Salad dressing is a condiment used to enhance the flavor and texture of salad, ranging from simple green salads to more elaborate versions. There are a wide variety of styles used around the world, and some form is native to many cultures, including most European communities and India. Most markets carry packaged dressings in an array of flavors, and it is also possible to make them at home.
A number of materials are used as bases for salad dressing, such as oils, dairy products, and mayonnaise. Oils are the basis of vinaigrettes, simple blends of oil, vinegar, and herbs, and they are also used in many Asian dressings, along with ingredients such as soy sauce. Dairy products like cream, yogurt, and creme fraiche, are also common bases for dressings, especially in Eastern Europe.
In addition to a base, a dressing can include a wide variety of things, including fresh herbs, pickled vegetables or relish, fermented foods like vinegar or soy sauce, nuts, and dried or fresh fruit. Other condiments, such as salad cream or ketchup, can also be included, as can spicy additions, like chilies, and sweet ones, such as sugar and molasses. Many cultures have a specific dressing in common usage, such as the blend of yogurt, dill, cucumber, and lemon juice used in the Mediterranean to dress simple salads, or the vinaigrette, which is in wide use in France and Italy.
Dressings can be thick and creamy, as is the case with blue cheese and ranch dressings, which use a dairy base, or they may be light and runny. Some are even designed for a specific salad, like Caesar dressing for the salad of the same name. Many cultures also have specific preferences about the amount that is used, with some salads being drenched in dressing, while others are only lightly spritzed with just enough to be refreshing.
Many dressings can also be used as dips for bread and vegetables as well as for salads. Typically, they are designed to be shaken before use to combine all of the ingredients, and stored under refrigeration when not in use to keep them fresh and cool. Many people like to invent their own dressings, exploring favorite ingredients to come up with a customized version which reflects their own tastes. As a general rule, almost anything can be added to a salad dressing, although dairy ingredients and acidic ones like lime juice or vinegar can sometimes separate and clot, resulting in a product that does not look very appealing.