This is a guest blog post by Carol Harvey, Director of food/nutrition labeling and product development at Palate Works.
People are generally of two camps regarding salad dressings – homemade or store-bought/bottled. Making your own requires just a few simple ingredients (for a vinaigrette), or there’s the total convenience (and boundless selection) of buying something in a bottle/jar.
Manufactured versions tend to be full of ingredients you wouldn’t normally use at home (stabilizers, gums, preservatives, etc.) and run about 110 or more calories and 10 or more grams of fat per 2 Tbsp serving. Some take the lower-fat (or non-fat) route by using little or no oil/fatty ingredients, but bumping up the thickeners/gums and sugars to compensate for higher acidity and lower viscosity.
Bolthouse Farms has a line of eight dressings that are low-fat (3 g fat or less per 2 Tbsp serving) and low-calorie (40 kcal or less) or reduced-calorie (45 kcal here). Four are vinaigrette-style and four are creamy yogurt-based versions. All use fruit juices as a source of sugar/sweetening.
While I can appreciate the work that went into creating these dressings with little or no fat and fewer nasty ingredients than would normally be used, I just can’t wrap my palate around them. A dressing should accentuate and complement the true stars of a salad – the fresh veggies. I have yet to taste anything that does that better than good quality oils and vinegars (seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and maybe some garlic, shallots and/or mustard).
Adding sugar (from fruit or not) and gums to a dressing in order to save 10 grams of fat and 60-100 calories (only about 5% of daily calories) just doesn’t seem worth the sacrifice. Both ingredients contribute to a too-sweet and cloying dressing that doesn’t do much for the salad. The only exception might be the Ranch flavors (Classic and Salsa), which are less sweet than the vinaigrettes and would make good veggie dips. The extra sodium and spices/herbs (typical in ranch dressings) seem to cover up any weirdness due to the ingredient swaps (see photo below).
The Blue Cheese doesn’t hit the flavor or texture marks, and even with only 1 g sugars it seems somewhat sweet and not very cheesy. The vinaigrettes are too sweet (5-6 g sugars) and have little resemblance to a true vinaigrette.
The Classic Balsamic in particular is a disappointment, especially with “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” prominent on the front label. It contains 0 grams of fat, according to the nutrition panel (<0.5 g), meaning the amount of olive oil is extremely small (there’s more salt than olive oil!). They also chose to point out the omega-3 fatty acid content (actually ALA content – the “weaker” omega-3) on the front: “40 mg Omega-3.” Ostensibly that is coming from the flax seed oil, of which there is even less than olive oil. And 40 mg of Omega 3 is a fairly insignificant amount anyway; nowhere near a “good source,” even if there were an established Daily Value (DV) for it. (Note: There is something called a “daily value,” not to be confused (ha) with Daily Value. It is more of a high median intake level for adults, and for ALA it is 1300 mg; 40 mg is a measly 3% of that).
Back to Camp A (oil & vinegar): For 130 calories and 13.5 g fat, you can dress a medium salad with the finest quality olive oil and a flavorful balsamic vinegar (dark or white). The slight natural sweetness of balsamic vinegar allows for a little more volume of dressing without using more oil: 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil + 2 tsp balsamic vinegar + dash of salt + freshly ground pepper = salad heaven.
The point? You will eat more salad if it tastes good.
Carol Harvey has been a nutrition labeling and product development consultant for over 15 years. She can be reached at palatemail [AT] yahoo [DOT] com.