What is Ambrosia?

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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2018
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Ambrosia, in Greek and Roman mythology, was the food of the gods, and eating it is what made them immortal. In culinary terms, it is a type of fruit salad first popularized in the American South.

This dish appeared under its current name in cookbooks in the latter part of the 19th century. As fresh citrus fruit became easier to obtain year-round and nationwide, ambrosia also gained popularity across the US. It is especially popular as a fresh dessert alternative during the holidays.

At its simplest, ambrosia is a citrus fruit salad, made with sugar and sprinkled with coconut. There are as many recipes for the dish as there are cooks who prepare it, and no two recipes are quite the same. While the salad originally almost always contained grated coconut, it can be omitted from recipes for those who do not care for it. Some recipes call for the fruit salad to be mixed with gelatin and molded, but this method has never been very popular.


The citrus fruits included in an ambrosia recipe vary according to the tastes of those preparing and eating it. It usually includes orange slices — sometimes Mandarin oranges — tangerine sections, and perhaps tangelo sections. It may or may not include grapefruit. Salad made with grapefruit, of course, would need more sugar to be palatable than that made without it. Some cooks add a little orange or apple juice to the recipe for a slightly moister mixture. Others might add cognac or another fruit-flavored liqueur for extra flavor.

The amount of sugar and coconut added is strictly up to the cook. Some like a sweeter flavor than others, or more coconut. If children will be eating the salad, the liqueur is omitted and sometimes miniature marshmallows are added. They will soften in the salad and add extra sweetness and texture that children may prefer.

Ambrosia is best when served the same day it is prepared. It will often maintain its quality for several hours, but making the salad the day before serving it is not recommended. The sugar will cause the fruit to release too much juice and the fruit may "turn." It can be served before a meal, as a salad, or afterwards, as a dessert.


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Post 9

My grandma always made ambrosia with the gelatin for some reason. I never did care for it, and I guess no one else does, either. I didn't know that ambrosia was the name for it, though.

I have also heard ambrosia used as a type of alcoholic drink, too. I'm not certain, because I've never had it, but I think it is just Brandy and Champagne with a couple other things.

Post 8

@John57 - I've never heard of that, but it sounds really good. I bet the graham crackers add a really nice touch. I might have to look up a recipe for that.

I'm thinking you might be able to combine a few of the ideas here and make a nice pie from it. I'd probably like that more than a cake. I'm betting you could just take the pistachio pudding with the ambrosia and put it in a crust. Once it's chilled I bet it would cut like a pie.

Post 7

@kylee07drg - It's always interesting what people call things. Around where I live, the stuff with the pistachio pudding is always called Watergate salad. Ambrosia is just oranges and other fruit thrown together. In both of them, though, I always see whipped cream added. I guess it probably helps keep the flavor longer and makes it sweeter.

You're right, though. Everyone seems to be afraid of the "green stuff." That just means more for me!

Post 6

I don't think you can go wrong with ambrosia. There are so many different ways to fix it that you should have no trouble finding a recipe that you like.

I also have a great ambrosia cake recipe that has a graham cracker crust and a wonderful tasting orange filling. I usually only make this for special occasions, but I make sure and save myself one piece because there is never any left over.

Post 5

Many ambrosia recipes call for pineapple as one of the fruits, but I don't like pineapple so I add more oranges and cherries and leave out the pineapple. I love coconut in a salad so have not problem with the coconut.

Another thing I do is add toasted pecans and miniature marshmallows. It is hard to decide whether this is a salad or dessert, but either way it is really delicious.

Post 4

Ambrosia really is the best tasting stuff on the planet, in my opinion. Whoever came up with it was a culinary genius! It's so much better than plain fruit salad.

Post 3

@DylanB – It was most likely pistachio pudding. That is what my mother puts in her ambrosia. It's funny, because many people refuse to try it just because of the color.

She uses coconut, pecans, oranges, and marshmallows. Everything is all mixed up in the creamy, light green pudding. She refrigerates it, and the flavor stays good for days.

I think that the flavor may be preserved so well because she uses pudding. It encases everything and keeps the oranges from spoiling.

Post 2

My coworker made some ambrosia and brought it to work, but I was afraid to try it. It was green! Does anyone know what the green stuff might have been? I was embarrassed to ask her.

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