TRIED & TESTED / Power dressings: How good are the fast finishing touches to salad days? Our panel samples a medley of ready-to-use blends of herbs, oils and vinegar

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WHILE hardline foodies shudder at the thought of anything but making one's own salad dressing, the market for ready-made dressings is booming. We asked an expert panel to try out 10, many of which had more exotic ingredients than the usual basics of oil, vinegar and mustard. You can buy either fresh dressings, found in the chiller cabinet at the supermarket, or long-life dressings. We tried five of each and found that, perhaps surprisingly, fresh is not automatically better. Often the panel couldn't even tell which was fresh and which was not and some long-life dressings were rated more highly. Several of the dressings were very creamy and were closer to a mayonnaise than a vinaigrette.

Overall, our panel thought that the dressings could be improved if the makers used better ingredients - olive oil was a rarity, for example. They also thought that the makers needed to pay more attention to the old advice to 'be a miser with the vinegar, and a spendthrift with the oil'. The dressings tended to be very acid, with too much sugar added to compensate.

THE PANEL

Antony Worrall Thompson, restaurateur; Justin de Blank, baker and restaurateur; Peter Irvine, grocery buyer, Harvey Nichols Foodmarket; Jane Duncan, editorial assistant, Independent on Sunday.

THE TEST

The panel gave the dressings star ratings for taste, appearance, texture and the balance of acid and oil. The panel did not know what variety or brand of dressing they were tasting.

*MARKS & SPENCER FRESH VINAIGRETTE WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATOES

Fresh. 39p 50g sachet

Apart from the oily red sheen, there's little hint of the sun-dried tomato in this dressing.

Justin de Blank commented on the 'strange taste, strange colour'. Generally, the overwhelming impression was of bland oiliness. Only one panellist. Antony Worrall Thompson, detected the tomato taste. He also correctly guessed that the dressing had water added to it. 'Greasy, would probably be lost in a salad and would need additional ingredients to spice up the flavour,' said Peter Irvine. Olive oil is on the ingredient list as well as sunflower oil, but there may not be a huge proportion of olive oil as it contributed little to the taste.

*WAITROSE APPLE & WALNUT SALAD DRESSING

Fresh. 89p 250ml

The panel didn't think the many and variedingredients in the dressing made for a happy combination. The consistency of the dressing was also too thin. 'Very sweet and tastes strongly of walnuts. Very, very thin. Quite horrible,' said Jane Duncan. 'Sweet and sour taste, with too much kick at the back of the throat,' said Antony Worrall Thompson.

*WAITROSE LEMON & DILL SALAD DRESSING

Fresh. 89p 250ml

This was both extremely sweet and extremely sharp at the same time - some might find it a bit overpowering. 'This dill dressing could possibly be good for raw salmon or gravadlax,' suggested Antony Worrall Thompson, although he added that it was 'too sweet and needs more mustard'. Justin de Blank found it 'surprisingly pleasing'. The other two panellists didn't like it much, and thought it tasted past its best. Peter Irvine said that this was probably just due to over-indulgence when adding the ingredients.

*SAFEWAY HONEY & MUSTARD SALAD DRESSING

Fresh. 89p 250ml

This dressing, one of a range to be launchedby Safeway in mid-September, was sweet and creamy. It was not one of the more popular with the panel. 'Reasonably good oil, but too creamy. It wouldn't stand weak leaves - it needs an iceberg lettuce,' said Antony Worrall Thompson. 'Not a very attractive flavour. Overherbed,' said Justin de Blank. Jane Duncan thought it was similar to salad cream: 'A yellowy colour with lots of mustard seed. Unappealing.'

**** TESCO HONEY & MUSTARD DRESSING .TX.- Fresh. 75p 250ml

The best of the fresh dressings, and our overall winner, too. The dressing had a good balance of flavours - unlike many. It was not too sharp. 'This dressing has a clean finish and would enhance a fresh salad,' said Peter Irvine. 'Slightly more mellow than the others. Not too oily, with a nice consistency,' said Jane Duncan. It's also one of the best value for money buys.

***MARKS & SPENCER LEMON & CORIANDER DRESSING

Long-life. 99p 295g

This dressing, with its fragrant, lemony taste, was in a different class to some of the other, more run-of-the-mill products. 'Thought has gone into this dressing, with its texture of lemon rind, and good oils and vinegar. Slightly oriental,' said Antony Worrall Thompson. Although the main oil used is vegetable, it does contain a smaller amount of extra virgin olive oil. Some of the panel wrongly thought it was fresh. The panel also liked the look of the dressing, which is closer to a vinaigrette than some of the creamier dressings. 'You would need to be careful that the ingredients would not overpower this delicate dressing,' cautioned Peter Irvine.

SAINSBURY HONEY & MUSTARD SALAD DRESSING

Long-life. 77p 250ml

The panel did notenjoy this dressing, which was very thick and sweet to the point of sickliness. 'The honey-pot taste might be good on toast but certainly not on salad. Hints of mustard, but without the kick of most dressings,' said Antony Worrall Thompson. 'Sweet, bland, boring,' said Justin de Blank. 'Thick and gooey. It wobbles in the bowl,' commented Jane Duncan.

***NEWMAN'S OWN RANCH DRESSING

Long-life. pounds 1.19 250ml

Paul Newman, who is said to have invented the this recipe himself, seems to have the knack of getting a creamy-style dressing right. It is more like a mayonnaise than a dressing and was the most popular of this type in the test. 'Very rich, thick, and creamy. A lovely mild flavour,' said Jane Duncan. Antony Worrall Thompson thought it would be good for a Caesar salad or for bold salad leaves. 'It would overpower flimsy leaves such as baby spinach,' he said. He and Peter Irvine suggested adding extra ingredients to spice it up, like anchovies or Parmesan. The dressing is expensive, but the company's profits go to charity.

**TESCO MUSTARD & TARRAGON DRESSING

Long-life. 75p 250ml

The panel were split on this one. Justin de Blank thought it was excellent, with a very good balance of flavours. The others, though, found it very tart. 'It hits the taste buds like a bull in a china shop,' said Peter Irvine. 'Very acid, with false hints of sweetness. It has an 'off' taste and is slightly fizzy. Kicks you in the back of the mouth,' said Antony Worrall Thompson.

LESIEUR GARLIC & HERBS VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

Long-life. 92p 300ml

Despite being labelled as a vinaigrette, this was another dressing with a very creamy consistency. The panel didn't take to it at all. 'A curious dressing. Not very nice,' said Justin de Blank. Antony Worrall Thompson thought it was 'vinegary, with over-compensatory sweetener. A very plastic, manufactured taste.' 'Poor texture, very disappointing,' said Peter Irvine.

NEXT WEEK: TWO-PERSON TENTS

(Photograph omitted)

Comments