WHAT IS THAT? - A SERIES ON CULINARY TERMS
Welcome to our monthly articles series on learning about culinary terms. These are terms we've heard, but may not know much about, or have heard misused - or we misuse them ourselves! We love cooking and can always learn a new thing or two. Join us! Check back monthly for a new term!
Emulsification. What is it? Why is it important? What does it do for oils and vinegar salad dressings?
Emulsification is the process of making two liquids into a suspension, in which particles of one liquid are dispersed throughout the other but not dissolved in it.
Oil and vinegar salad dressings are emulsions. Although oil and water can’t mix, the oil can break down into tiny droplets that can remain suspended in the vinegar.
It is difficult for oil and vinegar to form an emulsion on their own—you can stir or shake them vigorously, but they will always settle and separate. If shaken and tossed over your salad right away, you may not notice separation and your taste experience will still be satisfactory.
But sometimes oils and vinegars need help, in the form of an emulsifier. Emulsifiers are ingredients that help coat the oil and vinegar molecules. They have a fat-soluble part and a water-soluble part. The fat-loving part sticks to the oil, and the water-soluble part sticks to the watery, creating an effective barrier around the droplets and somewhat joining them together.
Emulsifiers come in many forms and the most common ones for salad dressings include mustard, yogurt, cream, egg yolk, and more. One experiment by TfRecipes tested common ingredients to determine which worked best in salad dressings. Egg yolk worked best (separation occurred after more than three hours), then mayonnaise (one and a half hours), then mustard (after only 30 minutes).
All of them worked to help bind the oil and vinegar, which separated after just 15 minutes on their own. But for taste and consistency, it was preferred to use a small amount of mayo and mustard. Interesting!
So, what does this mean for our salad lovers out there? What is the BEST salad dressing ever?
The EASY Method
For the easiest oil and vinegar dressing experience, we recommend simply drizzling the oil and then the vinegar directly on your veggies immediately before eating. The taste is superb and the method is so easy. For this method, equal parts of oil and vinegar works well.
2:1 and In a Jar
The second easiest method is to make a simple dressing in a jar or cruet with oil and vinegar and shake well. Use 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar for a luscious taste and texture. Use immediately.
In a Jar with Emulsifiers!
The third method we recommend is to add a small amount of mustard or yogurt to your cruet of oil and vinegar and shake well. Make as much as you will use within a week or so and you can keep this in your fridge as cold helps molecules slow down and your emulsion will not separate as fast. Shake before using.