Does A Vinaigrette Have To Have Vinegar?

I love mixing up new dressings for my salads and trying out classics and new twists. A vinaigrette is a true classic, but when looking at recipes to swap out the vinegar, it had me wondering if this is still called a vinaigrette. So I looked into whether a vinaigrette has to have vinegar and this is what I found.

A true vinaigrette has to contain vinegar, but the term is usually used to cover other dressings that have any acid mixed with oil, such as lemon juice. The usual ratio is 3 part oil to 1 part acid.

In this article, I look more into the range of vinaigrettes and salad dressings that you can make. What are the best oils and vinegars to use? And what are some so-called “vinaigrettes” that use other ingredients instead of vinegar?

What Does A Vinaigrette Dressing Consist Of?

A vinaigrette consists of an acid like vinegar or lemon juice mixed with an oil like olive oil. They are whisked together to form an emulsion. This means the oil droplets are dispersed so small from the whisking that they coat the watery ingredients and appear to mix. Oil and water normally don’t mix together so they separate out.

You must emulsify the oil and vinegar otherwise the oil sticks to the salad and the vinegar slips off and is left at the bottom of the salad bowl. By mixing it up, the oil ensures the vinegar stays on the leaves.

The typical ratio of a vinaigrette is 3 part oil to 1 part vinegar. The vinegar is harsher so it is mellowed by the oil. In turn, the oil is rich and needs something tart to cut through it. These flavor combinations are common throughout recipes.

Some people mix a vinaigrette 2:1 and some people mix it 4:1 depending on their tastes. I like to use a 4:1 ratio when mixing oil and lemon juice as it’s a little stronger.

How do you keep vinaigrette from separating?

You can’t stop vinegar and oil from separating completely no matter how much you whisk it. The oil droplets reform to one liquid eventually and sit apart from the water. It’s normal and you can just re-emulsify the dressing by whisking it or shaking it in a jar.

What’s The Difference Between A Salad Dressing And A Vinaigrette?

Salad dressing is a broad term to describe the two main groups of sauces used on salads; vinaigrettes or creamy dressings. A vinaigrette is a simple dressing that has oil, vinegar, and seasonings.

There are many types of dressings that fall under the salad dressing term. Some creamy examples are ranch, caesar, blue cheese, thousand islands, and anything else with mayonnaise in.

Some examples of vinaigrettes are a classic vinaigrette (oil and vinegar), french vinaigrette (red wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard), and lemon vinaigrette (lemon juice and olive oil).

You can also blur the lines and create a vinaigrette but add some dairy such as a dressing made from yogurt, vinegar, oil, and seasonings. This gives the tangy punch of a vinaigrette but also the smooth creaminess from the yogurt.

Why is vinegar added to a salad dressing?

Vinegar is added to salad dressing to add an acidic and sour note to dishes. The contrast to the oil is a common combination found in all cooking and helps to balance the dish. By using different kinds of vinegar you can add different flavor dimensions when mixed with different oils. Learn more about balancing vinegar in dishes.

Best Vinegar For Salad Dressing

White Wine Vinegar

A classic vinegar to use in a vinaigrette for its clear color and crisp taste. It’s not too strong so makes a nice dressing that can be used on many salads. It’s one of the least flashy kinds of vinegar but is a great go-to store cupboard essential.

Red Wine Vinegar

This vinegar is similar to white wine vinegar but as it’s made from red grapes as in red wine, it has a more robust and deeper flavor. It will impart a pink hue to dressings and can be used for French vinaigrettes and others.

Balsamic Vinegar

One of the most flavorful kinds of vinegar, especially if you buy a more expensive one that has been aged. It’s made from grapes and grape skins, and is dark in color and concentrated for a complex taste. It makes for a strong-tasting vinaigrette that is sweet and very tangy.

Apple Cider Vinegar

This vinegar is a bit lighter and fruitier. You get a good tangy flavor which has subtle tones of apple cider. I like to keep this one as a store cupboard essential for dressings and marinades. It’s a nice alternative to all the wine-based vinegars.

Sherry Vinegar

Sherry vinegar is slightly less well known and has a similar taste to red wine vinegar although less robust. It can be seen as in between balsamic and red wine vinegar in terms of sweetness and acidity. A nice mellow middle ground that can make a special vinaigrette.

Best Vinaigrette Recipes

Serious Eats Simple Vinaigrette – With shallots added to white wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and Dijon, this recipe ticks all the boxes for a flavor-packed dressing.

Basic French Vinaigrette – this vinaigrette uses a 2:1 ratio of vinegar to oil so is a bit more punchy in terms of acidity if you like that.

Substitute For Vinegar In Vinaigrette

Lemon Juice

An easy substitute for white wine vinegar as lemon juice can do a very similar job to cut through the oil. Vinegar is acetic acid and lemon juice is citric acid which is why it substitutes so well. Try this Simple Lemon Vinaigrette

Orange Juice

Using orange juice makes for a sweeter dressing but is still acidic being in the citrus fruit family. You can make a delicious orange vinaigrette with orange juice, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and honey. See this Orange Vinaigrette Recipe.

Grapefruit Juice

Grapefruit has a wonderful zesty flavor and is seen as in between orange and lemon in terms of tartness. Grapefruit juice goes well with olive oil and honey to make a delicious vinaigrette. Try this Grapefruit Vinaigrette Recipe.

Lime Juice

Lime juice is another good substitute for vinegar as it’s so acidic like lemon juice. Lime has a more distinct flavor than the clean taste of lemon so use it in dishes that it might complement to ensure it pairs well. It is slightly more bitter but less sour. Try this Simple Lime Salad Dressing Recipe.

To see some more ideas, check out my post, 9 substitutes for vinegar in salad dressing.


Hopefully, you should now know if a vinaigrette always has to have vinegar to be called a vinaigrette.

Vinaigrettes initially did have to contain vinegar, but now other acids like citrus juice can take the place of vinegar in fusion recipes. There are no real rules and many variations of vinaigrettes are available online or for you to experiment.

Try some of the many different types of vinegars on offer and even some of the more unusual recipes in this article like the grapefruit or orange vinaigrette.

Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Boss The Kitchen. With a background in cooking and building websites, he enjoys running this site to help other cooks improve. About Tom Hambly.

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