Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing were invented around the same time, according to the most popular origin stories. They showed up and became popular around the start of the 20th century during a salad craze. Perishable salad ingredients had become more viable to transport because of the recent invention of refrigerated train cars.
The dressings were first made in the same era, so one may have influenced the other. It is most likely that Russian dressing came first and that Thousand Island dressing’s ingredients were chosen to make something similar. That said, they do have some differences. Let’s compare these two classic North American dressings in this SPICEography Showdown.
How does Russian dressing differ from Thousand Island dressing?
Russian and Thousand Island dressings have different ingredients. Russian dressing recipes typically include horseradish, chili pepper, or both. The chili pepper often takes the form of chili sauce. Russian dressing can also include celery seed, which is not usually found in a Thousand Island dressing recipe.
While pickle relish was in the earliest recipes for Russian dressing, it was rare in later versions, but it does show up in Thousand Island dressing. Thousand Island dressing recipes will also often include added sugar, which is not a standard ingredient in Russian dressing.
Different ingredients result in different flavors. Russian dressing is supposed to be spicy and more savory. Thousand Island dressing is traditionally milder and sweeter.
Can you use Russian dressing as a substitute for Thousand Island dressing and vice versa?
Russian dressing can work as a substitute for Thousand Island dressing if you want something spicy and not as sweet. The fact that the typical Russian dressing recipe contains more savory ingredients makes it an ideal choice if you are trying to cut down on sugar.
That said, it does contain ketchup and is still somewhat sweet with a tangy background note, so it won’t be all that different apart from the lower spice level. It also has a similar appearance as Thousand Island dressing. Even so, you will need to add sugar to commercial or homemade Russian dressing to get the sweetness of Thousand Island dressing.
Thousand Island dressing will work best as a Russian dressing substitute if you add a little spice. Along with horseradish, you can add the chili pepper in the form of a chili sauce or a hot sauce. Not all Thousand Island dressing recipes include Worcestershire sauce.
If the one you’re using as a Russian dressing substitute doesn’t, you might want to add a little to increase the umami. If you are making Thousand Island dressing from scratch, omit any added sugar in the recipe to cut down on the sweetness.
When should you use Russian dressing, and when should you use Thousand Island dressing?
The spiciness of Russian dressing is why it was the original topping for the Reuben sandwich. The heat helps to cut through the fattiness of the corned beef. Aside from its use on sandwiches, Russian dressing works well as a salad condiment. Its bold flavor profile makes it a particularly good accompaniment for stronger-flavored salads.
Thousand Island dressing is a milder sauce for Reuben sandwiches and is commonly used for that purpose. It works on burgers as well because it is very similar to McDonald’s secret sauce. Use Thousand Island dressing as a salad topping; its sweetness helps to cancel the bitterness of some fresh vegetables.