Published December 1, 2009. From Cook's Country.
Fat equals flavor—but only if it's the right fat.
Here in the test kitchen, we always make our own salad dressing. But readers insist they like the convenience of bottled dressing on occasion. In the hopes of finding an acceptable supermarket creamy Italian dressing, we rounded up six top-selling brands (data courtesy of Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm), readied our industrial-sized salad spinner, and called 20 cooks and editors from America’s Test Kitchen to taste each dressing plain and with iceberg lettuce.
The results? We still prefer homemade, and can’t recommend any store-bought bottles more strongly than “with reservations.” Two are acceptable: They have the least sodium per serving, aren’t too sweet, and have no off flavors. Most important, they have the most fat of those we tasted. The type of fat matters, too. These dressings have vegetable oil as the primary fat source, but the fats listed next in one dressing are egg yolk and buttermilk; in the other, sour cream, whole egg, and egg yolk. These rich, fatty ingredients give our winners creamy flavor and texture. A few dressings we tasted get virtually all their fat from relatively flavorless oils. Another dressing does have egg yolk, but it also has Romano and Parmesan cheeses, a combination our tasters found overpowering.
Ingredients lists don’t tell the entire story. All but two of the dressings contain chemical additives and preservatives, and their presence didn’t affect our preferences. Our top-ranked dressing, for example, contains high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial color. The dressing that finished second to last has none of those additives. While our top dressings are passable in a pinch, we still suggest you make your own.