The First Salad Dressing Can Be Traced Back To Ancient Babylonia

Thousand Island, buttermilk ranch, raspberry vinaigrette, Caesar, Italian, blue cheese — today, there are countless types of salad dressings to choose from, and a leisurely stroll down the condiment aisle can quickly become an overstimulating experience. But how did we get to have all these variations? You might be surprised to learn that, even 2,000 years ago, ancient Babylonians wanted to boost their leafy green meals, and were the ones to create the first iteration of salad dressing as we know it.

Salads in Babylonian times would have looked much like salads do today, colorfully filled with vegetables such as lettuce, radishes, and onions, as well as other nutritious items like beans and lentils. The first version of salad dressing was as simple as the salads themselves, composed of oil, vinegar, and salt; though the word likely didn't yet exist, Babylonians were essentially creating a vinaigrette. Later, Egyptians made a similar vinaigrette but took the next step of flavoring theirs with spices, which may have included turmeric, saffron, coriander, cumin, or ginger. Over the centuries since, more and more salad dressings were developed, shared, and commercially sold, eventually amassing to the overflowing shelves we see today.

Salad dressing evolves and multiplies

It's a good thing the Babylonians invented vinaigrette so early because most salad recipes after this time until the 20th century have featured some amalgamation of an oil and vinegar-based dressing. There's even an old Spanish proverb that explicitly ties oil and vinegar to salads. It says, "Let a salad-maker be a spendthrift for oil, a miser for vinegar, a statesman for salt, and a madman for mixing." Whether or not you agree with that assessment, it's quite clear vinaigrette has always had a chokehold on dressing recipes.

Over time, vinaigrette grew from its simple concoction, and began to regularly include ingredients such as red or white wine vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, and garlic. Other dressings were few and far between, and are certainly difficult to find today, though it does seem there may have been a short stint of raw egg-based dressings in the late 1800s.

Most of the dressings we know and love today were developed after the turn of the 20th century. According to Statista, based on U.S. census data and the Simmons National Consumer Survey from 2020, Caesar dressing is the second most popular salad dressing in America; it wasn't created until 1924. The fifth most popular dressing, blue cheese, was first seen just four years later. The number one dressing — herby, creamy ranch — has only existed since the early 1950s. While these are mainstays today, vinaigrette remains a popular and delicious option, all thanks to the Babylonians 2,000 years ago.