Skip to Content

What is the difference between Russian and Thousand Island?

Russian and Thousand Island are two popular salad dressings with distinct flavors and ingredients. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are some key differences between the two that set them apart.

In this article, we will explore the history, ingredients, taste, uses, and nutritional profiles of Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing. Understanding the distinctions between these two classic condiments can help you decide which to use on your next salad, sandwich, or dip.

What is Russian Dressing?

Russian dressing has a creamy, tangy flavor and bright red-orange color. It is mayonnaise-based and contains ingredients like ketchup, horseradish, and spices.

History of Russian Dressing

Despite its name, Russian dressing did not originate in Russia. The earliest printed recipes appeared in the early 20th century in American cookbooks. Food historians trace its likely origins to salad dressings made by early American settlers.

One legend claims that Russian dressing was invented in the 1860s by James E. Nevin, a American sea caption who traveled to Vladivostok, Russia. Nevin reportedly brought back a recipe for the dressing after enjoying it in restaurants there.

The name “Russian dressing” may come from the inclusion of caviar or other upscale ingredients thought to be suited to aristocratic Russians. The dressing became popular in the United States during the 1920s and 30s as Russian-themed cuisine and cocktails came into vogue.

Ingredients in Russian Dressing

While recipes can vary, traditional Russian dressing contains:

  • Mayonnaise – The base of the dressing.
  • Ketchup – Provides tangy tomato flavor.
  • Horseradish – Adds bite and heat.
  • Worcestershire sauce – Contributes depth and umami.
  • Lemon juice – Brightens and balances the flavors.
  • Garlic powder – Provides subtle garlic aroma.
  • Paprika – Gives the dressing its reddish-orange hue.
  • Salt and pepper – For seasoning.

Some variations also include ingredients like hot sauce, herbs, mustard, or cream. The ketchup gives Russian dressing its mild sweetness, while horseradish and lemon juice provide a tangy counterpoint.

Taste and Uses for Russian Dressing

Russian dressing has a creamy, zippy flavor profile. It strikes a balance between sweet, salty, tangy, and savory tastes. The horseradish gives it a peppery bite on the tongue.

Thanks to its bold, versatile taste, Russian dressing can be used in many applications:

  • As a salad dressing – The classic use for Russian dressing.
  • As a sandwich spread – Especially for cold cut and veggie sandwiches.
  • As a dip for veggies, fries, or chips.
  • As a cocktail sauce – For shrimp, seafood, or crudités.
  • As an ingredient – In potato salad, coleslaw, or tartar sauce recipes.

The creamy, tomatoey flavor of Russian dressing complements both rich and fresh ingredients. It’s a quick way to add zest and moisture to sandwiches or salads.

What is Thousand Island Dressing?

Thousand Island dressing has a creamy, pink hue and sweet, tangy flavor. Like Russian, it also relies on a mayonnaise base but includes different seasonings and mix-ins.

History of Thousand Island Dressing

Thousand Island dressing was invented in New York in the early 1900s. According to legend, it was first created by Sophia LaLonde, the owner of a fishing resort in the Thousand Islands region between New York and Ontario.

The islands were a popular vacation spot for affluent families in the early 1900s. LaLonde presumably devised the dressing to appeal to the tastes of her upscale clientele. The creaminess and bits of pickle, eggs, and veggies dressed up a basic salad into something special.

The original Thousand Island dressing recipe was published in a cookbook in 1912. It spread in popularity nationwide throughout the 1920s and 30s as fine dining became more accessible.

Ingredients in Thousand Island Dressing

Basic Thousand Island dressing contains:

  • Mayonnaise – The creamy base.
  • Ketchup or tomato puree – For sweetness and tang.
  • Relish – Tart, crunchy bits of pickled veggies.
  • Worcestershire sauce – Adds depth.
  • Lemon juice – Brightens the flavor.
  • Sugar or honey – Extra sweetness to balance the tang.
  • Salt and pepper – For seasoning.

In addition to the basic ingredients above, Thousand Island often includes:

  • Chopped hard boiled egg – For richness.
  • Finely chopped onion, bell pepper, pickles, or olives – For texture and flavor.
  • Cream or sour cream – For extra creaminess.
  • Prepared horseradish or hot sauce – For a touch of heat.

The bits of pickle, egg, and veggies give Thousand Island dressing its chunky, flavorful texture.

Taste and Uses for Thousand Island Dressing

Thousand Island has a creamy, sweet-tart flavor and pinkish hue. It relies more heavily on added sugar than Russian dressing for balanced sweet-and-sour taste.

You can use Thousand Island dressing in many of the same ways as Russian dressing:

  • As a salad dressing – The #1 use.
  • As a sauce for burgers, sandwiches, or wraps.
  • As a veggie or seafood dip.
  • As an accompaniment for finger foods.
  • As a marinade ingredient.

The bits of pickle and egg add appealing texture to otherwise creamy Thousand Island dressing. It pairs especially well with rich ingredients like beef, bacon, eggs, or cheese.

Nutritional Profiles: Russian vs. Thousand Island Dressing

Russian and Thousand Island dressings have relatively similar nutritional profiles, as they both rely on mayonnaise as a base. However, Thousand Island tends to have a bit more added sugar.

Here is a nutritional comparison of 3.5 tablespoons (52 grams) of each dressing:

Russian Dressing Nutrition Facts

Calories Fat Carbs Protein
180 18g 4g 0g
  • Total fat makes up most calories.
  • Low protein and fiber since oil-based.
  • Provides some vitamin C and iron.

Thousand Island Dressing Nutrition Facts

Calories Fat Carbs Protein
215 22g 7g 1g
  • High in fat from mayonnaise and eggs.
  • Added sugar increases carbs.
  • Minimal protein and fiber.
  • Contains vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

While the two dressings are similar calorie-wise, Thousand Island has a bit more fat, carbs, and calories due to added sugar and egg yolks. For the lowest calorie option, use Russian dressing.

Price Comparison: Which is More Expensive?

Both Russian and Thousand Island dressing are relatively affordable convenience foods. Russian dressing tends to cost slightly less than Thousand Island.

Here is a price comparison based on average costs at grocery stores:

Russian Dressing

  • Store brand: $2-$3 per 12-16oz bottle
  • Name brand: $3-$4 per 12-16oz bottle

Thousand Island Dressing

  • Store brand: $2-$4 per 12-16oz bottle
  • Name brand: $3-$5 per 12-16oz bottle

On average, expect to spend about $1 more for name brand Thousand Island versus comparable Russian dressing.

For the most affordable option, go with generic store brands. Off-brand Russian dressing can cost as low as $2 per bottle.

Making homemade dressing from scratch may be cheaper than buying premade dressing over the long run. However, prepared dressings save prep time and last long in the fridge after opening.

Flavor Comparison: How Do They Taste Different?

While Russian and Thousand Island dressings share some ingredients like mayonnaise, ketchup, and lemon, they differ distinctly in terms of:

Spices and Herbs

  • Russian dressing – Spiced with horseradish, garlic, paprika, pepper.
  • Thousand Island – No added spices beyond salt and pepper.

The spicy horseradish and paprika give Russian dressing a zesty, robust flavor profile compared to Thousand Island.


  • Russian dressing – Gets sweetness mainly from the ketchup.
  • Thousand Island – Also contains added sugar or honey.

Thousand Island dressing tastes noticeably sweeter due to added sugary ingredients. Russian has a more savory, less-sweet flavor.

Texture and Mix-Ins

  • Russian dressing – Smooth and creamy texture.
  • Thousand Island – Chunky texture with bits of egg, veggies, etc.

The chopped egg, onions, relish, or other mix-ins give Thousand Island dressing a varied, crunchy texture compared to homogenous Russian dressing.


  • Russian dressing – Vibrant reddish-orange hue.
  • Thousand Island – Paler pink color.

Russian dressing gets its distinctly reddish color from ingredients like ketchup and paprika. Thousand Island is lighter pink since it lacks these spices.

Which is Better for Low Carb or Keto Diets?

In general, Russian dressing may be slightly preferable to Thousand Island dressing for low carb or ketogenic diets due to lower amounts of added sugar.

However, both dressings can fit into low carb eating plans in moderation and when accounted for.

Here is a comparison:

  • Russian dressing – 4g net carbs per serving. No added sugars beyond ketchup.
  • Thousand Island dressing – 7g net carbs per serving. Contains added sugar or honey for sweetness.

For the lowest carb salad dressing option, go with plain, full-fat mayonnaise or oil-based vinaigrettes with minimal added sugars. Avoid sweetened “diet” dressings.

When enjoying Russian or Thousand Island dressing, keep portions small and balance with low carb veggies, eggs, meats, and cheeses to fit your daily carb allowance.

Popularity and Availability: Which is Easier to Find?

Both Russian and Thousand Island dressings are popular staples easily found at any grocery store or supermarket. However, Russian dressing may have slightly wider availability.

Here is a comparison of where you can find each dressing:

Russian Dressing Availability

  • Grocery store condiment aisle
  • Refrigerated produce section
  • Many restaurants and fast food places
  • Common option for deli sandwich shops
  • Can buy prepared or make from scratch

Thousand Island Dressing Availability

  • Grocery store condiment aisle
  • Refrigerated produce section
  • Some restaurants and deli shops
  • Less common as a sandwich spread option
  • Can buy prepared or make from scratch

While both dressings are ubiquitous grocery store staples, Russian dressing seems more widely available at eateries like sandwich shops and burger joints. Russian dressing also costs slightly less on average.

Which Dressing is Healthier?

Neither Russian nor Thousand Island dressing is an especially healthy choice, as they are both high in calories, fat, sodium, and added sugar.

However, Russian dressing may be slightly preferable in some regards:

  • Slightly fewer calories – 180 per serving vs. 215 for Thousand Island.
  • Less added sugar – Only from ketchup, while Thousand Island contains honey or sugar.
  • More intense flavor – Spicy horseradish means you may use less.

That said, the differences are minor. To make either dressing healthier:

  • Use light mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt as the base.
  • Cut back on ketchup, honey, and sugar.
  • Include veggies like relish or avocado for added nutrients.
  • Boost flavor with herbs and spices instead of salt.
  • Enjoy as a sauce or dip instead of a dressing.
  • Drizzle on salads instead of pouring.

For the healthiest choice, use oil-based dressings made with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and herbs. Enjoy Thousand Island or Russian dressings in moderation.


While Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing may seem interchangeable, they have distinct ingredients, textures, flavors, and uses.

Key differences include:

  • Russian dressing – Savory, spicy, creamy, and bright orange-red.
  • Thousand Island – Sweet, mild, chunky, and pale pink.

So which is better? It depends on your tastes and needs:

  • Russian dressing for a zesty sandwich spread or veggie dip.
  • Thousand Island dressing for a creamy, sweet salad topper.

The two dressings can be enjoyed in similar ways. But their unique spice blends, textures, colors, and balance of flavors set them apart. Understanding the distinctions can help you decide which creamy, tangy dressing suits your meal.