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Vinaigrette is essentially an emulsion i.e. a suspension of minute droplets of oil - which may be either of canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, peanut oil or sunflower oil, in a base of vinegar in which these oils remain insoluble. This emulsion is often flavored with certain herbs or spices and/or other ingredients. The purpose of the Vinaigrette is mainly as a salad dressing although its use as a marinade or a cold sauce is not uncommon.

Apart from use of different vinegars, in a bid to create different flavourings, use of diverse ingredients such as raspberry is often seen in modern culinary practice. Use of lemon juice or sometimes alcohol, such as sherry, instead of vinegar is also encountered.

‘Vinaigre’ is the French word from which Vinaigrette has evolved. In British English, it may be translated as ‘French dressing” and since the 19th century, this is the common name it has been known by.

Ingredients and Preparation

Basic Vinaigrette or ‘French dressing’

The ingredients and method involved in making basic vinaigrette is –

The ratio of oil to vinegar used is very crucial in making the perfect vinaigrette. 3 parts oil (salad or vegetable oil) is whisked into 1 part of vinegar and stirred rapidly till an emulsion is formed with fine droplets of oil floating on the vinegar base. A blender works best for the purpose. Seasoning of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper may be added. After transferring into a glass bowl, the mix is left to stand for some time to allow the flavors to merge. Finally, the dressing must be given a good whisk just before serving.

Vinaigrettes can be made using a number of different oils and vinegars, although, vegetable oils or olive oil is the preferred choice. Often mustard is employed as an emulsifier. Herbs and shallots may also be added, in particular when the vinaigrette is to be used as a cold sauce for cooked vegetables like steamed asparagus or artichokes, rice dishes such as Cajun rice, etc.

For instance, Balsamic vinaigrette is made by adding a small amount of balsamic vinegar to a simple vinaigrette consisting of olive oil and white wine vinegar.

For optimum results, all ingredients used should be close to room temperature when making the vinaigrette. The lower the temperature of the oil used, the more difficult it would be to create an emulsion.

Once the vinaigrette mixture is complete, it would be wise to let the flavors merge together for a while. This becomes especially important when beyond the basic formula additional ingredients like minced onion, garlic, chillies, herbs etc., are introduced. Ideally, it is advisable to prepare the vinaigrette well in advance and then let it rest for anywhere between 1 to 3 hours at room temperature itself.

Variations to the basic Vinaigrette

1. Mustard Vinaigrette: The mustard vinaigrette formula is considered to be one of the simplest variations to the basic vinaigrette recipe and makes for a delicious salad dressing of its own. Dijon mustard is the only additional ingredient to the basic vinaigrette recipe.

2. Herbed Vinaigrette: This herbed vinaigrette formula is another simple take on the basic vinaigrette recipe. It may be prepared using any one or more of a number of dried herbs such as thyme, basil, marjoram, chives or tarragon. Alternatively, using a little Herbs de Provence mix works well. Fresh herbs like mint, parsley or dill may also be used.

3. Italian Vinaigrette: This Italian vinaigrette formula is made using extra virgin olive oil in place of regular salad oil, and features additions of finely minced garlic, dried oregano and fresh chopped parsley.

4. Honey Dijon Vinaigrette: This delicious vinaigrette makes use of extra virgin olive oil, white wine or balsamic vinegar in combination with honey as well as Dijon mustard seasoned with kosher salt and pepper as usual. Not only does this taste great tossed along with a green salad but also makes a tangy sauce for flame-grilled chicken or fish.

5. Raspberry Vinaigrette: This fruity vinaigrette can be prepared by blending together vegetable oil, some fresh raspberries, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and a sprinkling of sugar.

Factors to get the Vinaigrette Formula Correct

1. Ratio: Although the ratio of 3 parts of oil to 1 part vinegar is the safest bet, since different vinegars have different strengths, this ratio might need some adjustment depending upon the vinegar one proposes to use. At times, a more tart dressing may be desired while at other times a more mild dressing is suitable.

TIP: One of the best ways to test the vinaigrette flavor is by dipping a piece of fresh lettuce leaf in the mixture, shaking off the excess and biting into it. This would help provide a better understanding of how the salad itself would eventually taste than by directly tasting the vinaigrette alone.

2. Oils: Any vegetable or salad oil is suitable for making a basic vinaigrette. As such, any light and neutral-flavored oil such as canola, corn, safflower or soy bean oil may be used. Extra virgin olive oil may be substituted for olive oil. Flavoured oils such as walnut, sesame, groundnut and others lend their distinctive flavours to the vinaigrette.

3. Vinegars: When it comes to vinegars, although the most neutral-flavored is the white vinegar, it is not often used in making vinaigrettes, although white wine vinegar may still be effective to some extent.

The varied flavors of specialty vinegars such as balsamic, raspberry or dry sherry make for diverse vinaigrettes. Balsamic vinegar that has been aged in specially treated oak wood casks is sweet, dark and easily one of the most enriching vinegars that can form part of a vinaigrette formula. If fruit-flavored vinaigrettes are desirable, apple cider vinegar makes the best choice. Similarly, rice vinegar obtained from fermented rice is the most apt choice especially in Asian-flavored vinaigrettes.

4. Juices: Lemon juice acts as a perfect complement to vinaigrettes. It is believed to enhance the flavor of vinegar. A simple dressing made with only olive oil and lemon juice drizzled over makes for a fresh summer salad that is hard to match because it is light and tasty.

For that matter, not just lemon, it is possible to use different kinds of juices in the making of vinaigrettes, although citrus fruits like lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange juice are most commonly used due to their high acid content. Also, orange juice introduces a certain sweetness in addition to the tartness. Each citrus fruit with its own unique flavor profile adds a distinctive flavor characteristic to the basic vinaigrette formula.

5. Seasonings: A simple fundamental vinaigrette needs no more seasoning than a small amount of Kosher salt as well as ground white pepper. However, other additions such as minced garlic, shallots, scallions, onion; and both fresh and dried herbs are often included as part of the mix. These, together with spices like paprika, black pepper, celery seed and so on, enhance taste further. Other ingredients, including soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce or mustard, are not uncommon either.

Honey happens to be a popular addition to vinaigrettes, reason being that firstly it adds sweetness, which works to counterbalance the tartness from the vinegar, citrus etc. Secondly, it also helps stabilize the emulsion. It has been found that a vinaigrette with honey as a constituent tends to remain emulsified for a longer time. Lastly, honey vinaigrettes work very well for the purpose of presentation, so that the oil and vinegar remain as one and do not separate out on the plate.

Vinaigrettes across the Globe

  • In the northern parts of France, Vinaigrette made using walnut oil and cider vinegar is typically used for making a Belgian Endive Salad.
  • In Southeast Asia, Vinaigrette made with rice bran oil and white vinegar traditionally form the foundation to a variety of different dressings with addition of one or more of fresh herbs, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, sesame seeds, nuts, and lime juice.
  • Likewise, in the United States of America, vinaigrettes may include a wide array of unique additions such as sugar, garlic, egg white, lemons, truffles, and even fruits like raspberries, and cherries. Other innovative additions such as cheese, particularly blue cheese, may also be used. Commercially, bottled versions sometimes include emulsifying agents like lecithin.

Nutritive Value

Nutritional Information

Per tablespoon, classic balsamic vinaigrette provides ~90 calories, only 1 g carbohydrate with no significant fibre content and 135 mg sodium. It supplies about 10 g fat with 1 g saturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated and 7 g monounsaturated fat.

Nutritional Improvement

Use of low-fat oils or MUFA-PUFA (mono and poly unsaturated fatty acids) rich oils is suggested for cardio-protective effects. Use of sesame seeds, pine nuts, herbs, garlic, would add a wealth of minerals, vitamins, anti-oxidant nutrients as well as anti-inflammatory compounds that are beneficial to overall health.