Difference between: Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing

With Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing, I used to believe that one had pickles and the other one didn’t, and I could never remember which one was the one with the pickles.

However, according to various definitions I’ve found, either one can contain pickles – and indeed, other similar ingredients. The true difference between the two seems to be not with pickles, but with a different ingredient.

First, I took a look at definitions between the two dressings.

Russian dressing, according to Dictionary.com: A sharp mayonnaise dressing containing chopped pickles, chili sauce, ketchup, pimentos, etc; Russian dressing according to TheFreeDictionary.com: Salad dressing, such as mayonnaise, with chili sauce or ketchup, chopped pickles, and pimentos.

Thousand Island dressing, according to Dictionary.com: A seasoned mayonnaise, often containing chopped pickles, pimentos, sweet peppers, hard boiled eggs, etc; Thousand Island dressing according to TheFreeDictionary.com: A salad dressing, made with mayonnaise, chili sauce, and seasonings.

So based on definitions alone, both dressings can contain mayonnaise, pickles, pimentos, or chili sauce; ketchup is only mentioned with Russian dressing, and sweet peppers and hard boiled eggs are only mentioned with Thousand Island dressing.

Next, I looked at a couple recipes, trying to find of course a traditional recipe for each. Martha Stewart’s Russian dressing recipe contains pickle relish, and AllRecipe.com’s Thousand Island dressing recipe contains pickle relish as well; it also contains hard boiled eggs.

Finally, I actually took a look at websites specifically addressing the difference between the two.

According to EHow.com, despite it’s name, Russian dressing originated in the United States around the late 1800s, and was more “extravagant” than today’s modern version. Thousand Island dressing is a variant of Russian dressing, and is more mild; the recipe for Thousand Island dressing was first published in 1900. Food52.com agrees with the notion of Thousand Island dressing being less strongly flavored.

EHow.com gave the best explanation that I could find: “A typical Russian dressing has a base of yogurt, mayonnaise, or ketchup. Additional spices may be added to alter the flavor, as well as horseradish, pimentos, or chives. Thousand Island dressing has a similar mayonnaise base; however, additional ingredients include finely chopped vegetables such as pickles, onions, and green olives. The biggest difference between the two dressings is that Thousand Island dressings often include a finely chopped hard-boiled egg.”

WikiAnswers.com agrees with EHow: “Basically Russian dressing is a mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup, whereas Thousand Island is the same base ingredients with pickles and sometimes chives or eggs.”

In conclusion, it would appear that the main difference between Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing is the hard boiled egg, which the latter typically contains. In addition, Russian dressing has a bolder, more distinctive flavor, and Thousand Island dressing often contains more vegetables than its counterpart.

20 thoughts on “Difference between: Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing

  1. Everyone knows that if you’re from the northeast, the home of most Jewish or Eastern European communities, it’s Russian dressing. If you’re from anywhere else, you’re likely enjoying a well made knockoff, and call it thousand island.

    1. Ok, this makes sense. I thought I was going crazy: wherever I go (except for a deli… I live in Boca Raton) I ask for Russian, the server always says they don’t have it, but then list Thousand Island as one of the choices. I’m from NYC, and back in the day I when I worked in a restaurant, we called it Russian, even though the label said Thousand Island. I always assumed it was interchangeable as it is back up North.

  2. Which dressing is used on a “Jewish Corn Beef Special” sandwich {rye bread, corned beef, cole slaw and one of those dressings} ?

        1. Actually either dressing works well on corned beef “reuben” sandwiches. The original reuben sandwich had Russian dressing but these days most restaurants and delis serve it with Thousand Island dressing. As another post said, Russian dressing would more likely be served on reuben sandwiches in the northeast, from Manhattan to Boston.

          1. Also for those of you wondering, a reuben is a grilled sandwich typically made with some type of rye bread or pumpernickel, corned beef, swiss or gruyere cheese, sauerkraut, and either Russian or Thousand Island dressing.

  3. In my quest for American foodstuffs, I’m convinced that the American salad dressing named “Russian” is little more than Thousand Island without pickle relish. My own T.O. is strongly flavored and based on Ranch. Add the premier burger condiments of mustard, ketchup, and pickle relish and you have Thousand Island or “Special Sauce.” Refrain from relish, and most will accept it as “Russian,” though Russians have no idea what we Americans are talking about. I say, stick to whatever’s American, and put T.O. on anything that calls for “Russian.” It’ll be better (no two ways about it)unless you have an aversion to Turmeric and pickled cucumbers. It’s a wonderful condiment, one you might associate with a remoulade in Louisiana, and the prime sub for all the various goo on your cheeseburger, but one of which I’m not especially fond dressing my salad. I don’t know why….

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  5. They reality is there is no differences. The old early 1900’s cookbooks had egg in the Russian dressings. And I have found recipes without egg for early Thousand. In the 1923 Warren Cookbook, there is even a second Russian Dressing based upon a French Dressing. The difference really comes down to who made the recipe and what dis they call it.

  6. From the sixth edition of the Warren Cook Book December 1923. Russian Salad Dressing- 1 cup oil mayonnaise, 3 hard boiled eggs; put the yolks through a ricer and chop the whites fine, 2 tbsp pimentos, 1 tbsp fine chopped chives, 1 tbsp vinegar; mix all together. Just before serving mix in 1/2 cup Chili sauce. By Blanche C Mohr.

  7. Also from The Warren Cook Book, Russian Dressing (French Dressing based)-1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp paprika, slowly add 7 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp vinegar/ lemon juice. Mix with a blender; add 2 tbsp chili sauce/catsup, 1 sieved pimentos, 1 chopped bell pepper, 2 minced hard boiled eggs. Mix all together and chill. Carrie Carson & Mrs J W Kitchen

  8. This is from The Mystery Chef’s Own Cook Book (1934,1945) – Russian Dressing; This dressing, which is unknown in Russia, was originated by Mr Antione Dadone when he was at the Ritz Hotel in New York City. It became very popular. Others, not wanting to call it “Ritz Dressing,” there already being a French Dressing, and “R” for “Ritz” suggested, I believe, Russian.

    Maybe somebody from New York can look into this more.

  9. Frances Elizabeth Stewart’s Lessons in Cookery 1920 list 3 recipes for what people would call Russian or Thousand Island dressing.

  10. To me, it is a base of yogurt, mayonnaise, ketchup or a bottled chili ketchup sauce. From there its all up to you and your’s or your family’s likes.
    This leaves it up to your favorite dressing as a child, what you like on sandwiches, or on a chilled iceberg lettuce wedge.
    Isn’t is great we have some many choices!

  11. Russian dressing is dark red and tangy according to major salad dressing makers at major supermarkets all across the nation. When I go to a deli I don’t ask for Russian dressing because I don’t like dark Red tangy stuff on my sandwich. Deli sandwiches are much better with thousand island dressing.

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