Pardon my late posting, I am on holidays. But I am still eating food! And today's blog post, albeit a short one, is one that is an easy thing to swap in. We'll talk about how to manage this at home, and how to manoeuvre this idea whilst on the road. Today's post is about how to DIY your own salad dressing, and why you might want to.
Let's take this down to brass tacks. Salad dressing is usually made of a liquid oil of one sort, and mixed in with a tangy or tart ingredient. Sometimes there's a creamy bit added, some recipes call for fresh herbs and other flavourings, but really it's all about the ratio between oil and tang, would you agree?
When you're making your own, it takes all of maybe 2 minutes to make, from taking your ingredients out and mixing until it tastes just to your liking. While I understand the convenience factor in reaching for the already-prepared jar in the fridge, today's post is meant to sway you over to the DIY camp, all in the name of better health.
Why I'm not a fan of bottled dressings
The oil used in manufactured dressings are usually lesser in quality than ones you use when making your own. Read your labels, and get to know which oils are good, and which ones you should refrain from consuming! I generally shy away from oils that are high in omega-6 fatty acids like canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed oil. A typical diet in North America is quite high in omega 6s.
For our bodies to be efficient at keeping inflammation down, we need to look at a healthy ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s. We should be aiming to balance it out at 1 omega 3 for every 2 omega 6s, or in a ratio of 1:2 for omega3:omega6. The way we eat in our part of the world, our ratio is closer to 1:20 in terms of omega3:omega6. The oils listed above contribute to tipping the scales in the opposite direction of what we would like, increasing our intake of omega 6s and thus contributing to increased inflammation in our bodies. I have a post on this topic that goes into further detail if you're interested; head here for the full write up on EFAs.
In my case, I'd rather make my own salad dressings using fats that are excellent sources of omega 3s, in order to help close the gap and tip the scales in favour of decreasing the inflammation in my body. My favourite oil to use is a good quality olive oil, always an excellent source of those all-important omega 3 fats. In reaching for this health-supportive fat, I am looking at reducing my ratio from 1:20, bringing it closer to my goal of 1:2 omega3 to omega6. Avocado oil would be another healthy fat rich in omega 3s. Hemp oil has a good amount of omega 3s, but still contains a higher amount of omega 6s. It isn't my first choice.
Another good reason to ditch the bottled is because of the processing that happens in the processing plant with these oils. Mark's Daily Apple goes in to a thorough exploration of rancid oils and their health effects on our bodies; find that article here. When the dressings are processed and bottled, they go through a heating process in order to make them shelf-stable. A rancid oil is one that has been oxidized, in other words exposed to light, heat or oxygen. This has a negative impact on the vitality of each and every cell in the body, wreaking free radical damage and inviting inflammation in every organ at every level. It's just not worth it.
These liquid vegetable oils like canola oil are highly susceptible to becoming rancid, and so the food producers have figured out a way around the oils developing that tell-tale taste that tells you the oil has gone bad, giving it that rancid taste. They use chemical deodorizers in order to take that taste out, so that you are no longer able to detect whether or not the oil you have in your hands has gone rancid or not yet. This processing step typically relies on high heat and different chemicals to strip the taste out; as you can imagine, these processing steps contribute to further oxidation, thereby making these oils even more susceptible to being rancid.
And in case you're still reading and looking for another reason to ditch the bottled stuff, most of the oils used in these prepared dressings are ones that come from crops that were genetically modified. Genetically engineered foods are being studied to see what their impact is on our gut flora we are cultivating, a key player in our wish for optimal health. This isn't something you want to mess with.
I like you too much to see you consume bottled dressings. Reach for the jam jar friend, and mix your own.
Read on for some good ideas and templates later on down the post.
Why I love salad dressings
There are plenty of reasons to douse your salad in some good homemade salad dressing. There's the taste factor, of course; goes without saying. There's the assistance of an acidic addition (lemons, apple cider vinegar, balsamic) that will help rev up your stomach to be ready to digest the meal at hand. (This helps set a good pH for your stomach to turn your digestive enzymes 'on' in order to break down the protein in the meal at hand.)
My favourite though is that with the addition of a good fat, not only are you consuming more omega 3s (and thereby helping your body curb inflammation), you are also ensuring your body is better able to absorb the vitamins and minerals found in the salad you're eating. Some of the nutrients found within the veggies in your salad are fat-soluble ones, meaning you can't absorb them and get them in to your body working for you unless they are ferried in to your body with a good fat. (I did a wee post back in February of this year on what is a good fat. Find that article here.) A good way to think about it: you need the fats and enzymes contained in the dressing ingredients to maximize the nutritional content of your salad!
So hopefully by now, I have convinced you to try your hand at making your own dressing. It's really a pretty easy thing to make, and you can make just a little or a big batch of your favourite dressing, keeping it on hand for easy meals in the coming days and perhaps weeks.
General Salad Dressing Rules + Ideas
always dress your salad at the last minute if it is a greens-based salad, just before serving
if your salad is more robust with root veggies or grains as the main players, dress your salad early and allow the flavours to mellow and develop at least one hour before the meal
aim for a ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid (vinegar or lemon)
always taste your dressing and adjust to your liking (more salt for deeper flavours, more lemon or vinegar for extra tang)
you want your dressing to jump out at you, as it will mellow once on your salad
if you are mixing in fresh garlic to your dressing and are using oil, use it up within 5 days of making it
consider adding fresh herbs, for added flavour, greens and health benefits
try different types of vinegars for different flavours, or flavoured balsamic vinegars for fun twists (I love the maple balsamic for summer salads, and the coffee flavoured vinegars for winter-y root salads)
on the same topic, reach for a flavoured olive oil from local small shops; my favourite is the fine folks at Blue Door Oil + Vinegar
aiming for a creamy dressing? toss in half an avocado in the blender, or use yogurt or creme fraiche as your base
instead of using vinegar or lemon juice, consider using the juice of one of your ferments (kimchi juice! Kombucha that was left out for too long! A fruity water kefir you can't get enough of!)
make your own infused vinegars for salads year long. My current favourite is my chive blossom vinegar, pictured above.
toss in a bit of a nut or seed butter if you want a creamier non-dairy dressing
What to do if you're on the road or eating out
It can be tough to navigate a menu while out and about or on the road for a few weeks, with the idea of keeping things healthy. Sure, salads usually mean loads of veggies, but what about the dressing?
There's an easy way around this: simply ask your server what kind of ingredients are in that dressing you're wishing for. If it comes from a bottle, you may want to request a simple olive oil and balsamic dressing instead. I did this at a restaurant last night in fact; they brought me only olive oil. I just used a splash of the vinegar that was on our table, and a dash of S+P and let the veggies sing their flavours, instead of sickly-sweet-syrupy-fake dressing. (Can you tell how I feel about these things?)
You can also ask for the dressing to come on the side, in order to use less.