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Who Really Invented Thousand Island Dressing?

Thousand Island dressing instantly livens up a meal.

Whether chowing down on a sandwich or spicing up a salad, this creamy condiment adds tang wherever you put it. It’s so good even McDonald’s puts it on their burgers.

The pink sauce with the funny name has a long culinary history. We know where it came from, but the question of who invented it remains mysterious. Hungry to find out more?

Let’s nosh!

Inventing Thousand Island Dressing

Thousand Island was named after its birthplace: a group of islands in the St. Lawrence River between New York and Canada. In the early 20th century, it had a reputation as a sauce enjoyed by wealthy elites. But beyond that, its origins are disputed. We found two popular theories about who invented this famous dressing.

According to one story, it was invented by chef Oscar Tschirky. Tschirky worked for George Boldt, a billionaire who owned a mansion in the Thousand Islands. Legend has it that Boldt and his wife Louise requested lunch on a Sunday afternoon yacht trip. Tschirky used the few ingredients he had onboard to create the first Thousand Island dressing.

But Alan Benas, owner of the Thousand Islands Inn in Clayton, New York, disagrees. Shortly after buying the Inn in 1972, Benas says he found a hand-written recipe buried in the restaurant safe. He eventually traced it to Sophia Lalonde, a housewife and home cook. Lalonde’s sauce became famous when visiting actress May Irwin sampled it and asked the Inn staff to serve it.

Salad with Thousand Island dressing
Upgrade your salad by topping it with some Thousand Island dressing.

What Is Thousand Island Dressing Made Of? 

Thousand Island is a mayonnaise-based dressing known for its tangy flavor. You can find dozens of variations, but every version is creamy and zesty.

The dressing’s core ingredients are mayonnaise, ketchup, vinegar, relish, and spices. Some versions call for chopped onion and garlic. Others omit vinegar in favor of lemon juice or another acidic liquid.

Many Thousand Island recipes are sweetened, either with spices or actual sugar. The condiment is easy to personalize. Some popular add-ins include olives or orange juice.

This sauce’s key spice is sweet paprika. The sharp, hot flavor of paprika cuts the richness of the mayonnaise and ketchup. Its complex flavor makes it ideal for many foods–not just salads.

What Is Thousand Island Dressing Used For?

Thanks to its adaptability, Thousand Island tastes great on dozens of dishes. It’s delicious on deli sandwiches, pasta salads, and even hard-boiled eggs. You can even tweak your store-bought dressing to suit your needs. Adding a little horseradish and Dijon mustard transforms it into a tangy remoulade.

One of the condiment’s most notable credits is the McDonald’s Big Mac. Although it’s frequently called Big Mac or secret sauce, it’s really Thousand Island! The bright, zippy flavor contrasts wonderfully with a juicy burger. Dozens of other burger restaurants across the U.S. also use the recipe on their sandwiches. 

Pro Tip: Does Aldi sell Thousand Island dressing? Find out which 7 Aldi Brand Foods That Are Better Than Name Brands

Thousand Island dressing ingredients
Thousand Island dressing contains mayonnaise, ketchup, vinegar, relish, and spices.

What Are Some Delicious Recipes that Use the Dressing?

Thinking about tossing that bottle of Thousand Island you rarely use? Think again–this dressing’s versatility may surprise you.

Here are a few delicious, easy dishes that call for “secret sauce.”

Reuben Salad in a Jar 

A Reuben sandwich makes a tasty, filling meal. If you want the sandwich’s flavor without all the calories, a Reuben salad is a great compromise.

Taste of Home’s recipe for Reuben Salad in a Jar features Swiss cheese, pastrami, sauerkraut, fresh veggies, and Thousand Island. It also includes some cubed rye bread for an authentic taste. Layer each ingredient in the jar to build a filling meal with guaranteed easy cleanup.

Whether store-bought or homemade, any version will taste great. With just ¾ cups of dressing across four servings, the sauce goes a long way. Each serving is just 509 calories and contains a whopping 24 grams of protein.

Patty Melt  

Half-burger, half-sandwich, the patty melt is a classic hunger-busting meal. It’s also the perfect vehicle for the secret sauce.

Food Republic’s Classic Patty Melt recipe calls for caramelized onions, high-quality beef, American cheese, spices, and Thousand Island. The caramelized onions cook first, followed by the spiced beef patties. Spread dressing on one slice of bread, assemble the sandwich, and fry the sandwich in butter to melt everything together. It makes four servings.

If you’re feeling adventurous, consider using extra sauce. Food Republic recommends a side of Thousand Island for dipping.

Wedge Salad 

Most people associate wedge salads with crispy bacon, crisp lettuce, and tangy bleu cheese dressing. But what could be more delicious than a wedge with Thousand Island?

Feed Your Skull’s Wedge Salad puts a fresh spin on a classic. And this version doesn’t just use Thousand Island–it’s also entirely vegan! Their dairy-free recipe uses Vegenaise instead of mayo while keeping the ketchup, relish, and lemon juice. Feed Your Skull also gives instructions for making coconut “bacon.”

This dishes simplicity allows the dressing to shine. With so many complex flavors, you won’t miss the dairy or meat.

What Dressing Is Similar to Thousand Island?

This magical sauce adds tang and tartness to so many dishes. But it isn’t necessarily for everyone. Dietary restrictions, health issues, or plain old non-availability make this dressing problematic for some. And others don’t care for the taste.

If you dislike or can’t find Thousand Island, you can substitute Russian dressing. Like secret sauce, it contains ketchup and mayonnaise. It’s also easy to find at most supermarkets. Be advised, however, that some spicier recipes include horseradish or chili powder.

Ranch is another condiment that’s similar to Thousand Island. It’s mayonnaise-based with a zesty flavor. But it isn’t sweet and contains some different spices. And with high levels of saturated fat, it isn’t a healthy alternative.

Pro Tip: Make your salad a little more luxurious by using these tips to Easy-Peel Hard Boiled Eggs.

Dress Up Your Dinner

Thousand Island has lost its reputation as an “elegant” food enjoyed by the wealthy. But it’s still loved across the U.S.

In fact, it’s become something everyone can enjoy. No matter what you call it, this condiment remains popular in restaurants, fast food joints, and home kitchens.

We may never know for sure who created this delicious dressing. But one thing’s clear: it isn’t going anywhere.

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