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What is Thousand Island Dressing?

By J. Leach
Updated May 16, 2024
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Thousand Island dressing is a condiment and salad dressing that is popular in Canadian and American cuisine. It is usually composed of ketchup, mayonnaise, and hot pepper sauce. Minced vegetables, like onions and pickles, are often added as well. It is a variation of Russian dressing.

Russian dressing became popular in the United States in the late 19th century. Early versions of it were made with mayonnaise and ketchup, but yogurt has slowly started to replace the mayonnaise in some recipes. Horseradish is often also added to give it a spicy kick. Russian dressing is the traditional dressing for the Reuben sandwich — which also includes corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut on rye bread — but Thousand Island dressing is sometimes used in its place.

There are many stories about the origins of Thousand Island dressing. Some recall a story that the dressing was created in Clayton, a small resort town located in the Thousand Island region of the St. Lawrence River in New York state. According to this version, the recipe probably dates back to the early 1900s and was created by a fishing guide, George Lalonde, who used it on fish and salad. Lalonde supposedly gave the recipe to an actress named May Irwin, who not only named it, but also gave it to a friend who owned a hotel and restaurant. There does not seem to be any evidence to substantiate this story and it is unclear where the recipe really came from.

This dressing became a popular condiment on burgers during the 1950s. Perhaps the most notable use of the dressing is by McDonald's®, which uses it on its Big Mac® sandwich. The version of the recipe used by the restaurant chain, which it calls special sauce, is said by some people to also contain some mustard.

While the common main ingredients of Thousand Island dressing are ketchup, mayonnaise, and hot pepper sauce, recipes can vary greatly. Some call for finely chopped bell pepper and pimento, while others may use minced pickles or hard-boiled egg. Some people think that the presence of chopped vegetables is how the dressing got its name, because the Thousand Islands refers not to the region but to the little bits floating in it.

A vegan version of Thousand Island dressing can also be made using a vegan mayonnaise. These types of food items do not contain any animal products, such as eggs. Typical mayonnaise is basically composed of eggs and oil. To make an egg-free version, soy milk is often used instead.

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Discussion Comments
By lighth0se33 — On Aug 05, 2012

Most people eat mayonnaise or ketchup on their hamburgers, but I prefer to use Thousand Island dressing. I did not know until I read this article that this dressing actually contains both ketchup and mayonnaise, so I am no different than most people!

Something about the combination of the two, plus a few other ingredients, makes the dressing taste totally different than the condiments taste separately. In my opinion, it creates magic. This is one of my all-time favorite flavors.

I even like to dip my french fries in the dressing. Once I use it on one part of my meal, I get the urge to dip everything on my plate in it.

By kylee07drg — On Aug 04, 2012

@clippers – Have you tried a light Thousand Island dressing that contains some fat but not as much as usual? Those seem to taste good to me.

Look for ones that say “reduced fat” or “low fat” on the label. I haven't tried the kind with no fat at all, but I do imagine that containing at least some fat would make it taste better.

Regular Thousand Island dressing is just too rich for me. I guess that my body can tell that it is full of fat, because my stomach tells me to stop eating it once I take a bite or two. It just makes me feel yucky inside.

By feasting — On Aug 04, 2012

It's funny how restaurant chains can alter or add one little ingredient to a dressing recipe and call it their “special sauce.” That makes it seem like they created the whole thing.

It seems a little deceptive to me. True, adding mustard to Thousand Island dressing does result in a slightly different flavor, but I wouldn't start calling it my special recipe if all I did was change one thing about it.

I guess that dressing companies can't sue, because they really can't prove that the sauce actually contains their dressing. I think restaurants should give credit where it is due, though.

By DylanB — On Aug 03, 2012

My husband makes a sauce that is based on a thousand island dressing recipe, but he left some ingredients out. This sauce is awesome on chicken tenders and french fries, and I actually prefer it to the original dressing.

He mixes ketchup and mayonnaise with salt and pepper. That is all it takes to make this tasty sauce. It's great on salads that contain meat, like grilled chicken and shrimp salads, too.

I think that the presence of pickles and eggs in Thousand Island dressing is what made it distasteful to me. They put my tastebuds off, for some reason.

By truman12 — On Aug 02, 2012

Does anyone have a recipe for thousand island dressing? I have tried out other salad dressing recipes in the past but most of them were more like vinaigrettes. I would like to try to make my own thousand island or ranch dressing but I do not even know where to start.

By clippers — On Aug 02, 2012

Has anyone ever had a good fat free thousand island dressing? I am trying to loose weight so I have been eating a lot of salads. I love thousand island dressing but if you use the full fat version it kind of cancels out the health benefits of the salad. But all the fat free versions I have tried are just gross. Is fat central to the flavor of thousand island or is there a way to make it healthy and still be delicious?

By chivebasil — On Aug 01, 2012

I think thousand island dressing is probably my favorite kind of condiment. I eat it on everything. Salads, sandwiches, fries, you name it. It is just so creamy and tasty that it pairs with other flavors really well.

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