Before there was mayonnaise, before there was French dressing or ranch or Italian on every supermarket shelf, the British grew up on salad cream. If you didn’t, it’s time to meet the original and best.
What is salad cream?
What do you mean, what’s salad cream?! This is the salad dressing on which British children were raised throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Even the Famous Five loved it!
For a positively perfect dressing try my Homemade Traditional Salad Cream Recipe
Try my Salad Cream Substitute for something different.
Whether poured over bowls of butterhead lettuce, tomato, cucumber and boiled egg, for dipping celery or added to all sorts of sandwiches (beetroot and salad cream, tinned salmon, salad cream and crisps…), it was the taste of our childhoods.
Packing a more astringent punch than the sumptuous mayonnaise so beloved of the French, this classic dressing originally consisted of boiled egg yolks, cream, vinegar, mustard and lemon juice.
This means two important things: first, there is no raw egg in real salad cream.
Secondly, salad cream made to the original recipes at home is a much more luxurious product than the bottled commercial versions that have been available since Heinz first launched their iconic version around the start of the First World War.
Yes, that’s right, the first commercial version was made by an American company.
Modern commercial salad cream substitutes oil and cornflour for the cream.
Today, in addition to the original Heinz (which had to bow to popular pressure when they wanted to change the name to ‘sandwich cream’), all the usual sauce brands such as Crosse and Blackwell and Hellmans have their own salad cream, as do all the supermarkets.
In and out of fashion
At its best, salad cream is great. It has not, however, always been in fashion. In the unselfconscious days of the 19th century when it gained real popularity, through the years of World War II, we loved our salad cream.
Unfortunately, in the 1960s, chefs pursuing the fashion for French cooking were more than a little dismissive, and Elizabeth David commented disdainfully that salad cream was ‘one of the major culinary disasters of this country.’
The rot had set in and by the aspirational 80s, the British were starting to feel embarassed by old favourites. Fortunately we got over it and have learned to love our distinctive food quirks again. Who needs mayonnaise anyway?
What does salad cream taste like?
Salad cream is less cloying and more vinegary than mayonnaise, but still has a creamy, sumptuous quality. It pours (slowly) rather than having to be dolloped with a spoon.
Mustard, vinegar and lemon juice cut through the egg and cream (or non dairy substitutes in the commercial versions) to give it a tangy kick.
Is salad cream like mayonnaise?
Not really. Mayonnaise is much richer and so lacking in savoury notes that you can put it in a cake. Salad cream is thinner and has more bite. Having said that, it is used in very similar ways on cold savoury foods.
It is also worth noting that commercial salad cream is light yellow in colour while mayo is white.
Is salad cream like Miracle Whip?
Miracle Whip is an American commercial mayonnaise substitute dating from the 1930s. Like salad cream, it contains vinegar, eggs and mustard but the key defining ingredient is high-fructose corn syrup.
So while Miracle Whip looks like mayo, it is much sweeter. Salad cream is more piquant.
How to use salad cream (not just for salads)
- Salad cream goes with salad vegetables, anything involving boiled eggs, ham, cold chicken and tinned salmon.
- This is the key ingredient in sandwich spread, which consists of finely chopped fresh and pickled vegetables coated in salad cream.
- Use it as a delicious dressing for a Russian salad of diced root vegetables and gherkins or capers.
- It can be eaten on chips (fries) or with fritters that need a dipping sauce.
- Other uses can be more controversial. Like all those ‘taste of home’ sauces, some people will put it on almost anything. Some even drizzle it on pizza and beans on toast!
How to make salad cream
I like to make salad cream the traditional way. Find my salad cream recipe here, for a really old fashioned British salad dresssing.
For a quick, cheat’s version, you can make mayonnaise into an instant salad cream substitute. Take a couple of tablespoons of mayo and add a dash of mustard, vinegar and a generous dose of Worcestershire sauce!