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Mar 19, 2008 05:30 PM

Why is "French" dressing called that way?


I'm French, and on another board someone explained to me that the US orange dressing (which I find utterly repulsive) is called "French". Of course we don't have such a thing in France, so I was wondering why it was called that way? I've just looked up wikipedia
and it's as ridiculous as ever, since obviously French dressing isn't a vinaigrette at all. Or I'm not French anymore.

Anyway, I can usually figure out why things are labeled "French" here, like "French Vanilla" probably refer sto vanilla from Tahiti, "French Toast" is an upgraded version of pain perdu, but 'French dressing", that orange sweet stuff with ketchup in it, I don't understand. If anybody knows and can give me a more credible version than wikipedia...


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  1. Further down the wiki article talks about the orange US version, and mentions a folk account attributing it to someone with surname of 'French'. There are a number of products with names like that, French's mustard, German chocolate, that don't have anything to do with the countries.


    11 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      The French surnamed fellow described in Wikipedia is probably not the explanation in this case however. It's a very interesting question. I've looked through reference materials on my shelf, including Davidson, John and Karen Hess, Beard, and a few others and come up short. From what I've been able to piece together it would appear that the term "French dressing" did indeed start out as an American term for fairly standard vinaigrette, but during the early 20th century additional ingredients started to creep in to recipes for the stuff, notably including sugar and tomato sauce/ketchup, and gradually that concoction became accepted as "French dressing." Here is one link:

      1. re: johnb

        thank you. It's very hard for me to imagine a concoction containing sugar and ketchup derives from vinaigrette. Your explanation makes sense, though the dressing itself still makes me shudder...

        1. re: bad nono

          you are right to shudder. I pride myself on not being a snob, but salad dressing is one thing I can get very upset about. The whole ritual of getting a list of horrible dressings from the server is wasted on me. I always just ask for oil and vinegar unless I really know the restaurant and know that they can make a good vinaigrette. I am totally freaked out by what my fellow americans think is acceptable to put on a salad.

          Some of it can be attributed to people not knowing what a really good simple salad is supposed to taste like. Sad for them.

          1. re: New_2_718

            I have a mixed mind on this. I have about 7 bottles of production salad dressing in the fridge, and I enjoy all of them with different things - blue cheese with wings or vegetables, Catalina with a simple iceberg lettuce, ranch with cucumbers, etc. However, our favourite dressing is homemade - olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, oregano, basil, tarragon, and our secret ingredient - mint.. Really delicious when served over a salad of lettuce, tomato, olives, hard boiled eggs, and tuna.

            1. re: New_2_718

              Not to mention the fact that most bottled dressings are loaded with HFCS. Drown a salad in that stuff and you end up with as many calories as a cheeseburger!

              1. re: BobB

                Are you just using hyperbole or have you actually looked at the calorie count? I don't have any such dressings on hand, so I can't do the research myself. As far as I know HFCS is not any higher in calories than the equivalent sweetness of sugar or sugar syrup. And carbohydrates are lower in calories than fats, so if the HFCS replaced an equivalent weight of oil, I'd expect a drop in calories.


                1. re: paulj

                  Somewhere in between - I seem to recall reading an article that mentioned something to that effect. It's right up there with those super-tall Starbucks drinks loaded with syrups and whipped cream, that also get up into the four-figure range of calories.

                  But yeah, mainly I'm just venting my disgust with the goopy-sweet junk sold as "salad dressing."

              2. re: New_2_718

                I think you are completely missing the boat here. I have several homemade salad dressing recipies that are just awesome - not only on salads (and the key is not to drown the salad, but to add some dressing, mix well, add a little more if needed - just so the leaves are lightly coated, not a big glop in the middle of the salad), but on other things too - we use one very authentic caesar dressing as a dip for instance.

          2. re: paulj

            There are a number of products with names like that, French's mustard, German chocolate, that don't have anything to do with the countries.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Ha. I always wondered what made the German chocolate (cake, even) around here 'German'. It's not like there's any bratwurst in it.... or is there?

              1. re: linguafood

                Oh, I used to think the US "German" chocolate cake was just some kind of poor relative/distant cousin of the genuine German Black Forest Cake. But I have no supporting evidence for this, it's just a French belief.

                To go back to "dressings", my Frenchiness shudders at the idea of sugar/sweetener in any kind of vinaigrette that would go with my salad, or my bread. I don't know whether HFCS is worse or not than fat in the calorie count, but it's certainly bad if you want to prevent diabetes.

          3. Olde Cape Cod Honey French Lite salald dressing is a staple in Casa Jfood and he is proud to admit it. It goes fantastic with a nice salad and gorg.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jfood

              And Marie's Blue Cheese is awesome on just about everything, including a spoon. I'd often wondered about French dressing though. It's disgusting. Mais je ne sais pas.

            2. My guess is that when railroads began shipping iceberg lettuce all over the country, there was suddenly demand for bottled dressings that could make crunchy bland (but very shippable) lettuce taste pleasant.

              For some reason, simpler vinaigrettes got the label of "Italian Dressing," but for iceberg, thicker dressings often work best. So a dressing with ketchupy flavors (hey, this was America's favorite condiment for years) that could stand the mass production and all the cooking etc involved in bottling was given the label of "French Dressing." After all, the French have long had a reputation for culinary excellence; stealing the name and putting it on a bottle of reddish lettuce topping no doubt seemed like a good idea at the time.

              While I was never a big fan, there was a bottle of the stuff in the frig all the years I was growing up.