This Ambrosia Salad will be the best fruit salad you ever make! It is wonderfully light, sweet, tangy, refreshing, EASY, make ahead (AKA stress free!), and always a swooning favorite!
Ambrosia means, “food of the gods” and this Ambrosia Salad is nothing short of heavenly. It is often served for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner because it is special occasion worthy, and SO easy to make – you don’t even have to do any chopping – that’s my kind of salad! This Cranberry Pomegranate Ambrosia Salad recipe is an updated holiday spin on the iconic recipe loaded with cranberries, pomegranate arils, mandarin oranges, pineapple and mini marshmallows in a luscious vanilla yogurt cream dressing.
What is ambrosia?
Ambrosia Salad is a creamy variation on a traditional fruit salad that originated in the 19th century. It is a southern classic and traditionally contains pineapple, Mandarina oranges, mini-marshmallows and coconut all cocooned in a fluffy, sweet dressy primarily comprised of whipped cream. It is more of a light dessert than a salad and is a welcome addition to any potluck or holiday.
With the holiday season upon us, I thought it was time for an update on this iconic classic. And I couldn’t be more pleased – or addicted – to the results. Ambrosia Salad occasionally gets a bad rap, but I promise this Ambrosia Salad recipe is sooooo irresistible, my I-never-eat-leftovers husband was eating the leftovers straight from the fridge.
Where did Ambrosia Salad come from?
The exact origin of Ambrosia Salad is unclear, although it is often considered a southern dish due to the earliest cookbook reference by a southern author. The book states, “Grate the white part of the cocoanut [sic], sweeten with a little sugar, and place in a glass bowl, in alternate layers with pulped oranges, having a layer of coconut on top. Serve in ice-cream plates or saucers.”
Around this same time period, many Ambrosia Salad recipes started popping up in cookbooks. This is thought to be a result of citrus and coconut becoming more widely available across the country, as railroads linked Florida (the primary producer of oranges at the time) to the north and south.
Early Ambrosia Salad references kept the dish quite simple until Southern cooks began to spice up the fruit salad with more diverse fruit and toppings from sugar to whipped cream, to yogurt to mayonnaise. What started out as a 3-ingredient dish evolved into a sweet, creamy fruit salad, with thousands of variations.
Ambrosia in Greek Mythology
In Greek mythology, Ambrosia was the magical fruit of the gods that they ate on Mount Olympus to remain immortal. If they went without Ambrosia, then they became weak like mortals. In Homer’s Iliad, the gods even bathed in ambrosia and used it as perfume.
Greek mythology stated that mortals would face death if they consumed the gods’ ambrosia. Thankfully, today we are free to eat Ambrosia Salad any day we choose, without the consequence of death. Just the consequence of addiction.
What ingredients are in ambrosia salad?
There are thousands of takes on Ambrosia Salad but all of them start with juicy fruit and some form of creamy dressing.
Traditional Ambrosia Salad contains:
- Mandarin oranges
- Miniature marshmallows
Other Common Add-Ins:
- Maraschino cherries
My Holiday Ambrosia Salad
For my updated version of Ambrosia Salad, I’ve kept the Mandarin oranges, pineapple and mini marshmallows, but I’ve added chopped cranberries and pomegranate arils to the salad. They add a sweet, tart, crunch that is undeniably delicious.
Due to the addition of the cranberry arils, I don’t recommend adding pecans or other nuts as the pomegranate has plenty of crunch and the introducing of another nut/seed would be overwhelming.
Many dressings require cool whip as the base of their dressing, but I prefer to make my own because it is soooo simple, fresh and chemical free. I also add vanilla yogurt to the homemade whipped cream for a fluffy, sweet, luscious dressing that is much more flavorful and silky due to the vanilla yogurt.
How do you make ambrosia salad?
Ambrosia Salad is one of the easiest “salads” or special occasion recipes you’ll make in your whole life. It takes less than 10 minutes and most of that is simply adding ingredients to a sieve or stirring in a bowl.
We start by finely chopping cranberries in a food processor. You can use fresh or frozen (thawed) cranberries. I actually used fresh cranberries that had been frozen and then thawed. (I always freeze any fruit I’m not going to use in time – they are perfect for smoothies, or Ambrosia Salad in this case!)
Next, add the pineapple to a fine mesh sieve and push out any excess moisture (over the sink) with a spatula followed by the cranberries. This will keep our Ambrosia Salad from getting watery.
Stir in sugar until well combined. We need this extra sugar because raw cranberries are extremely tart.
Place sieve over a bowl, cover and place in the refrigerator. Let chill 2 hours up to overnight.
Add cranberry mixture to a serving bowl. Stir in the marshmallows, followed by mandarin oranges.
For the dressing, beat heavy cream in a large mixing bowl for 1 minute then beat in powdered sugar. Continue to beat until peaks form.
Fold vanilla yogurt into whipped cream.
Fold the whipped cream mixture into the cranberry mixture.
Refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
Right before serving, garnish with the pomegranate seeds.
Is ambrosia salad a dessert?
Ambrosia salad has had a bit of identity crisis. Many consider it a salad due to its fruit and dressing, while many consider it a dessert due to its divine sweetness. I consider it a DESSERT SALAD.
With its luscious, sweet whipped cream based dressing and mini marshmallows, this Ambrosia Salad definitely tastes more like a light and fresh dessert than a salad but we traditionally serve it as a side like we would a salad. Ambrosia Salad reminds of me of sweet potato casserole in this sense because although it is sweet, it takes its place with the savory sides at the buffet table.
That being said, feel free to server it at the dessert table because it can stand on its own – it is every bit as delicious as pie.
How long can you keep ambrosia salad in the fridge?
Ambrosia Salad stores very well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Can Ambrosia Salad be made the day before?
Ambrosia Salad can be served immediately, chilled for a few hours or served the next day. I personally think Ambrosia Salad is at its best after being chilled for a couple hours but it is still company worthy if made the day before.
If you need to make Ambrosia Salad a day in advance, you could mix it all together except for the pomegranate arils and chill OR, keep the cranberries/pineapple/sugar mixture separate from the homemade whipped cream/vanilla yogurt dressing in the refrigerator then mix everything. This last minute combining would take you less than 5 minutes!
Can Ambrosia Salad be frozen?
No, I don’t recommend freezing Ambrosia Salad as fruit does not freeze and thaw well without becoming soggy and the dairy based dressing would become a funny, runny texture.
I do recommend eating or sharing all of the Ambrosia Salad. It will make everyone’s hearts and bellies happy.
Looking for more holiday salad recipes?
- Cranberry Apple Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad
- Winter Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
- Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Cranberries, Caramelized Pecans and Goat Cheese
- Apple Cranberry Bacon Candied Walnut Salad with Apple Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
- Pomegranate, Pear, Pistachio Salad
- Wedge Salad with Creamy Blue Cheese Ranch and Balsamic Reduction
- Tropical Pomegranate Cashew Fruit Salad
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©Carlsbad Cravings Original adapted from Kelsey Nixon
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