There are many different types of olive oil salad dressing, ranging from infused oils and oil-and-vinegar combinations to creamy dressings that are oil, rather than mayonnaise, based. Olive oil has a slightly nutty flavor that makes it a good base for any number of different dressings. Most salad dressing recipes call for at least a small portion of oil. Substituting olive oil for other varieties of oil, such as vegetable oil, corn oil, or peanut oil, creates an olive oil salad dressing.
Olive oil is well renowned in the medical community for its health benefits. It is high in monounsaturated fats, which are widely believed to reduce cholesterol, prevent heart disease, and maintain a healthy weight when consumed in small quantities. Olive oil dressings often market themselves as healthy alternatives to other, more processed alternatives.
One of the most common olive oil salad dressings involves oil and little more than a splash of balsamic vinegar. The trick to making most salad dressings is to balance neutral flavors, like that of olive oil, with more acidic agents, particularly vinegar. Most vinaigrette recipes require three to four parts of oil for every part of vinegar. An olive oil-balsamic vinegar salad dressing follows this model in most instances.
Balsamic vinegar is a popular choice in part because of its rich, deeply Mediterranean flavor. Olive oil is native to the warm, dry climates extending along the Mediterranean coast, from Spain to the Middle East, which is where Balsamic vinegar originates. Italians were the first to make the vinegar by aging ripe grapes. They have been blending this vinegar with locally pressed olive oils for centuries, both as a dip and a dressing. The technique has become a popular, easy way to make olive oil salad dressing for cooks around the world.
Infused oil is another example of a very simple olive oil salad dressing. Olive oil has a rich flavor on its own, but also, like most oils, acts as a natural preserving agent. It easily absorbs flavors and essences that it comes in contact with. Infusing oil with herbs, spices, and vegetables like garlic and peppers can create a uniquely flavored oil that can serve as a dressing all on its own.
Almost any salad dressing recipe can become an olive oil salad dressing if olive oil is added or substituted for another ingredient. A simple lemon vinaigrette can become an lemon olive oil salad dressing if it is made with olive oil, for example. The same is true for many creamier salad dressings.
A dressing that contains olive oil usually qualifies as a low fat salad dressing — but not always as a low calorie salad dressing. Similarly, not every variety is a healthy olive oil salad dressing. On its own, olive oil is relatively healthful. Much of a dressing’s nutrient content depends on the other ingredients. When combined with sugar, cream, and other thickening agents, some of the oil's good nutrition can be lost or masked over.