Italian Dressing: An Italian-American Invention

Italian dressing history

Italian dressing as we now know it is an American invention. It gets its name from the herbs and other seasonings used in the most popular Italian dressing recipe such as oregano, basil, and garlic along with love oil and vinegar. These ingredients were once associated primarily with Italian food, hence the name. It was not meant to replicate a traditional Italian salad dressing.

The first American-style Italian dressing is believed to have originated in Massachusetts in 1941. It was first made in the restaurant owned by Ken Hanna by his wife Florence Hanna. The restaurant would one day become Ken’s Steak House associated with the famous brand of salad dressings.

Restaurant patrons enjoyed the the dressing so much that they had to make it in large quantities to meet the demand. After patrons began to ask for it to go, the Hanna family started bottling it.

The standard version is a vinaigrette style of dressing, but there is a creamy version as well. Creamy Italian dressing contains dairy products that give it a richer mouthfeel similar to ranch dressing. It typically contains the same herbs and seasonings as the regular Italian dressing.

Bottled salad dressing is rarely used in Italy. A true Italian dressing consists of oil and vinegar with a little salt. Mentions of Italian dressing from before the invention of the American version typically refer to the simple oil and vinegar one.

Italian dressing flavor profile

Italian dressing will have a strong tartness from its vinegar content. The acidity will be backed up by grassiness from the olive oil and a little umami from garlic. Oregano and basil will give it a minty, herbaceous aroma.

Health benefits

This dressing is not a significant source of any nutrient, but it does contain a few healthy ingredients, so it isn’t devoid of all nutritional value. The beneficial compounds it contains come largely from its olive oil. There are also some trace nutrients from the herbs like basil and oregano. The garlic probably also improves the overall profile.

Note that many bottled Italian dressings don’t claim to have any vitamins or minerals while others do. Here are some of the nutrients that you might get from some of the more nutritious versions:

  • Vitamins: Some bottled versions claim to contain vitamin C, which may be present in the herbs or added as a preservative.
  • Minerals: It may contain small amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Italian salad dressing may help to prevent or treat health problems like:

  • Heart disease: The olive oil used to make it contains omega 3 fatty acids and other beneficial compounds that can help to improve heart health. Regular Italian dressing — not the creamy version — is cholesterol-free.
  • Obesity: This dressing typically has fewer calories per serving when compared to other popular salad dressings like ranch dressing.

Health concerns

Italian dressing may be healthier than other popular salad dressings, but it has its drawbacks. Most versions are high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and associated health conditions.

Common uses

The most common way to use American-style Italian dressing is as a condiment for tossed salads. It works especially well in salads that use traditional Italian ingredients. The oil, vinegar, and seasonings in Italian dressing also make it an effective marinade for meats and vegetables.