What Is Ambrosia Salad?

There are a couple of great Instagram accounts that primarily post pictures from vintage cookbooks or magazine spreads showcasing 1950’s menu items. One thing you will realize from following these accounts is that what is fashionable in food has really changed. For example, there was a time when it was extremely trendy to shove a bunch of fruit or even meat products into Jell-O and serve it to your guests. Another staple of retro food accounts (and grocery store deli cases) is ambrosia salad. Its distinctive marshmallow-and-fruit mixture is a perfect example of once-popular dishes that now seem a little bit shocking. But while ambrosia reached its heyday in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it has stuck around (unlike those meat Jell-Os). Let’s pay deference to this “salad” by finding out more about it. What is ambrosia salad? What’s in it? Where did it come from? Here’s a heaping helping of answers. 

What is ambrosia salad?

When it comes to ambrosia salad, my first recommendation is to let go of any preconceived notions of what a “salad” might be. Ambrosia is a form of salad, technically, made with fruit, coconut, and marshmallows. It’s a far cry from spinach and arugula.

This divisive dish is most popular in the American South. Though it has a somewhat “retro” reputation, it is still served up for holidays and special occasions to this day.  

Its name comes from ancient Greece, where “ambrosia” was the food of the Olympian gods and is often depicted as granting longevity or immortality to whoever consumes it. Ambrosia salad cannot boast the same, though there is fruit in it, which is full of vitamins, at least.

What is in ambrosia salad?

Most ambrosia salad recipes call for pineapple (often canned pineapple), orange slices, marshmallows, and coconut. You can also add maraschino cherries or other canned or fresh fruits. And some recipes call for Cool Whip, sour cream, or even mayonnaise. One of the benefits of ambrosia salad is that it’s easy to add your own spin to it—why not throw in some kiwis or raisins

What color is ambrosia salad?

Typically, ambrosia salad is mostly white, because of the coconut and marshmallows. There should be flecks of bright color as well, coming from the oranges, cherries, or other fruits used in the dish. 

Where did ambrosia salad come from?

Unfortunately, we may never know the true origins of this marshmallowy salad. According to a Spectrum Local News story about the stuff, “Its region of origin is lost to history. Its ties to the South are strong, though some believe it began in Vermont or elsewhere in New England.” That same article, though, also notes that Missouri was the first documented hotbed of ambrosia, with the dish becoming very popular there in the 1870s. Wherever it was first invented, it quickly spread and became a popular side dish and dessert option. 

Who invented ambrosia salad? 

As with its exact place of origin, the depraved soul who first mixed sugar and coconuts with fruit and called it a salad is unknown. However, the first recorded reference to ambrosia salad was in an 1867 cookbook written by Maris Massey Barringer of Concord, North Carolina. Her recipe called for just grated coconuts, sugar, and pulped oranges. 

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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