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All Dressed Up

Tasting supermarket salad dressings.

All Dressed Up

Jul 2, 2024 Food

I wish I loved to eat salad, but I just don’t. 

I can get behind a refreshing side salad or even a salad as entrée, sure, but eating salad as a main meal…. I’m unconvinced. Unless a salad is laden with carbs or bacon (hence my unwavering love for Caesar salads with the works), it’s usually not for me. 

The one thing that can get me excited about salad is a great dressing — the key to a tasty assemblage of greens. Normally I make my own simple vinaigrette, with lemon and olive oil, and that works fine. Still, I remain intrigued by the salad dressing shelves at the supermarket. With so many options and such price variation, how do I pick? Certain dressings, of course, are better suited to one type of salad than to another. But a full bottle of salad dressing will last a lot longer than just one salad, so we need to consider its versatility. Your choice of salad dressings is a medium-term commitment, my friends, and one that should not be taken lightly. 

Some reviewers assessing salad dressings would consider their nutritional make-up — like, how much sugar they have or which kinds of fat have been emulsified into the finished product. I will not — I’m a pastry chef, not a nutritionist. If you are interested in which salad dressings are the best for your health, I am one of the worst people to ask. What I will be testing each dressing on is flavour, first and foremost — as well as value for money, texture and versatility. 

While salad dressings can be wildly various — from store-bought to homemade, creamy ranch to the most piquant of vinaigrettes, sesame to honey mustard to Italian — individual dressings have their own role and place depending on the occasion, the type of salad and your preferences. Making them yourself is always a delicious option, but it’s equally nice to take a night off and rely on one that someone else has put together. Too often we are made to feel as if we must make dips, soups, cakes or dressings from scratch, but there is something incredibly freeing about pulling a pre-made blend from the fridge to spruce up a last-minute weeknight couch dinner. 

What I’ve learnt from this experiment is that there are a bunch of great brands making high-quality dressings — we’re lucky to be able to add them to our shopping trolleys. The 11 dressings I tasted are presented below in no particular order, but to my palate, Genevieve’s is the clear winner. Time to buy some leafy greens! 


Pams Thousand Island Dressing
$3.59 for 295ml

I reckon the Pams Thousand Island dressing is the beloved budget food brand’s most iconic product. It was a staple of my days studying in Dunedin. The main flavours? Gherkins and tomato paste. Could you make a better one at home by combining mayonnaise with these two ingredients? Most likely. But this cheap, cheerful and ready-to-eat version has a time and place — and of all the Thousand Island versions I’ve tried, I like this one the most. It’s the cheapest of them all, too. This product also benefits from the healthy amount of hot sauce added to the mix. It’s not exactly a bougie dressing, but if you are having a barbecue or need a dose of something extra in your burger or sandwich, this is a commendable choice. 


Beerenberg Ranch Dressing
$7.69 for 300ml

Now, I know that technically pizza isn’t salad, but when I dip a slice in ranch dressing, I feel like I’ve ascended to a version of heaven. And the Beerenberg Ranch is the best I’ve tried — super-vinegary and mustard heavy, making it a good pairing for cos lettuce, parmesan cheese, tuna or chicken. Ranch is also one of those salad dressings where it makes sense to pop a bottle in your supermarket trolley and save yourself hassle — no need to be emulsifying at home.


Eta Balsamic Vinaigrette
$2.99 for 250ml

Pams’ competitor when it comes to the affordable end of the salad-dressing scale. I grew up eating Eta dressings regularly, so I feel as though I shouldn’t be too harsh. This product is like the value-pack-spaghetti of dressings, and should be respected. Balsamic vinegar is one of my favourite salad dressing components, and the Eta balsamic dressing is as affordable as it is delicious. Is it the best of the lot? No. Is it a good option considering the price? Absolutely. (The French dressing from Eta is also worth noting — it holds a special place in my heart because I used to eat it at Nan and Pop’s house on a simple green salad.) Eta dressings across the board have a classically specific ‘Eta flavour’ — a little on the sweet side — but for reasons of nostalgia, I remain loyal. 


McCormick Sesame Dressing
$5.29 for 150ml

This dressing is bloody delicious — it’s a staple in my fridge and perfect for lazy dinners. If it weren’t socially unacceptable — and if it weren’t quite so creamy and rich in sesame — I would drink this stuff. As it is, a little goes a long way. I salute you, McCormick: you have produced an exceptional salad dressing and should be proud. Drizzled over crispy noodles, beef and cucumber, it’s unstoppable. My dad loves this dressing, too — he eats it a lot in a salad of finely sliced iceberg, tomato and coriander — and it works super-well on a cold soba noodle salad with fresh veges and chicken or tofu. McCormick also does a dressing that is lighter, soy-based and equally good. You’ll find these dressings in the International section of most supermarkets.


Cotterill & Rouse 99% Oil Free Balsamic Gourmet Dressing
$8.39 for 250ml

I appreciate that many people are looking to cut down on oil in their diet and welcome having the option of an oil-free dressing. For me, though, oil is essential to salad dressings, and much like dairy-free cream cheese or ice cream, if the oil-free version can be avoided, it should be. This product is the best of the oil-free dressings I’ve tried. It is quite sweet, though — a common downside of going oil-free. So while it’s not my favourite, if you like your dressings on the sweeter side and are avoiding oils, this one’s worth a go. 


Telegraph Hill Balsamic Oak Infused Drizzle
$23.95 for 250ml

This is my pick of products from the higher-end tier of dressings. The balsamic oak-infused drizzle is rich, balanced and syrupy in flavour and texture. You don’t need much to create a simple but perfect green salad. Another great way to use this dressing, courtesy of my boyfriend, is with chicken. Try grilling chicken thighs in a hot pan, drizzle over the vinaigrette, and cook and toss until the dish is thick and sticky. 


Barker’s Mustard Herb & Caper Vinaigrette
$5.50 for 280ml

A New Zealand classic. All of the Barker’s flavours are thoughtful and delicious, really — the Miso & Ginger, the Coconut & NZ Lime, the Raspberry Vinaigrette. The Mustard Herb & Caper is my favourite, though — and a close second after the McCormick. It’s not too sweet, it has some great texture, and it tastes freshly made. That’s my biggest bugbear with store-bought dressings — after being stored so long on shop shelves with preservatives, some flavours find it hard to sing. Of all the brands that I’ve tried (except my beloved Genevieve’s, below), this product tastes the closest to a fresh homemade dressing. The bottle is pretty, too — which technically shouldn’t be important, but in practice definitely is. 


Culley’s Kitchen Classic Caesar Dressing
$6.90 for 250ml

One of the best store-bought Caesar dressings available. The Caesar is an elite salad — and that’s probably down to the fact that it contains croutons, anchovies, eggs and parmesan, and sometimes these days chicken and bacon, too. That’s my kind of salad. Making a Caesar dressing from scratch is time-consuming, and involves emulsifying (who has the time?) as well as getting the balance of several costly ingredients just right. So in this case, let yourself off the hook and buy a bottle. 


Sabato Smoky Spanish Dressing
$13.90 for 250ml

Sure, Sabato’s blends are on the fancier, pricier side, but they’re certainly worth it — you can taste the effort and thought that goes into them. Some outcomes are almost miraculous, encouraging even reluctant salad-eaters like me to happily munch through a bowl: the dressings are just that good. While I’ve not met a Sabato dressing I didn’t like, my favourite is the smoky Spanish dressing which you can toss through a salad or use to marinate meats. It might cost you a few more coins, but its versatility makes it well worth the price. 


Genevieve’s Classic French Vinaigrette
$9.49 for 245g

You will find Genevieve’s pouches in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, and this points to what I love most about these dressings: they’re zingy and fresh. Each pouch contains the perfect amount of dressing for one large salad — at a pretty high price point, I admit, but well worth it. As you crunch through your first green bite, you’ll taste the quality and the care that has gone into this product. In some supermarkets, they even place the pouches next to the vegetables, so you can design a salad more easily. As well as its French dressing, Genevieve’s does a wonderful Saffron & Orange Vinaigrette, a Sesame & Soy, a Lime & Parmesan, a Blue Cheese… They also have a great Caesar dressing, which I’ve bought on countless occasions to dress what I’ve clearly established here is my favourite salad.


Paul Newman’s Own Classic Vinaigrette
$5.50 for 250ml

Paul Newman’s is a staple in a lot of New Zealand and Australian kitchens. The company sells a variety of great dressings, my favourite being the classic vinaigrette. The price is brilliant, and it’s a nice touch that all the profits go to charity. The Newman’s Own classic vinaigrette is flavoured with lemon, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Though you can make a vinaigrette quite easily at home, if you need a dressing quickly that is no fuss and delicious, this is a fantastic bottle to grab. 

This review was published in Metro N°442.
Available here.


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In the Autumn 2024 issue of Metro we celebrate the best of Tāmaki Makaurau — 100 great things about life in Auckland, including our favourite florist, furniture store, cocktail, basketball court, tree, make-out spot, influencer, and psychic. The issue also includes the Metro Wine Awards, the battle over music technology company Serato, the end of The Pantograph Punch, the Billy Apple archives, a visit to Armenia, viral indie musician Lontalius, the state of fine dining, and the time we bombed West Auckland to kill a moth. Plus restaurants, movies, politics, astrology, and more.

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