegar and great for people trying to kick sugar cravings. It’s often used in salad dressings because it has a mellower taste.
Red wine vinegar is another option. It has a rich, fruity flavor as it’s made from red wine that has been cultured and soured.
Balsamic vinegar is a type of vinegar made from “grape must.” Must is the fresh juice that comes from crushed grapes, and it includes everything, including stems, skins and seeds. It has a dark color and a rich flavor, making it a bold choice for flavoring vinaigrettes.
Different Sources Of Acidity – Citric Acid
We love exploring different kinds of vinegar when making our vinaigrettes. However, you can also replace vinegar with citrus juice to add a tart flavor.
Citrus juice is typically made from lemons, limes, oranges and occasionally grapefruits. However, thanks to global supply chains, many less common citrus options are now available. Now you can experiment with these different and unique options to add your own unique spin on a classic vinaigrette to surprise family or guests.
For instance, yuzu citrus juice has a bright sourness, thanks to its high citric acid content. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit that looks like a small grapefruit and has a flavor profile similar to grapefruit, lemon and mandarin orange combined.
Kabosu is another Japanese citrus fruit that is often compared to sudachi lime with lemon, melon and mint hints. It can be used in its less ripened green state or fully ripened bright yellow phase. Kabosu is used in many traditional Japanese dishes, especially fish and sashimi.
As you can see, there are many options to choose from when it comes to acidity sources. Be sure to experiment with ingredients that you’re familiar with, as well as those that might be new. You never know what flavors you’ll discover until you try them.
A Sweeter Vinaigrette
Some people like a touch of sweetness in their vinaigrettes. A little sweetness will cut through the acidity and make the vinaigrette taste more balanced. You can fashion your own sweeteners by combining various ingredients to get different flavors. Some naturally sweet ingredients include honey, agave syrup and pureed fruit.
Honey has a fantastic flavor that can be a great addition to a vinaigrette, especially infused ones. Reach for raw or unrefined honey as it retains its natural enzymes and nutrients. Agave syrup, also called agave nectar, is a lighter sweetener with a honey-like flavor. It’s made from the agave plant, used for food and medicine by the Aztecs for centuries.
Pureed fruit can be a great addition to sweeten your vinaigrette because it will give you the sweetness and change the consistency to be a little thicker, which can be excellent for coating certain foods. For instance, you can puree some strawberries or peaches and then add them to your favorite vinaigrette.
Whatever you choose to go with, just remember that you shouldn’t overdo it. A little bit of sweetness can go a long way, so start off with small amounts and add more if you feel the vinaigrette needs it.
Seasoning And Flavors
There are countless other ingredients that you can add to create a dynamic, inspired and flavorful vinaigrette that perfectly matches the theme of your meal or is simply delicious in its own right. Many herbs and spices will work well as they all have their own unique flavors.
Toasted spices like cumin, coriander and fennel seeds will add a deep, sweet undertone as well as a nice crunch. Fresh herbs like basil, cilantro or mint can add a refreshing quality and zesty flavor. Other tasty additions include garlic, salt and any type of pepper.
Like when adding sweetness, go easy on the seasoning initially and add more until you find the flavor richness you like best.
Is Vinaigrette Just for Salads?
Nope! As we mentioned before, vinaigrettes are great for adding depth, flavor and variety to any dish. Try them over cooked vegetables like artichokes or asparagus, marinate meats like chicken or beef or dress up otherwise dull pasta.
You can even use them as a dipping sauce for lighter foods like spring rolls or dumplings. The possibilities are endless, and we urge you to think outside of the salad bowl and embrace vinaigrettes in all their versatile glory.
In Conclusion: Vinaigrettes
Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know, it’s time for you to create your own vinaigrette masterpieces. Start small and play around with different combinations until you find something you like. Don’t be afraid to add a little of this or that until you get the flavor just right.
Erin is the mother of identical twin girls and their slightly older brother. She is a domestic engineer, and previously had a career leading customer service teams for a major HVAC company. Cleaning without harsh chemicals, and cooking easy and usually healthy meals are part of Erin's daily life. She volunteers with youth leaders, and genuinely wants to help others win. Erin has a degree in Communications, with a focus on Broadcast Journalism.