Taste Test: The Best Caesar Salad Dressings
- Ken's Chef's Reserve Creamy Caesar With Roasted Garlic
- Marzetti Supreme Caesar
- Marzetti Simply Dressed Caesar
Friends, Serious Eaters, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to find the best Caesars, not to praise all of them.
The evil that some salad dressings do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with a lot of sub-par stuff;
So let it be with Caesar salad dressing. The noble bottle labels
Hath told you the Caesars within are delicious:
And at times, that can be a grievous fault,
And grievously hath the worst Caesars answer'd it.
Wait, what's that? Caesar dressing has nothing to do with Julius Caesar or Shakespeare? You say it's commonly ascribed to Cesare Cardini, an Italian immigrant who claimed to have invented it in 1920's Tijuana? And that there are others who also took credit for its invention, and no one knows for sure? Hm...I could have sworn it was first described by Apicius around 500 AD...I'm going to go check my copy of De Re Coquinaria. Okay, nope, not in Apicius.
Anyway, whoever invented Caesar dressing, it is undeniably delicious stuff. Parmesan cheese, black pepper, creamy eggs, olive oil, anchovies—wait, what's that? The original Caesar salad didn't have anchovies? It had Worcestershire sauce? Okay, look, I'm really grateful for all of these corrections, but you're kinda throwing me off my game here. The point is: It had something briny and fishy in it. Tossed with romaine lettuce and croutons (please, please tell me you approve of the croutons), it's one of those salads that somehow manages to roll refreshing lightness and unfettered indulgence into one.
The question is, when you're in a rush and don't have the motivation to toss your own from scratch, what are the store-bought brands of Caesar dressing you should reach for?
Selecting brands for this taste test was easy: If the bottle said "Caesar" on it, we considered it fair game. After all, everyone (ahem) knows what Caesar is, so if a product claims to be Caesar, that's good enough for us. We started by searching the internet to identify the major brands selling Caesar dressing nationwide, then went out shopping for as many as we could find.
Caesar salad dressing comes in a few basic forms. First, some are creamy, like ranch dressing, while others are more like vinaigrette, with a visible separation of oil and water-based ingredients. Second, some come in shelf-stable bottles, while others are more perishable and can be found in the supermarket refrigerator section. We tried all types in this tasting.
- Brand 1: Cardini's Original Caesar Dressing
- Brand 2: Ken's Chef's Reserve Creamy Caesar With Roasted Garlic
- Brand 3: Whole Food's 365 Organic Caesar Dressing
- Brand 4: Girard's Classic Caesar Dressing
- Brand 5: Newman's Own Creamy Caesar Dressing
- Brand 6: Marzetti Supreme Caesar
- Brand 7: Newman's Own Caesar Dressing
- Brand 8: Marie's Creamy Caesar
- Brand 9: Brianna's Asiago Caesar
- Brand 10: Trader Joe's Romano Caesar Dressing
- Brand 11: Marzetti Simply Dressed Caesar Dressing
The first question we had to ask ourselves was what qualities are essential to a good Caesar dressing. First, the clean, cheesy flavors of Parimagiano-Reggiano, though if a brand clearly stated that it used a different cheese, such as Trader Joe's Romano or Brianna's Asiago, we were open to those flavor profiles as well, as long as they were sufficiently and pleasantly cheesy. Second, a good black-pepper kick. Third, a briny, fishy flavor, whether from anchovies or Worcestershire sauce (which is made from anchovies). Fourth, tanginess, such as lemon juice or vinegar, to balance all those rich ingredients. Finally, the robust flavor of garlic.
To measure those criteria, we asked tasters to rate each dressing on a 10-point scale for the following qualities: garlicky-ness, pepperiness, cheesiness, tanginess, anchovy-flavor, and then overall impression. The dressings were served with romaine lettuce on the side for tasting.
Before conducting the blind tasting, I had a suspicion that refrigerated Caesars would outperform the shelf-stable ones. After all, the need for refrigeration suggests fresh ingredients, like real lemon juice and egg, that might contribute to a better overall flavor. That didn't fully hold up in the final tasting results. While two of our three favorite dressings were refrigerated, the one that received the highest overall score was Ken's, straight from a shelf-stable bottle.
Based on our criteria, there's some correlation between a product's level of anchovy and cheesy flavors and its overall rating—generally, the higher, the better, with our favorite brands also scoring the highest in those two areas. There were a couple brands, though, that didn't perform as well overall, but managed to get relatively high cheesiness and anchovy-flavor scores, so it's not an airtight rule. Other criteria, such as pepperiness, garlicky-ness, and tanginess, revealed no direct relationship to overall score.
Looking at ingredient lists and nutritional information, there doesn't seem to be an easy rule-of-thumb for what makes one bottled Caesar more successful than another. The top-rated dressings and least-favorite dressings all had neutral oil and water as their top two ingredients, and had other similar ingredient profiles, salt contents, and fat percentages. Caesar dressing with strong non-Parmesan-cheese flavors, like Romano or Asiago, didn't perform as well as those that stuck with the traditional Parmesan, but, given that there were also Parmesan-flavored ones that didn't do well in the tasting, it's not clear whether that was a direct result of the cheese, or just the dressing in general.
As for price, the three favorites were also some of the cheaper options (about 30-35 cents per ounce), with some of the pricier ones scoring less well, so paying for the most expensive isn't a reliable tactic, either.
The only thing that all three of the top scorers have in common is that they are all creamy-style dressings. Some of the vinaigrette-style brands received decent scores, so we wouldn't automatically rule that type out, but creamy reigned supreme.
Based on our tasters' ratings, it's safe to say that some Caesar dressings deserve their place as top-dogs for life; others, well, let's just say I know some guys in the senate who might be able to help.
Here are our three favorites!
Ken's Chef's Reserve Creamy Caesar With Roasted Garlic
Ken's is a standby salad dressing brand, so ubiquitous that I didn't have high hopes for it. Turns out it's the sleeper hit. Commenters appreciated its "sweet garlic flavor" and "cheesy, creamy, briny" notes, "full-bodied" texture, and flavor that tasted like "real ingredients."
Marzetti Supreme Caesar
This refrigerated Caesar was lauded for its tanginess and the "tons of fish flavor" it packed, though some complained that it was overly mayonnaise-like in consistency and that the vinegar flavor was a little too heavy-handed.
Marzetti Simply Dressed Caesar
Another high-performer from Marzetti, this one was described by tasters as being "creamy" and having a "good, fresh flavor." One wrote that it "has the zestiness I look for in a Caesar," but another found the vinegar to be a little too strong here.
Our Tasting Methodology: All taste tests are conducted completely blind and without discussion. Tasters taste samples in random order. For example, taster A may taste sample 1 first, while taster B will taste sample 6 first. This is to prevent palate fatigue from unfairly giving any one sample an advantage. Tasters are asked to fill out tasting sheets ranking the samples for various criteria that vary from sample to sample. All data is tabulated and results are calculated with no editorial input in order to give us the most impartial representation of actual results possible.