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.