Skip to Content

Does French Dressing Have Dairy? You’ll Be Surprised

The great thing about salad dressings is that there is a whole world of variety out there that fits various dietary requirements. Fat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free – all of these things exist in abundance. 

But of course, if you have a specific dietary requirement, it narrows down your choices, so it would be helpful to know which ones to look for. For example, if you are following a dairy-free diet, can you have French dressing?

Does French Dressing Have Dairy?

French dressing typically does not contain any dairy. It is a creamy, pale orange, tomato-based dressing made essentially with a mixture of vegetable oil, acid, sugar, spices, and tomatoes. Some brands, though, may opt to include other ingredients in their dressing so if you are avoiding a specific ingredient, it is always a good idea to check the ingredients list first.  

Does French Dressing Have Dairy?
Does French Dressing Have Dairy?

What Is French Dressing?

French dressing is one of the most loved dressings in the country. It can range in color from pale orange to bright red, and is made primarily with tomatoes or tomato puree, vegetable oil, acids like vinegar, lemon or lime juice, sugar, and special spices like paprika, which, along with the tomatoes, contributes to its fun, orange hue.  

It has a sweet yet tangy taste and a creamy consistency that sits between the spectrum of the thinner Catalina dressing and the rich and creamy Russian dressing.

French dressing was actually closely regulated by the FDA for a long time. For it to be called French dressing, it had to be made up of a specific list of ingredients, or tomatoes, oil, acid, and spices.

Very recently, however, the standard of identity for French dressing was dropped, which means that manufacturers can now add other ingredients to the original list and still label it French dressing. 

However, I think that for the general public, French dressing will always remain to be what it has been for the last 70 or so years: a sweet yet tangy, creamy orange dressing made mostly with tomatoes, sugar, spices, and acid.

What Is Dairy?

Before anything else, it is important to define what dairy means, since believe it or not, there is sometimes a lot of confusion in the definition of the term.

Dairy products refer to milk and other products that are made from milk. This means milk, butter, cream, yogurt, sour cream, cheese, ice cream, and other products that have milk as an ingredient.

Most dairy products are made from cow’s milk but sheep, goat, and milk from other animals are included in the category as well.

Despite being commonly found in the dairy section, eggs are actually not a dairy product. Mayonnaise, though it may seem counterintuitive, is also not a dairy product as it mostly just contains, oil, eggs, salt, and an acid.

Dairy refers to milk and products made from milk.
Dairy refers to milk and products made from milk.

Is French Dressing Dairy-Free?

Typical French dressing is dairy-free, as it does not contain any milk or milk-derived products. However, some manufacturers may add eggs or mayonnaise to their specific mix, especially now that the ingredients are not regulated by the FDA anymore.  

This means that while it can still be considered dairy-free at that point, it may not be suitable for those following a vegan or animal-by-product-free diet.

It is important to always check the ingredients list if you are not making the dressing yourself, and make sure there are no ingredients in there that do not fit in with your dietary requirements.

Why Is It Called French Dressing? Is it From France?

French dressing does have its roots in France somewhat but the French dressing that we know and love today is a purely American invention.

In 19th century America, the term French dressing still pertained to the typical French salad dressing, what is called a vinaigrette. A vinaigrette can take on many flavors but it essentially is a mixture of oil and vinegar, at a specific ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.

Other herbs and spices may be added to the mix, as well as Dijon mustard. In professional and culinary circles though, French dressing still typically refers to the French vinaigrette.

In the early 1920s, American companies took the traditional French dressing and started mixing other ingredients to it like onions, ketchup and spices. This lead to the creation of a totally different product, both in look and in taste, but they did not change the name of their new invention. 

The name French dressing was retained, and over the years, it has come to be known as the American-style French dressing that we all know and love today.

I’m not too sure how the French would feel about that but, hey, it is what it is.

Three Kinds of Salad Dressings

There are many different salad dressings out there but in general they can be put in to one of the following categories:

1. Vinaigrettes

Vinaigrettes are made by mixing oil, vinegar, herbs, spices, and sometimes mustard. The normal ratio followed is usually 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil.

More than salads, vinaigrettes can actually be used to dress up things like grilled fish, and roasted vegetables or even be used as a marinade prior to cooking.

My favorite vinaigrette is actually a Balsamic vinaigrette that is a mix of good quality extra virgin olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, raw honey, some sugar, salt, and pepper. It is awesome in a green salad with some sundried tomatoes, candied walnuts and Parmesan cheese!

Vinaigrettes are basically a mixture of oil, vinegar or acid and herbs and spices.
Vinaigrettes are basically a mixture of oil, vinegar or acid and herbs and spices.

2. Creamy Dressings

In creamy dressings, mayonnaise is typically the star of the show, and form the base of most of these types of dressings. However, dressings made with buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, tahini or nut creams as well as nut butters may also be considered in this group.

3. Boiled or Cooked Dressings

Boiled dressings are creamy dressings usually made with a mixture of cream or milk, eggs, an acid like vinegar, mustard, flour, and other spices and seasonings. It was very popular in the 1800s-1900s. Back then, mayonnaise was not that easy to acquire, which made boiled dressings the go-to for most places. 

What Other Dressings Are Dairy-Free?

1. Catalina

Catalina dressing is a type of French dressing, but is usually sweeter and thinner in consistency compared to French dressing. It is also usually a brighter shade of red compared to French dressing’s pale orange hue. As long as there are no other added ingredients on the list, Catalina dressing is dairy-free.

2. Russian Dressing

Russian dressing is similar to Thousand Island dressing in that it is a mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise, and spices, however, Thousand Island sometimes contains cream or sour cream, and Russian dressing doesn’t.

Russian dressing can also contain ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, mustard, chives, horseradish, and chilis. Because of the chilis, it can also be on the spicy side. Russian dressing is commonly used in reuben sandwiches.

Like French dressing, it isn’t really Russian in origin, but American. It is said that the reason why it was called Russian dressing was that the original version contained caviar, which is associated with Russian cuisine, but that really is up for debate.

Russian dressing elevates the taste of reuben sandwiches.
Russian dressing elevates the taste of reuben sandwiches.

3. Italian

Like French dressing and Russian dressing, Italian dressing is also not from Italy, but was created in America. The reason why it is called Italian dressing is that, similar to Russian dressing, the herbs used in it are all used in Italian cooking.

Italian dressing is a vinaigrette typically made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, garlic, oregano and basil.

4. Other Vinaigrettes

In general, other types of vinaigrette are dairy-free, as it is just usually mostly a mixture of oil, vinegar, seasonings, herbs, and spices. If you wanted to be sure that your dressing is dairy-free, opt mostly for vinaigrettes.

5. Vegan Dressings

If a salad dressing is labeled vegan, then it is for sure a dairy-free salad dressing. Vegan food does not contain any type of animal byproduct, and this extends to mayonnaise and eggs. 

A salad dressing labelled “dairy-free” though, isn’t necessarily vegan. To put it simply, all vegan salad dressings are dairy-free, but not all dairy-free salad dressings can be considered vegan.

With the rise in people advocating vegan and plant-based diets, more and more options are becoming available that used to be hard to find. Vegan versions of Caesar or Ranch dressing, made with plant substitutes, can now be easily found on grocery store shelves.

If you are looking for dairy-free stuff, checking the vegan section will give you a whole lot of options.  

With the rise of veganism, various dairy alternatives have popped up that make it possible to create dairy-free products like salad dressing.
With the rise of veganism, various dairy alternatives have popped up that make it possible to create things like dairy-free salad dressings.

Frequently Asked Questions to Does French Dressing Have Dairy?

Does Ketchup Have Dairy?

Ketchup is typically a dairy-free product as it is usually just made from tomatoes, vinegar, spices and seasonings, and it does not have any milk products in it. However, it is best to check the ingredients list to be sure.

Does French Dressing Have Gluten?

French dressing is usually gluten-free. But in case your brand has some malt flavoring or malt vinegar or soy sauce in there, then it would not be gluten-free. Make sure to check the labels, as brands would usually specify this on the labels.

What is French Dressing Made Of?

French dressing is typically made of tomatoes or tomato puree, sugar, salt, vinegar or lemon or lime juice, and spices and seasonings like paprika.

Conclusion to Does French Dressing Have Dairy?

Traditional French dressing is typically dairy-free, although depending on the brand, there can sometimes be added ingredients that may make it unsuitable for dairy-free diets. 

Especially since the specific components of French dressing are not regulated anymore, manufacturers are free to add ingredients that will enhance the taste of their product.

When specifically looking for dairy-free or other special products for that matter, it is important to always check the ingredients list and the labels to make sure that the ingredients you wish to avoid are not lurking in there somewhere.

If you want to be 100% sure, you can opt to make your French dressing yourself. That way, you’ll know exactly what ingredients are in your salad dressing.