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Oct 16, 2002 02:23 PM

What helps salad dressing emulsify?

  • d

I have a nice recipe that starts with dijon mustard in the blender and makes a nice, thick dressing.

But this weekend I am making a vinaigrette that I want to flavor with some muscadine syrup I made recently. Dont think it will go too well with mustard. What can I through in the blender w/ the syrup, oil, and rice vinegar that will keep it from being thin?

The salad will be mixed greens with thinly sliced pear, dried cranberries, goat feta, and pecans...if that helps.


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    1. re: Caviar

      Also, if you want a more asian flavor, you might try using some miso paste. I haven't used it alone for dressings (although, it's a critical ingredient for my carrot ginger dressing), but it tends to act as a binder.

    2. I may be mistaken, but I don't think it is the mustard which does the emulsifying, but it is the oil, which should be added slowly while the other ingredients are blending.

      8 Replies
      1. re: AlanH

        Upon further review, the oil and vinegar form the emulsion, but you may need a binder (protein?), such as egg or xanthan gum which is what many commercial dressings use. I wouldn't even know where to begin looking for xanthan gum though.

        1. re: AlanH

          I'm not sure what the science is here, but mustard most certainly helps the emulsification. If I try and make my standard vinaigrette without the mustard, it separates. Even if I can get it to sort of emulsify with mad whisking, it starts to break up almost instantly. If I add a teaspoon of dijon mustard to the same mix, I get a beautifully emulsified result that lasts for days. It may separate slightly, but a quick shake brings it right back together.

          1. re: AlanH

            I think you're right on this, in fact I was working my way down this string waiting for someone to realize its the oil. Usually when I make a salad dressing I add the oil last and slowly in a stream while whisking just the way the recipe says and guess what - it works!

            Also Alton Brown mentions in his show on pancakes that the egg yolk helps the oil dissolve with whatever other liquid you use (usually milk). In fact he recommends adding the oil to the egg first to make sure it gets well mixed.

            1. re: Jambalaya

              An emulsion is a mixture, typically fat in liquid, where the fat is suspended in the liquid in droplet form. An emulsifier is a substance that assists this. While the fat is an essential component, it's not what causes the emulsion. True, however, that you can't make an emulsion without getting the fat into droplet form, and whisking in a thin stream is a good way to do this. Unless you include an emulsifier to bind it, though, it will separate fairly rapidly.

              1. re: Caviar

                True. In a basic vinagrette the oil is suspended in the mustard.

            2. re: AlanH

              Would powdered soy protein or powdered egg whites from the health food store work?

              1. re: kc girl

                it's a weird bit of science, as someone pointed out, oil and vinegar form the emulsification, but the mustard (egg yolks, etc) are the emulsifiers. what's weird is the way they work. normally oil and vinegar separate very quickly ... oil and water don't mix and they'll always try to reform with similar particles. you can try to confuse them by whisking really hard, but even when you're done whisking, the molecules remain in motion and, eventually, similar molecules will bump into each other and coalesce (separate into oil and vinegar). it might seem that an emulsifier acts to help oil and vinegar make friends (it's a small world after all!), but actually what emulsifiers do is form a thin coating around each oil and water molecule that prevents them from rejoining their own groups. weird. eggs are the classic emulsifier and egg-based emulsions will last the longest because of the lecithin. mustard will work well (actually, mustard itself is a bit of an emulsion formed of vinegar and oil from teh seeds), but it won't work long. and then, of course, there are industrial emulsifiers. enough about that.
                of course for a dressing like you're talking about, y ou only need an emulsifier if you're planning on preparing the dressing way in advance. but it sounds like a simple enough recipe you could simply combine all the ingredients and then whisk them together at the last minute. dress the salad immediately and you'll be fine (once on the leaves, it spreads so thin the separation isn't really a problem). my favorite way to make a vinaigrette doesn't involve a whisk at all, though. just use a lidded jar and then shake it like crazy when you're ready to use it. it'll form a very quick (very unstable) emulsion.

              2. re: AlanH

                Just go to and they will give you all the answers or join their school. I did, online.

            3. r
              Ron Rosenbaum


              I often make a pear-ginger dressing in which I stew peeled and cored pear and peeled, smashed ginger in bottled applejuice with a cinnamon stick and a fresh jalapeno. I remove the cinnamon stick and the jalapeno, then blend the pear with enough of the cooking "liquor" to make a nice thick base. I then use this base with oil, vinegar, maple, honey, citrus juice, etc... and reblend. The body from the stewed pears holds the dressing together in an emulsion and you can get away with using a much smaller quantity of oil than you might normally use.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Ron Rosenbaum

                This sounds great! Thank you very much.

                1. re: Ron Rosenbaum

                  Thanks - that sounds like a great match with the muscadine. Very autumn. I'll make it tomorrow.

                  1. re: danna

                    Sounds delicious but what's muscadine?

                    1. re: efdee

                      It's a wild grape (like a scuppernong...if you've heard of that one) The juice has a gorgeous magenta color and the taste is...uhh...distinctive. Somebody who is familiar with the grape and has a wine-taster's palate and vocabulary can perhaps help me out.

                    2. re: danna
                      Ron Rosenbaum

                      I use it to dress a wild rice salad with dried fruit, with everything from dried mango and papaya, to cherries. Lots of pecan halfs to garnish. Its nice for Thanksgiving.

                  2. An ounce or two of your choice of nuts. If you don't want to make the salad noticable "nutty", try adding bland nuts like macadamias or pine nuts.

                    1. d
                      david in NOLa

                      Egg yolk is definitely the most effective emulsifier commonly found in the kitchen. If you're not comfortable using raw yolks, then read on.

                      Here's what Harold McGee ("On Food and Cooking") has to say. Rather than the typical 3-1 oil to vinegar ratio, use 2-1, and "mustard and pulverized plant materials--for example garlic or onion--are blended in as emulsifiers and stabilizers (the plant cell contents and wall materials help separate the oil droplets from each other)."

                      Now, the idea of adding garlic or onion to your muscadine syrup may be no more appealing than mustard. You could try blending in a couple of grapes. Maybe some shallot?