Salad Dressing

Kitchen Rescue: How to Fix Bad Salad Dressing

November  2, 2015

A perfect salad dressing is balanced. Salty pulls against sweet; the tang of acid tempers the fattiness of oil. No one flavor should dominate.

Instead, the elements of a dressing should harmonize, like a barbershop quartet lending back-up to your salad. 

Vinaigrette without a Recipe

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While there are plenty of excellent recipes out there for salad dressing, it also happens to be one of the easiest things to improvise. Add a pinch of this, a little of that, whisk in some oil, and voilà! You’ve got a vinaigrette. So what happens when you dip a lettuce leaf into your finished dressing, drop it (drippily) into your mouth, and are…disappointed? Maybe you were a bit heavy-handed with the honey. Or the mustard, or the garlic. What happens when your dressing is too salty, too bracingly acidic, too sweet, or too boring? You fix it, that’s what.  

We're here to save your salad, to fix your dressing, all with ingredients you already have on hand. Here's how:

First, a quick general tip: When in doubt, thin it out. I just made up that rhyme off the top of my head, but it holds true for most over-seasoning mistakes. (See advice on how to fix overly salty or spicy dishes here.) Diluting your dressing by adding more of all the flavors—minus the overwhelming one—will help restore balance. (Plus, you'll have extra dressing, which is never a bad thing.)

Too Sweet

Miso Dressing

If your dressing is too sweet, add something savory. Salt, of course, will work, but if you want something a little more interesting, opt for anchoviescapers, soy sauce, or miso, instead. Just make sure you're matching your salty component with the flavor profile of your dish. Nobody wants chunks of capers in their soy-ginger dressing (I don't think, anyway...).


Too Salty

If your dressing is too salty, temper it with something sweet. Sugar works perfectly fine, but your dressing will get some extra vhoom from honey, maple syrup, or pomegranate molasses (careful, this last one is sour, too).


Too Acidic

Sourdough Vinaigrette

If your dressing is too acidic, add something creamy (or creamy-ish) to round it out, just make sure it fits the flavor profile of your dressing. A nut butter like tahini or peanut butter plays well with a soy sauce- or miso-fueled dressing; avocado works well with herbaceous blends; and sourdough bread meshes perfectly with oil and vinegar. Blend in a soft-boiled egg if you're feeling bold.

If you want to keep your dressing on a vinaigrette-like path, try adding a bit of red wine to smooth out the edges. (Apologies on the proliferation of Genius tips here—Kristen knows how we all yearn for a better salad dressing!)


Too One-Note

Herby Salad

If your salad dressing is a little too one-note, a little too blah, a little too Monday lunch when you want Saturday date night, just add some ace-in-the-hole flavor brighteners. Whisk in some chopped fresh herbs and let their brightness punch things up. Add some grated hard cheese, like Manchego or Parmesan, to lend an umami tang. Blend in some fresh horseradish, and prepare to see eyes widen at the first bite. 

Do you have a trick up your sleeve for fixing salad dressings? Tell us in the comments!

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    Sarah Durfor
A kitchen scientist and dog-lover. Someday I want to have you over for dinner.


Darien C. April 25, 2018
just made an amazing salad, but for some reasson it turned out... salty.. then i saw on hear about adding suger or even honey.... so i thought what the heck, ill add some honey. and oh my god... life changer people...
Chris G. December 12, 2016
I have a suggestion, that has not been mentioned much on this web site, for bland salad dressings. There are a lot of different flavored Liqueurs. I am one of those that puts almost anything in a salad. One day I started experimenting with my quick and easy Good Seasons Salad dressing that I'd made. I substituted a tablespoon of Chambord for a Tbsp of the water and wow what a difference! I do suggest starting with a tsp. and going from there and if serving it to company it should be labeled somehow that is does have alcohol in it to avoid embarrassment.
Heidihelm November 9, 2015
A little chicken stock can enrich and mellow an off dressing.
Georgia S. November 9, 2015
Emulsifiers: poppy seeds or chia seeds work as an alternative to mustard or grated hard cheese, just give them a little time to thicken up.
Too strong/harsh: start with extra oil, then tweak the flavors
Too bland: increase the salt, acid, and sugar.
Even non-sweet dressings benefit from a pinch of sugar to mellow the salt/acid balance.
Sarah D. November 8, 2015
Mom's trick -- add a little water. So simple, but one of the best fixes for acidic (or thick!!) dressings.
Ruthan November 3, 2015
My trick is "only ever make Dijon vinaigrette." ;)
Fork O. November 3, 2015
My wife loves anchovies and avocado, so that's perfect for her. I love soft-boiled eggs, and will take any excuse to use Manchego, so that's perfect for me.

Thanks for saving salad.

anniette November 2, 2015
I find that a sqeeze of lemon juice livens up most salad dressings.
Shelley M. November 2, 2015
A vine ripened fresh tomato, crushed with a citrus press adds a great zing and a bit of color!
Catherine L. November 3, 2015
Awesome idea! Hadn't thought of that.
AntoniaJames November 2, 2015
My ace in the hole is always a touch of mustard - Dijon where brash is welcome, a stoneground brown with horseradish for any but the most delicate of salads. It cures just about any problem a dressing might have. ;o)
Catherine L. November 3, 2015
Ah, mustard -- the great emulsifier.
Susan November 2, 2015
Plain yogurt is my go-to for all of the problems listed above...except bland. Then the spice cupboard gets opened wide.
Jim K. November 2, 2015
Adding a bland vegetable oil (like canola or corn oil) to a dressing is a way to counteract olive oil that's too assertive.
Jim K. November 2, 2015
Lots of good ideas! My go-to dressing is olive oil, vegetable oil, fresh lemon juice, rice vinegar, salt and pepper, with a whole smashed garlic clove tossed in. The garlic adds a nice dimension, and olive oil/lemon/garlic is a classic combination.
Linda November 2, 2015
Is this mixed together with all these ingrediates. It sounds delicious I would love to try t.
Catherine L. November 3, 2015
And one lucky person gets the clove!