Difference between: Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing

Note: Although this post was published in December of 2013 it was heavily revised and updated in January of 2018.

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, the difference between Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing lies not so much with pickles, but with a different ingredient or two.

a spoonful of either Russian or Thousand Island dressing

Official Definitions

Russian Dressing

Dicitonary.com: A sharp mayonnaise dressing containing chopped pickles, chili sauce, ketchup, pimentos, etc.

TheFreeDictionary.com: A mayonnaise-based salad dressing typically with chili sauce or ketchup, chopped pickles, and pimientos.

Thousand Island Dressing

Dictionary.com: A seasoned mayonnaise, often containing chopped pickles, pimentos, sweet peppers, hard boiled eggs, etc.

TheFreeDictionary.com: A salad dressing typically made with mayonnaise, chili sauce, ketchup, and finely chopped vegetables such as pickles, bell peppers, green olives, and onions.

Based on the definitions alone, we can see that either can include pickles, pimentos (or pimientos), ketchup, or chili sauce. Let’s delve deeper.

A Look at Recipes

I looked at a variety of recipes for both dressings, linked to at the bottom in the sources. Here’s what I found:

  • Both are mayonnaise-based.
  • Both can have ketchup, chili sauce, or both.
  • Russian dressing tends to include hot sauce or horseradish.
  • Russian dressing typically includes Worcestershire sauce.
  • Thousand Island dressing tends to include a hard boiled egg.
  • The chili sauce in Thousand Island dressing is usually specified to be “sweet chili sauce.”

What Others Say

According to EHow.com, despite its 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.

EHow 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¬†pretty much 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.”

Conclusion

Russian dressing has a bolder, more distinctive, and even spicier flavor. Thousand Island dressing usually contains a hard boiled egg and might have more vegetables.

Now for the big question: Which one should go on a Reuben?

Read about the history of the sandwich >>

Sources:

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

  1. A most concise answer. You would not believe the drivel I waded through before, thankfully, landing here.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

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

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. Irma Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking” 1931-1946 edition for Russian dressing #1 adds horseradish and caviar and a teaspoon of confectioner’s sugar. I am trying to imagine the bite of horseradish, the fish taste of caviar, and slight sweetness along with the base of mayo, relish, and chili sauce. Russian dressing #2 is mayo, chili sauce, barbecue sauce, caviar, and a dash of onion juice. That would be the ‘reddish’ version resembling French. Variety is the spice of life and salad dressings as well. Tastes may vary!

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