Oil does more than add a light flavor to a salad -- it acts as a medium to distribute the other dressing ingredients around the dish. Whether you’re out of oil or you don’t want the added fat, there are many substitutes for oil in salad dressings. Any liquefied substance can help distribute the other ingredients, and there are many selections that add flavor as well as moisture.
While flavoring a vegetable salad with vegetable puree may seem odd, vegetable puree can have a subtle flavor that works well as a low-fat substitute for oil. Use pureed vegetables for the best results, because the pulp in the liquid helps thicken up your dressing so it sticks to the salad. Strained vegetable juices work, but they create thin results. Combine the puree with an assortment of herbs and spices to create a tasty dressing. Use the dressings for vegetable-based salads, as they tend to clash with fruit-based salads. Common vegetable purees for dressing include tomato, carrot, celery and corn.
Fruit puree adds a natural sweetness to your homemade salad dressing. Like vegetables, using puree over juice means a thicker dressing. Fruits can also be mixed with a variety of herbs and spices to produce flavorful results. The sweet dressings work on any vegetable or fruit salad, from salty to spicy. Common fruit purees for dressing include lemon, lime, apple and raspberry.
Vinegar adds a tart twist to your salad dressing and is often used in conjunction with oil. You can also use vinegar instead of oil in the dressing. Specialty vinegars, such as apple cider vinegar and seasoned vinegar, have a more complex flavor than white vinegar and require less seasoning to become a dressing. Regardless of the type, vinegar is strong, so use it sparingly. Vinegar is also very thin, so it will produce a thin dressing. Vinegar goes with almost any salad, fruit or vegetable. Common vinegar selections for salad dressing include seasoned, apple cider, white wine and red wine vinegar.
You can water down any condiment to turn it into a replacement for oil -- it’s just that some taste better with certain salads than others. Add a little water to ketchup or mustard to give your vegetable salad a tangy taste. Water down barbecue or steak sauce to give a meat-based salad a boost of flavor. Water down cocktail sauce for an oil-free dressing that suits shrimp salads. Use watered-down salsa or horseradish sauce to give a plain salad a spicy kick. Condiments can be used plain or with additional seasonings and herbs.
Although plain milk on a salad is far from tasty, other dairy products can serve as a substitute for oil in salad dressing. Watered down sour cream or plain yogurt provide a creamy base for a dressing. Water them down just slightly, so they still retain a little thickness. Pair the watered-down items with spices and herbs to create a dressing that tastes good on spicy, sweet, salty or plain salads.
A writer since 2000, Aya Pauli has covered a variety of topics including food, fashion, beauty, health, parenting, education, decor and crafts. Her award-winning recipes have been published in food magazines such as "Taste of Home," and she is also the author of a salad cookbook. Pauli's craft projects appear in major manufacturer websites, including Dow Styrofoam. She also holds a CDA in early childhood education and works as a preschool teacher in Wyoming.