Why Thousand Island Dressing Has Replaced Ketchup as America’s Condiment (2023)

The 1000 Islands — that is, the archipelago packed tightly between New York state and the Canadian province of Ontario — hold three unusual distinctions. The first is that there are way more than 1,000 islands in the 1,000 islands: 1,864, in fact. The second is that one of these islands, Deer Island, is owned by the Yale University secret society Skull and Bones. The third is this: From these islands came a substance that has enriched the culinary world.

You may think of Thousand Island dressing merely as an orangish goo found at your local chain grocery store, sitting forlornly on a shelf with other lackluster salad dressings, but the difference between this and the good stuff is vast. And I don’t just mean in how it’s processed or what’s in it — I mean that practically every Thousand Island dressing recipe on the internet, whether by a professional chef or from an amateur cook, differs, and often in major ways. Look, I had to go to Wikipedia just to get a half-way decent list of the huge range of ingredients that can be used to make the dressing.

With mayonnaise forming its main base, it can also include but is not limited to ketchup, mustard, olive oil, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, tomato purée, cream, paprika, chili sauce, lemon juice and orange juice. Then it may or may not contain some combination of “finely chopped ingredients” such as pickles, onions, garlic, bell peppers, hard-boiled eggs, olives, pimento, parsley, chives and chopped nuts. However, if you take even a cursory look at the millions of homemade Thousand Island recipes online, you’ll probably also see horseradish, sugar, Sriracha, roasted red peppers or red pepper relish, tomato paste, cloves and so forth. Mathematics isn’t my strongest suit, but I feel confident saying there are probably as many Thousand Island recipes as there are Thousand islands.

This complexity has given it culinary uses far beyond the salad bowl. “It’s a very universal sauce,” says Allen Benas, former owner of the Thousand Islands Inn in Clayton, New York, which first produced the dressing in the early 1900s after being gifted the recipe by its creator, Sophia LaLonde. (There are actually three contentious origin stories for the birthplace of Thousand Island dressing, but a 2012 PBS documentary found evidence LaLonde was the rightful originator.) Benas now sells the original dressing in small batches online and knows the many ways people use it. “It’s very adaptable to many things. It goes with almost any kind of beef you would be inclined to put a sauce on. We’ve had people who have used it on chicken.”

(Video) How to Make Thousand Island and Russian Dressing - whats the difference and where do they come from?

The first, most familiar place Thousand Island dressing shows up is on Reubens. The classic sandwich of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and grilled, buttered bread would be probably fine without its special sauce on it, but it’s the Thousand Island dressing that pulls all the ingredients together. As Chef Jeff Meyer, head of the Element 29 Deli in Culver City, California, wrote on his restaurant’s blog in a post titled “Why the Reuben Works So Well”:

“The truth of the Reuben is that it is a perfectly balanced sandwich. Each element brings together a complex comingling [sic] of flavors. The base of the sandwich, the rye bread, is earthy and strong, sometimes sour and sometimes spicy. This flavor is softened and enhanced by the butter used to brown the bread in a pan.

“Inside the sandwich, the saltiness of the corned beef is balanced against the sour acidity of the sauerkraut and the sweetness of the Swiss cheese (a flavor enhanced upon melting). All of these flavors are then melded and united by the Thousand Island dressing. A proper Thousand Island dressing is a menagerie of flavors from mayonnaise to ketchup, sweet relish to onion. It is, by itself, a complex ingredient, and one that ultimately determines the success of the Reuben. But a quality Thousand Island dressing represents the other flavors brought together — the earthy, sour, salty, and sweet flavors all united.”

The Reuben is essentially the Voltron of sandwiches, and Thousand Island forms the head that links its components together. The Reuben is so powerfully delicious it’s used for far more than sandwiches — you don’t have to look too hard to find recipes for Reuben dips, Reuben pizzas, Reuben eggs benedict, Reuben salads — after all, the dressing comes preloaded — Reuben loaded fries, even Reuben eggrolls and Danishes. (In case you just gagged, that’s meant to be a savory Danish, by the way, not a sweet one.)

(Video) Sauce Names Are Weird

Thousand Island dressing is an extremely special sauce, both figuratively and literally. The legendary secret sauce that the equally legendary, West Coast-burger chain In-N-Out uses for its burgers is Thousand Island dressing. Additionally, “special sauce” has always been the most celebrated part of McDonald’s iconic Big Macs, but its specialty has been known for years: It’s also Thousand Island dressing, albeit one using a really simple recipe with a pile of sugar thrown in for good measure. And while it’s not touted as a secret sauce at Steak ‘n Shake — it’s not mentioned at all on the menu, actually —Thousand Island is essentially what makes the chain restaurant’s patty melts so delicious (after all, if you add more mayo and ketchup to Thousand Island, you’re just making more Thousand Island).

I have my own theory as to why Thousand Island tastes so damn good on hamburgers, and it’s this: It is, in fact, the perfect condiment. Think about its most traditional ingredients. Once you’ve gotten its mayonnaise base, you’re putting some kind of tomato sauce in it. Mustard isn’t universal, but it’s a common ingredient in the dressing, while the vinegar provides a bit of tanginess — assuming you aren’t using actual pickle relish, another standard burger topper. Thousand Island dressing is, or can be, everything people usually want on their burgers, just combined in a way that becomes so much more than the sum of its parts.

As such, it can be used just about anywhere ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise is used to delicious effect. If you use mayo in your potato salad or pasta salad, Thousand Island can bring a far more flavorful tang to the dish. While traditional Cajun remoulade is spicier than most Thousand Island recipes, it’s still usually mayonnaise-based and includes a variety of the ingredients listed above but with the addition of bay seasoning or other spices. The two are close enough that some recipes tell cooks to simply toss a few things into Thousand Island dressing and call it a day. (Dear Cajun and Creole readers: I’m sure you think this is all heresy but before you take my head please check the internet, and know I am merely the messenger here.)

And whether you put ketchup on your French fries (like the bulk of America) or mayonnaise (as is popular in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, or anyone who likes aioli and never learned that it’s just mayo with garlic in it), you’re only getting half of the pleasure you could be enjoying. A beloved ketchup-mayo blend is called “fry sauce” in Utah and other Intermountain states, but is enjoyed all over the world, and Thousand Island is just a richer, more complex evolution of the condiment. Think of fry sauce as a Neanderthal to Thousand Island’s Homo sapiens.

(Video) Double Cheeseburger with Thousand Island Dressing and Truffle Fries

Regardless of what food you’re putting it on, why settle for the one-note flavors of ketchup or mayonnaise when you can have both? Why not combine the best of both worlds and use it as the foundation of a sauce that you can adapt to provide any and every taste you’re looking for?

Thousand Island dressing is the Alpha and Omega of condiments. In its infinite variety, it encompasses all. Maybe that’s what we should be calling it: Infinite Island.

Rob Bricken

Rob Bricken has been a professional nerd for 20 years, the editor of Gizmodo’s geeky pop culture site io9, and was the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news blog Topless Robot. When the zombie apocalypse comes, he’ll be among the first to die.

(Video) Strange Condiments Taste Test
(Video) Thousand Island (1000 Island) Dressing: How did this Dressing that is Everywhere get Started?

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Is Thousand Island Dressing American? ›

Thousand Island dressing is an American salad dressing and condiment based on mayonnaise that can include olive oil, lemon juice, orange juice, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, vinegar, cream, chili sauce, tomato purée, and ketchup or Tabasco sauce.

What is the story behind Thousand Island Dressing? ›

Boldt's chef, Oscar Tschirky was preparing their Sunday lunch with whatever he had in the steam yacht's kitchen. According to legend, he whipped up a dressing out of mayonnaise, ketchup, pickle relish, and a hard-boiled egg. Thousand Island dressing was born. Boldt later put it on his menu at his famous hotel.

What country is Thousand Island Dressing from? ›

However, when and where the dressing was invented along with the inspiration for its name is agreed upon. The origin is traced back to the Thousand Islands, which are located between New York and Canada, around the turn of the 20th century.

What is another name for Thousand Island Dressing? ›

The third legend takes us out of the Thousand Islands and over to Chicago, Illinois, where a chef named Theo Rooms invented the dressing and called it Blackstone Dressing, until visiting the Thousand Islands region and deciding that was a catchier name for his creation.

What is the most popular dressing in the US? ›

Ranch dressing takes the number one spot as America's most popular salad dressing. It's so popular that it's used beyond enhancing a salad. Ranch is a favorite dipping sauce for vegetables, chips, French fries, chicken wings, onion rings, chicken fingers, pizza, and pretty much anything else that's edible.

What is the top selling salad dressing in the US? ›

Ranch dressing is one of the most popular salad dressings in North America. It's known for its perfect trifecta of creaminess, herbs, and an oniony bite.

What is special about Thousand Islands? ›

The Thousand Island region is known for having some of the best freshwater wreck diving in the world with a dozen wrecks at the bottom of the river. The water of the St Lawrence River and Eastern Lake Ontario is remarkably clear, thanks to the resident algae-eating zebra mussels, meaning visibility is excellent.

Why is Thousand Island important? ›

The 1000 Islands region was home to not only significant skirmishes between the U.S. and British-controlled Canada during the War of 1812, but its history as a vacation destination traces back to the Gilded Age, when many of world's most wealthy and famous treated the region as their private playground.

Does McDonald's use Thousand Island dressing? ›

Is Big Mac Sauce the same as Thousand Island Dressing? I spent most of my life believing McDonald's Special Sauce was simply Thousand Island dressing. Big Mac Sauce is not Thousand Island dressing. Thousand Island dressing requires tomatoes, which isn't actually an ingredient in authentic Big Mac Sauce.

Is Thousand Island dressing the same as Big Mac sauce? ›

Although Big Mac Sauce is similar to Thousand Island Dressing, the two are NOT exactly the same. Thousand Island is made with ketchup, while most Big Mac Sauce recipes contain French dressing for a tangier flavor.

Does Thousand Island have MSG? ›

No MSG added. Shake well. Refrigerate after opening. Twist cap to open.

Why is it called a Thousand Island? ›

But how did this tangy topping get its name? Thousand Island Dressing was named in honor of the beautiful area where it was first prepared, Thousand Islands, New York. Story goes, in the early 20th century, a fishing guide's wife, Sophie Lalonde, made the condiment for her husband's shore dinner.

What dressing is closest to Thousand Island? ›

Russian or Ranch dressing are good substitutes for thousand island dressing. French dressing and Green goddess dressing are also good alternatives.

What's the difference between Thousand Island and Russian? ›

The key distinction between the two sauces is that Russian dressing contains horseradish, which gives it a little kick, whereas Thousand Island dressing tends to be a bit sweeter and also sometimes calls for chopped hard boiled eggs.

What is the most popular Thousand Island dressing? ›

Top 50 Scanned: Thousand Island Dressing beta
#1Thousand Island Dressing, Fat Free Kraft50 Calories
#2Thousand Island Dressing, Rich & Bold Kraft130 Calories
#3Thousand Island Dressing, Lite Kraft50 Calories
#4Dressing, Thousand Island Ken's Steak House140 Calories
46 more rows

What is the unhealthiest dressing? ›

Generally speaking, the healthiest salad dressing will be a vinaigrette like balsamic or oil and vinegar, while Caesar, ranch or anything with the word “creamy” will be the unhealthiest.

What do Southerners call dressing? ›

But for the Thanksgiving side dish in the South, the term dressing was adopted in place of stuffing, which was viewed as a crude term, during the Victorian era. Although dressing and stuffing are interchangeable terms, the signature ingredient of this Thanksgiving side dish in the South is cornbread.

What's the most popular dressing in the world? ›

Most Famous Dressings in the World
  1. Ranch Dressing. The ranch is a salad dressing or dip made with buttermilk, salt, garlic, onions, herbs (dill, parsley, chives, etc.), and spices (mustard seeds, black pepper, paprika, etc.) ...
  2. Fry Sauce. ...
  3. Chermoula. ...
  4. Blue Cheese Dressing. ...
  5. Thousand Island Dressing. ...
  6. Italian Dressing.

What is the oldest salad dressing? ›

French dressing is the oldest one on our list, but vinegar and oil dressing goes back nearly two-thousand years to ancient Babylonia. The Italian dressing we know is said to have been developed by the wife of a restaurant owner in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1941.

What brand of salad dressing does Wendy's use? ›

Wendy's has worked exclusively with Marzetti since the early 1980s. But our partnership really evolved in 2015 when our salad lineup started featuring Marzetti's Simply Dressed® salad dressing. These dressings are inspired by favorite fruits and flavors of the seasons and are full of flavor.

What is the most popular American lettuce? ›

Crisphead, or iceberg, is probably the best-known lettuce in the U.S., in part because of its shrink-wrapped presence at nearly every grocery store in the country. Look for a round, compact, pale green head.

Why is Thousand Islands protected? ›

“National historic sites, national parks, and national marine conservation areas belong to all Canadians. They protect our shared natural and cultural heritage, support biodiversity, and tell the stories of Canada from all perspectives.

What is the most random island in the world? ›

Bouvet Island
Bouvet Island Bouvetøya (Norwegian)
Dependent territory of Norway
Location of Bouvet Island (circled in red, in the Atlantic Ocean)
Annexed by Norway23 January 1928
18 more rows

What is the human connection to Thousand Islands? ›

There is evidence of human use of the islands dating back thousands of years. The islands are the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee (also known as the Iroquois) and later the Mississauga who hunted and fished in the area.

What is the importance of island? ›

Islands are threatened hotspots of diversity that concentrate unique cultural, biological and geophysical values, and they form the basis of the livelihoods of millions of islanders. Second, islands are paradigmatic places of human–environment relationships.

What is a fun fact about islands? ›

Fun Facts about Islands of the World

The highest mountain on an island is Puncak Jaya on the island of New Guinea. Some islands are manmade. One example of this is the Kansai Airport in Japan which sits on a manmade island. The term desert island is an island with no people on it.

When was Thousand island created? ›

"If you've ever been on a tour boat, you know not all you hear is fact," he says. Benas is a local fishing guide, and he claims he found the true, original recipe tucked away in a safe at The Thousand Islands Inn – a restaurant he purchased in 1972 in the small resort town of Clayton, N.Y.

Is Chick fil a sauce just Thousand Island dressing? ›

As the company tweeted out in 2012, the Chick-fil-A sauce is just a mixture of honey mustard, barbecue sauce, and ranch dressing. Yes, that's it.

What is the Big Mac sauce made of? ›

Big Mac Sauce contains only a few ingredients: Mayonnaise, pickle relish, onion, mustard, white vinegar, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and paprika. Optional: For some added flavor I also like to add some ketchup. For another delicious, smoky flavor variation you can add some barbecue sauce.

Is Secret Sauce just Thousand Island dressing? ›

It isn't. Although Thousand Island dressing is a significant component of the recipe, the Big Mac secret sauce is distinctively different enough to consider as a unique sauce. The big secret to the special sauce is the addition of Indian relish.

What kind of pickles do McDonald's use? ›

McDonald's uses dill pickles in their burgers including in the Big Mac®.

What is Mac sauce made of at McDonald's? ›

Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Sweet Relish (Diced Pickles, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Corn Syrup, Xanthan Gum, Calcium Chloride, Spice Extractives), Water, Egg Yolks, Distilled Vinegar, Spices, Onion Powder, Salt, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Garlic Powder, Vegetable Protein (Hydrolyzed Corn, ...

What is McDonalds breakfast sauce made of? ›

What is Mcdonald's Breakfast Sauce made of? The ingredients for the Mcdonald's Breakfast Sauce are: mayonnaise, ketchup, yellow mustard, paprika, white vinegar, garlic powder and onion powder.

Does Chinese food still have MSG? ›

Chinese food and soups contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) as the main addictive ingredient. A sensitive individual may suffer from headache, giddiness, sweating, abdominal pain, and urticaria within a few hours of consumption of MSG.

Does the olive Garden use MSG? ›

Our food recipes do not use added MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) and, based on information from our suppliers, MSG is not added to any of the ingredients we use. However, certain foods and ingredients naturally contain glutamate or glutamic acid (such as tomatoes, milk, cheese, mushrooms and certain yeasts and proteins).

What does Thousand Island taste like? ›

What does Thousand Island Dressing taste like? Overall, it is tangy and a little sweet at the same time. Since this recipe is highly customizable, you can make it spicy, sweeter, or zestier if you like.

Is Thousand Island dressing healthy? ›

03/6Thousand Island

The perfect Thousand Island dressing is made with tons of mayonnaise and ketchup. There is no real nutritional value in the dressing. It is filled with saturated fats, sodium, and sugars which lead to high cholesterol and heart diseases, leaving your salad unhealthier than you imagined.

Is French dressing the same as Thousand Island? ›

No, the Thousand Island dressing is different from French dressing on a fundamental level. Though both condiments are tomato-based, their recipes differ. The Thousand Island dressing combines ketchup, mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, vinegar, minced onion and garlic.

Is Thousand Island close to Russian dressing? ›

Russian dressing is a piquant American salad dressing consisting of mayonnaise, ketchup, and other ingredients. Russian dressing is similar to Thousand Island. Some manufactured versions omit the mayonnaise and are clear rather than creamy, more similar to French or Catalina.

Is New York a Thousand island? ›

Located along the peaceful border between northern New York State (USA) and southeastern Ontario (Canada), the 1000 Islands is a region of endless shorelines, rich history and unique culture.

Who owns the Thousand Islands? ›

The uninhabited rocky island near Alexandria Bay, New York, is owned by The Nature Conservancy and was listed as a National Natural Landmark in 1967.

Can you live in the Thousand Islands? ›

The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands has a lot to offer its residents. We have programs and services for people of all ages and lifestyles. From community and social services to recreation and sports, we have it covered. If you are looking to get involved, check out our volunteer opportunities.

Is 1000 Island dressing French? ›

No, the Thousand Island dressing is different from French dressing on a fundamental level. Though both condiments are tomato-based, their recipes differ. The Thousand Island dressing combines ketchup, mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, vinegar, minced onion and garlic.

Is Thousand Island dressing from Russia? ›

The addition of pickle relish gives Thousand Island dressing a sweeter flavor than Russian dressing. The dressing originated in the Thousand Island region between the US and Canada, where the St. Lawrence River divides the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario from upstate New York.

What is American salad dressing? ›

Salad dressing is a mixture of oil, vinegar, herbs, and other flavourings, which you pour over a salad. ...

Is 1000 Island dressing like Italian? ›

How are Italian dressing and Thousand island different? Thousand island is higher than Italian dressing in Vitamin B1, Vitamin K, Iron, Polyunsaturated fat, and Monounsaturated Fat. Thousand island covers your daily need of Vitamin B1 119% more than Italian dressing.


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