How to Make Bottled Salad Dressings Taste Homemade (2024)

Well before Sandra Lee hit the airwaves with her Semi-Homemade “cooking” show concept, my grandmother engaged in the ancient are of doctoring store-bought foods. Balancing a convenience item with some fresh ingredients or techniques to improve it in such a way that it would hold a place of pride on the table was the hallmark of a great cook and savvy hostess.

It started by simplifying the most egregious of recipes, which for my grandmother, was gefilte fish.These traditional Jewish fish quenelles that are ubiquitous at the holidays, had been, in her upbringing, a two-day process that started with live carp and pike swimming in the bathtub, and included not just dispatching them, but also scaling, skinning, fileting, pulling pin bones, hand chopping to perfect smoothness before seasoning and poaching by which time, she was exhausted, and the house smelled of fish for a week. When gefilte fish started being available in jars, it was a revelation. Just one problem: They didn’t taste particularly great. Commercially made fish balls taste like just that. But that didn’t mean they were off the table. They just needed doctoring. My grandmother, as do many hostesses, would create a fresh bouillon stock and re-poach the balls, tempering their jarred flavor and making them taste and feel a bit more homemade.

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Whether it is adding extra spice to a bottled BBQ sauce, stirring some freshly grated cheese or buttermilk into boxed mac, or fresh cilantro into jarred salsa, the art of the supermarket doctor is a skill worth having. And it isn’t as tricky as you would think. If you follow the basic principles of balancing salt, sweet and acid in your dishes, often store-bought items reveal to you upon first taste exactly what they need to be a better version of themselves.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with bottled salad dressing. The ultimate convenience food, and often the condiment that polarizes more than any other. We all know the “I make all our salad dressing fresh” folks, whose Ina Garten Meme-worthy pronouncement of the fact seems to imply that those who do not are somehow morally bankrupt. Then you have the people for whom the very idea of making salad dressing when there are literally hundreds available commercially seems like madness.

I am in the third camp. I make a lot of our salad dressings from scratch, especially quick shake-together vinaigrettes and a killer buttermilk ranch. But I also have some store-bought dressings that I enjoy and keep on hand with no shame. However, I don’t always leave them untouched. I have found that there are some simple doctoring tricks you can use with bottled salad dressings that can make them a bit better, a bit more special, and certainly more delicious.


While most bottled dressings are plenty salty, sometimes they need a bit more spice. Adding freshly ground black pepper can often be an easy way to up your dressing game, but also freshening up any ingredient listed on the bottle can be useful. An extra dollop of mustard in your Dijon vinaigrette, or pinch of oregano in your Italian dressing can make a world of difference. A fresh version of an herb listed as dried is often a good idea.


Bottled vinaigrettes suffer primarily from the quality of the oil used commercially. Even when touted as “extra-virgin” olive oil, it is never of the quality that you would use when making your own. The good news is that most of these dressings separate upon standing, leaving most of the oil floating on top. I dump the whole bottle into the fat separator that I use for making gravy, and let it sit until the oil is on top, and then pour off the other part, leaving the oil behind. Then I measure the oil that came off and replace the same volume with the oil of my choice. A really high-quality olive oil, or even a nut oil like walnut or hazelnut, takes everything to a fresh fabulous place.

The second thing I sometimes do to bottled vinaigrettes is add some freshness. This might be some chopped fresh herbs, a minced fresh shallot or clove of garlic, or some grated citrus zest. It will just punch things up a bit.

Creamy Dressings

Ranch and its pals Green Goddess, Thousand Island, and the like are all wonderful decadent toppings for your salads. But the bottling process can make the flavors get a bit wan. Your hero? Something that is both tart and creamy, like sour cream, crème fraiche or Greek yogurt. Most bottled salad dressings are highly seasoned to compensate for freshness, so adding between 2-4 ounces of any bonus creamy goodness won’t require re-seasoning. It will just add some fresh flavor and the tartness will help balance any extra salt.

Cheese Dressings

Whether it is a creamy Parmesan, chunky blue cheese, Greek feta or classic Caesar, bottled cheese-based dressings NEVER have enough cheese, and the cheese they have is never as good as what you would buy for yourself. Stirring in half a cup of freshly grated or crumbled cheese to boost flavor and texture is the easiest way to up your dressing game. Buy the highest quality cheese you can afford, and stir it in. Most cheeses are salty, so you should not need more salt in the dressing.

Sweet Dressings

Western, French, Poppyseed, there is something about a sweet dressing on a savory salad that is all kinds of right. But often, they are just a bit too sweet. A squeeze of citrus juice, lemon in a poppyseed or orange in French, can brighten things up. Heat is a good balance for sweet, so a dash of hot sauce, a pinch of red pepper flakes or a squirt of sriracha can also be a welcome addition to make these dressings a bit more balanced.

How to Make Bottled Salad Dressings Taste Homemade (2024)


How do you make bottled dressing taste better? ›

A squeeze of citrus juice, lemon in a poppyseed or orange in French, can brighten things up. Heat is a good balance for sweet, so a dash of hot sauce, a pinch of red pepper flakes or a squirt of sriracha can also be a welcome addition to make these dressings a bit more balanced.

How to make bottled ranch dressing taste better? ›

If you don't have time or inclination to make your dressing from scratch, but you want that elevated restaurant-style ranch, think about zhuzhing up the bottled version with things like finely chopped shallot or scallion, a clove of minced fresh garlic, a splash of buttermilk or dollop of sour cream if you have them ...

How to make store-bought caesar dressing taste homemade? ›

Creating a proper emulsion with egg yolk, lemon juice, and oil can be tricky when making a homemade Caesar dressing. But, because store-bought dressings usually contain emulsifiers to make sure they don't separate, you can mix in an extra egg yolk with little risk of your dressing splitting.

What is the basic formula for salad dressing? ›

Here's my master salad dressing that I use as a base for every salad! You just need 1 tbsp vinegar, 3 tbsp oil and 1/2 tsp mustard.

How do you cut bitterness out of dressing? ›

Sweetness balances out acidity, spice, and bitterness. A salad composed of bitter greens may benefit from a sweeter dressing. But sweetness can come from sources other than one-note white sugar; consider honey, pureed dates, maple syrup, jam, or molasses as sweeteners that also add flavor and mouth-feel.

Why does my homemade salad dressing taste bitter? ›

CD Kitchen explains that subpar vinegars can create bitter, harsh vinaigrettes. Adding too much vinegar (or lemon juice) can also muck up the acid-to-oil ratio, creating a dressing that's simply too strong for the greens. If this happens, add a pinch of baking soda to quell the bitterness (via Wonder How-To).

What are good emulsifiers for salad dressing? ›

Common ingredients used as emulsifiers in vinaigrettes include Dijon mustard, honey, egg yolks, tomato paste or even roasted garlic (some are better emulsifiers than others). Lastly, you'll want your vinaigrette to have a lot of flavor, so it's a good idea to add herbs, salt and pepper.

Why does Caesar dressing taste so good? ›

Taste: umami/saltiness from the anchovy and parmesan is balanced by the acidic lemon juice. Aroma & physical: The dijon, garlic, and black pepper add interesting aromatics but also a pungent bite. Textures: The egg yolk and oil-based dressing brings a creamy and unctuous texture that clings to crisp lettuce pieces.

How do you thicken store bought salad dressing? ›

Using Mustard as an Emulsifier

Mustard is renowned for its emulsifying properties. A small amount of mustard can be whisked into a salad dressing to help blend and thicken the mixture. Starting with one teaspoon can offer significant results, with more added as necessary for both consistency and flavor.

What are the three most important elements of a salad dressing? ›

“The most important thing about any dressing is to strike a proper balance of salt, fat and acid,” writes Samin Nosrat in her book on the elements of cooking, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.” Individually, those three components are the most basic of seasonings for all food, working to enhance flavor as it hits our tongue and ...

What is the best vinegar for salad dressing? ›

Balsamic vinegar: Makes a bold, slightly sweet dressing that is wonderful on green salads with fruit, such as apples, strawberries or peaches. Red wine vinegar: Packs a punch and works well with other bold flavors and bright veggies, like tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, cabbage and more (think Greek salads).

What is the healthiest dressing to put on your salad? ›

6 healthy salad dressings you can make in less than 3 minutes
  • Classic lemon and olive oil. This is a very easy dressing that is good with strong-flavoured leaf salads, such as rocket or kale. ...
  • Lime and chilli dressing. ...
  • Simple balsamic vinaigrette. ...
  • Raspberry vinaigrette. ...
  • Creamy cucumber dressing. ...
  • Creamy mint dressing.

Does bottled dressing go bad? ›

Unopened jars of mayonnaise and salad dressing may be stored in the pantry. After opening, keep refrigerated up to 2 months. For more information, you may call the Food and Drug Administration's toll-free at 1-888-723-3366 or go to FDA's website. To search a database for storage times, go to the FoodKeeper app.

How to make Italian dressing less tangy? ›

Taste (most accurate taste comes by dipping lettuce in dressing) and adjust according to taste. For less acidity- add more sugar, less tang – add more olive oil, more tang – add additional vinegar.

How do you thin out store bought dressing? ›

To thin the consistency of the whole bottle

For an eight-ounce bottle of dressing, take out two tablespoons of the dressing as is and put it in a bowl or in a small jar with a lid. Add one tablespoon of the oil or acid of your choice directly to the bottle. Close the lid and give it a good shake. Check the consistency.

Is bottled salad dressing healthy? ›

The sad truth is that, while they're convenient, bottled dressings are typically high in sodium, sugar, saturated fat and calories–even the organic ones. Annegret Kessler is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist at Colorado Mountain Medical.

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