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Making Flavorful Dressings from Scratch

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Whole-person integrative medicine focused on healing you in mind, body and spirit. It's more than fixing what’s wrong. It’s about celebrating what’s right and making sure you’re on the path to a healthier, stronger you.

Making your own salad dressing from scratch is easy to do and can help you to eat more veggies, making them delicious and enjoyable to eat. Homemade dressings taste better than store-bought and can be less expensive.

Keep some basic pantry staples on hand to create a dressing that has balanced flavor. I recommend following the simple acronym FASS from Chef Rebecca Katz, a chef and cookbook author. FASS stands for fat, acid, salty and sweet. When these components are combined, they can boost the flavor of any dish.

Fat: Fat is an important ingredient in a salad dressing because it’s what pulls flavors together and helps them glide across the tongue. Fats provide a sense of satisfaction and satiety and also aid your body in absorbing important fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K.

When selecting a healthy fat to use as a base in a salad dressing, I typically recommend extra virgin olive oil because of its high polyphenol content and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. If a more neutral tasting oil is desired, opt for avocado oil, which is a good source of cardioprotective monounsaturated fats. Nut or seed butters like peanut butter, almond butter and tahini can be used as a base for creamier dressings.

Acid: Adding a form of acid wakes up your taste buds and helps to create brightness and tang in a dressing. You can accomplish this with any kind of flavorful vinegar such as red wine, apple cider, balsamic, rice or citrus (lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit). These ingredients also help to tenderize the vegetables and enhance the digestion and absorption of vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C found in citrus, for example, helps the body to absorb iron. Acetic acid found in vinegar is known for its ability to support healthy blood sugar balance and improve feelings of satiety.

Salt: Salt crystals scratch the surface of foods drawing out more flavor. Using a dressing with salt allows more flavor to be released from foods. Salt should be added incrementally in small amounts until you find the right balance of flavor. For culinary purposes, use sea salt or kosher salt since they have a better flavor than iodized salt. Other ways to add saltiness to a dressing include using soy sauce, coconut aminos or miso paste. These ingredients add a rich, umami flavor that create more depth to the dressing.

Sweet: Sweetness provides a roundness to the dressing by cutting through harsh or bitter flavors, helping to take the edge off. Natural sweeteners such as honey or maple syrups are preferred because they are more robust and a little goes a long way, whereas refined sugars tend to fall flat when it comes to building flavor.

I encourage you to taste the dressing and adjust as needed. Here are some ways to balance the flavor if things taste off.

  • Too flat? Add more salt little by little.
  • Too salty? Add a few drops of the acid (vinegar or citrus).
  • Too bitter? Add a few drops of honey or maple syrup.
  • Too sweet? Add a few drops of the acid (vinegar or citrus).

About the Author

Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD

Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD

Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD, is an integrative dietitian culinary nutrition expert with nearly two decades of experience working towards improving the health of others. She is passionate about educating others how to harness the healing power of food and healthful lifestyle changes.

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