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Oil & Vinegar The Vinaigrettes Is The Question

Should we make vinaigrettes or just pour on the oil and vinegar? Check out what’s the difference that will make a tasty salad!

Many restaurants offer olive oil and vinegar on the side for salad dressing. But does combining them beforehand, creating an emulsified vinaigrette, truly make a difference for the salad’s taste and nutritional value?

Vinegar Myth

A common misconception exists that vinegar wilts salad greens but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Dressing greens with vinegar, water (control), and olive oil vinegar-dressed greens fare equally well as those dressed with water, while olive oil causes the most wilting.

Leaf Protection

Salad greens possess a natural waxy coating that protects them from the elements. Unfortunately, this same coating allows olive oil to penetrate the leaves, causing damage.

The Power of Emulsification

A vinaigrette without a surfactant (like mustard) results in separated oil and vinegar droplets clinging to the leaves. Moving the leaves causes the vinegar to fall back into the bowl, leaving the oil behind.



Larousse Gastronomique describes a vinaigrette as a cold sauce comprised primarily of vinegar, oil, pepper, and salt, with optional additional flavorings. However, for many, a key characteristic of a vinaigrette is at least partial emulsification.


An emulsion occurs when two immiscible liquids, like oil and vinegar (similar to water), are forced to combine into a seemingly uniform mixture. Without intervention, they naturally separate. Here’s how to achieve an emulsion:

There are two main approaches to achieve emulsification.

  1. Dispersing the Oil
    This method involves breaking down the oil into tiny droplets that become surrounded by the vinegar. Imagine a lone cat trapped within a circle of dogs, unable to rejoin its feline companions. Homogenized milk exemplifies this concept, where whole milk undergoes high-pressure treatment to break down fat molecules into dispersed droplets within the watery whey.
  2. Introducing a Surfactant
    This approach utilizes a specific ingredient, known as a surfactant, to facilitate the emulsion process. Surfactants possess a unique property: one end attracts water (hydrophilic), while the other attracts oil (hydrophobic). Think of a cartoon character with a cat head on one side and a dog head on the other, bridging the gap between feline and canine worlds. Common culinary surfactants include egg yolks, mustard, and honey.

Visualizing the Power of Surfactants

Fill two containers with 3:1 mixture of oil and balsamic vinegar. In one of the bottles add a touch of Dijon mustard. Shake them vigorously until appearing uniform. After resting for five minutes, the container without mustard exhibit a significantly faster separation compared to the one containing mustard.

Emulsification for Optimal Flavor and Freshness

  • The classic 2:1 ratio of oil to vinegar creates a strong emulsion that ensures even coating and prevents separation. For a milder acidity, substituting some vinegar with water yields similar stability.
  • Mustard is the most common emulsifier, requiring at least 1 teaspoon per tablespoon of vinegar. It can be adjusted to taste preference. Mayonnaise offers an even creamier option, but lacks the tang of mustard. Honey adds sweetness, particularly suitable for salads with beets or asparagus.
  • Blending creates the tightest emulsion, lasting a full week. Shaking in a jar produces a weaker version, stable for approximately 30 minutes. Consider the size of the salad and consumption timeframe when choosing a method.
  • A vinaigrette only needs stability for the duration of a meal. Blending is ideal for salads lasting a week, though for most, a daily shake in a squeeze bottle stored in the refrigerator is sufficient.


  • Vinaigrette ensures even distribution of flavor throughout the salad.
  • It prevents oil from damaging the leaves, promoting freshness.
  • Making vinaigrette minimizes wasted vinegar, allowing us to enjoy the full flavor profile of the dressing.

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