How to Thicken Salad Dressing

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
Watery salad dressingbit245 /Depositphotos

With these emulsifiers and thickeners, fixing watery salad dressing is as easy as one, two, three.

We try to eat a healthy salad as often as possible in our household. Salads are not only a delicious but an easy way to increase our intake of vegetables (and, with that, of essential nutrients).

Without a thick, creamy dressing, however, a salad is just a bowl of leaves! The problem is that store-bought dressings are not always that thick and creamy. Even homemade dressing can be difficult to get to the right consistency.

When you’re facing a watery-dressing situation, here’s how to fix it.

The most common method for thickening salad dressings is to emulsify the oil and acid with mustard. Other emulsifiers such as honey, garlic, tahini, or egg yolk can also be used. Thickeners, such as cornstarch, flaxseed, or unflavored gums, can also be used.

With so much information out there, deciding on the best salad-thickening method can be daunting. So let’s look at the above ways to do so and help YOU decide.

Use an Emulsifier to Thicken Salad Dressing

Oil and acid don’t mix naturally. So, to achieve a stable solution of the two, you add an emulsifier. For a salad dressing that’s thick and creamy, and that won’t separate within the hour, use an emulsifier to bind the oils and acids together.

The most commonly used emulsifier in salad dressings is mustard. That’s why it’s used in so many salad dressing recipes and why it’s on the ingredient list of most ready-made sauces in the supermarket.

Simply said, mustard is an excellent emulsifier. And it adds a pungent kick to your dressing (and, subsequently, your salad).

If you dislike the taste of mustard, you can use another emulsifier. Just take a look at how many household staples can be used to emulsify salad dressing:

  • Honey, maple syrup, or agave
  • Tahini or peanut butter
  • Mashed avocado
  • Aquafaba, a.k.a. the whipped liquid from a can of chickpeas
  • Miso paste
  • Silken tofu
  • Mayonnaise
  • Garlic
  • Egg yolk

Combining two or more emulsifiers won’t have any adverse effects—we encourage you to play around and experiment. You don’t need too much emulsifier for salad dressing. You only need one teaspoon of emulsifier for each tablespoon of dressing as a general rule of thumb.

Use a Thickening Agent to Thicken Salad Dressing

Using a thickening agent is probably the most universal method of thickening salad dressings of all kinds. A thickener not only gives the dressing a delightfully creamy quality but also stabilizes an existing emulsion.

Some thickening agents thicken and add texture to your dressing. Others even contribute nutritional value to your salad.

How to Thicken Salad Dressing With Flax or Chia Seeds

Both flax and chia seeds have a gelling effect when added to liquid. This gelling effect will thicken any salad dressing in an instant.

Here’s how to thicken salad dressing with flax seeds, which will also impart it with a mild nutty flavor:

  1. Mix 1 tablespoon of flax seeds or chia seeds with 4 tablespoons of water or vinegar, depending on taste;
  2. Whisk the seed mixture together thoroughly and give it 5 minutes to thicken up;
  3. Add the thickened seed mixture to your salad dressing.

Ground flax seeds are recommended, as the fine seed will not change the texture of your salad dressing too drastically. The human body cannot digest whole flax seeds, so to ensure optimal nutritional value, use ground seeds instead.

Whole chia seeds can be used as a substitute for flax seeds. Chia seeds are smaller, so they will not affect the texture of your salad dressings too much. Unlike flax seeds, which, as we already mentioned, taste mildly nutty, chia seeds have a neutral flavor.

How to Thicken Salad Dressing With Corn Starch

Corn starch makes an excellent salad dressing thickener as it has no taste if prepared correctly, and most of us have it in our pantries.

The thickening properties of corn starch must be activated by heat. By following these simple steps, you should be able to thicken salad dressing instantly:

  1. Mix equal parts corn starch and water;
  2. Heat your corn starch mixture in a small pot over low heat, stirring, until the mixture “blooms,” meaning all the water is absorbed;
  3. Add the cooled-down paste to your salad dressing to thicken.

As a golden rule, a tablespoon of corn starch will thicken a cup of liquid. Bear this in mind when adding corn starch to your salad dressings. Don’t add too much at a time, or you might be googling “how to fix thick salad dressing.”

How to Thicken Salad Dressing With Gums

Both xanthan and guar gum are suitable salad dressing thickeners. Both gums are used extensively in commercial salad dressing production. These gums are not temperature sensitive and have no taste.

Whether you want to use them at home is another question. For those who do, we have provided instructions on how.

The preparation of these gums requires a little more effort than the previous methods discussed. See below:

  1. Use a kitchen scale to weigh your salad dressing;
  2. Measure out 0.1% of your total salad dressing weight in your chosen gum;
  3. Mix the gum into the oil. The ratio should be 1 part gum to 5 parts oil;
  4. Place your salad dressing in a blender and blend on high to create a vortex;
  5. Slowly pour the gum and oil mix into the vortex. Blend another 30 seconds or so until the salad dressing has thickened.

Gums like xanthan and guar will expand as soon as they make contact with liquid. Mixing the gum with oil will delay the reaction so that the gum can be incorporated into the dressing thoroughly. If you do not want to add oil, you can use sugar.

Things to Consider When Thickening Salad Dressing

Blend the dressing instead of shaking or stirring it. Oil and vinegar don’t naturally mix.

If you aggravate the salad dressing by shaking it, an emulsion will form, but only temporarily. This is where the emulsifier comes into play. By blending the dressing, you create finer particles that bind easier.

Use the correct ratio of ingredients. Most salad dressings call for 1 part oil to 3 parts acid. Anything bigger than that will render your emulsion ineffective, resulting in a thin, vinegary salad dressing.

Add the oil to the vinegar, not the vinegar to the oil. Salad dressing is essentially an emulsion of tiny little oil balls suspended in vinegar. To get a thick emulsion, you need to respect that and add the oil slowly to the vinegar while blending rapidly. 

Conclusion

The easiest way to thicken salad dressing is to emulsify the oil and vinegar with mustard; that is why mustard is such a common ingredient in salad dressing. Mustard can easily be substituted by honey, garlic, tahini, and other everyday pantry items.

Thickening agents like corn starch, chia seeds, and gums and be used to thicken salad dressing without flavoring it. Be sure to consider the ratio of oil and vinegar to maintain a stable emulsion. Remember to add the oil slowly to the vinegar to ensure a durable suspension.