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What seasonings are best for salads?

Salads are a healthy and delicious way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. With the right combination of lettuces, vegetables, proteins and toppings, salads can be a nutritious and satisfying meal. However, the key to taking a salad from bland to brilliant lies in the seasoning and dressings used. Choosing the right seasonings can enhance the flavors of the salad ingredients, pulling the entire dish together into a flavorful culinary experience.

Why are seasonings important for salads?

Seasonings and dressings are important for salads for a few key reasons:

  • They add flavor – Lettuce and raw vegetables on their own can be quite bland. Seasonings give them a flavor boost.
  • They unify ingredients – The right dressing or seasonings blend all the disparate ingredients into a cohesive dish.
  • They provide texture – Spices, herbs, nuts and seeds give salads more varied textures and crunch.
  • They impart health benefits – Many seasonings used on salads have additional nutritional and health benefits.

The right balance of flavors and textures from salad seasonings can take a salad from boring to mouthwatering. So which seasonings work best?

Best salad herbs

Fresh herbs are commonly used in salads as they add bursts of flavor without overpowering other ingredients. Some of the best herbs for salads include:

  • Basil – The king of herbs, basil pairs perfectly with tomatoes and mozzarella. It also complements citrus flavors.
  • Parsley – A fresh, grassy flavor that brightens up any salad.
  • Cilantro – Also known as coriander, it has a distinctive flavor profile lending Mexican and Asian flavors.
  • Oregano – Earthy with some spice, oregano suits Mediterranean salads with olives, feta and onion.
  • Chives – Delicate onion flavor, works well in potato or egg-based salads.
  • Thyme – A little woody and minty, pairs well with fruits, beans and proteins.
  • Tarragon – Licorice-like anise flavor, excellent with poultry or egg dishes in salads.
  • Dill – Bright and grassy, perfect for salads with cucumbers, tomatoes or fish.
  • Mint – Cool and refreshing mint flavors complement fruits and yogurt-based salads.

Chopped fresh herbs are commonly added right into the salad mix. Heartier herbs like oregano and thyme can be good in dressings. Dried herbs work too but use more sparingly as their flavor is concentrated.

Best spices for salads

Spices add warmth, intrigue and complexity to salad dishes. Some great spices to try in salad recipes include:

  • Cumin – Earthy and aromatic, it suits Southwest or Indian-style salads.
  • Smoked paprika – Adds a rich smokiness and subtle heat.
  • Curry powder – Layer exotic curry flavors into chickpea or potato salads.
  • Cayenne – Just a dash can lend heat and spice to dressings.
  • Cinnamon – A surprise seasoning that complements fruits and nuts in salad.
  • Nutmeg – Warming nutmeg can pair nicely with cream or cheese-based salads.
  • Garam masala – This blend of spices is perfect for Indian-inspired salads.
  • Ras el hanout – A North African spice mix that suits grain and bean-based salads.
  • Five spice powder – The blend of cinnamon, fennel, star anise, clove and Sichuan pepper delivers bold Asian flavors.

Spices are best added during dressing making or salad assembly. Start with small amounts and add more to suit your taste preferences.

Best nuts, seeds and nut butters for salads

Nuts, seeds and nut butters can take salads to the next level by adding protein, healthy fats and contrasting textures. Some top options include:

  • Almonds – Slivered or sliced, almonds add crunch and nutty flavor.
  • Walnuts – Toasted walnuts pair well with fruits, cheeses and dressing.
  • Pecans – Chopped or halved pecans work in both sweet and savory salads.
  • Pine nuts – Their soft crunch and nutty flavor enhance Mediterranean salads.
  • Pumpkin seeds – Also known as pepitas, their nutty flavor and crunch balance soft textures.
  • Sunflower seeds – Inexpensive but add lots of flavor, crunch and nutrition.
  • Sesame seeds – Toasted sesame seeds can provide an Asian twist.
  • Peanut butter – Creamy peanut butter makes an easy Asian-inspired dressing.
  • Tahini – Sesame seed butter that pairs well with lemon juice and garlic.

Nuts and seeds last well in the pantry, making them convenient salad toppers. Nut butters can quickly blend into dressings.

Best cheeses for salads

Sprinkling salads with cheese adds savory flavor and creamy contrast to the crunch of lettuces and vegetables. Some excellent cheese choices for salads include:

  • Feta – Salty, crumbly feta is perfect on Mediterranean salads.
  • Goat cheese – Tangy, crumbly goat cheese pairs well with fruits and nuts.
  • Blue cheese – Bold, sharp blue cheese crumbles work nicely with heavy salad dressings.
  • Parmesan – Grated parmesan adds a sharp, salty accentflavor.
  • Cheddar – Sharp cheddar complements hearty salads with meats.
  • Mozzarella – Fresh mozzarella adds milky flavor and soft texture.
  • Queso fresco – Mild and fresh, it suits Southwestern and Mexican-style salads.
  • Halloumi – This salty, squeaky cheese holds up well when grilled or fried.

For best flavor, look for good quality cheeses and add them just before serving the salad. The exception is halloumi and parmesan, which can be browned or baked right into the salad for enhanced texture.

Best crunchy toppings

Croutons, crispy noodles, crackers and chips can provide a flavor and textural contrast against the soft vegetables and tender lettuces of a salad. Some excellent crunchy topping choices include:

  • Croutons – Toasted bread cubes are a classic salad topping. Make them garlic-infused for extra flavor.
  • Pita chips – Wedges of lightly toasted pita bread add carbs and crunch.
  • Tortilla strips – Baked or fried tortilla pieces work nicely in Mexican or Southwest salads.
  • Crispy noodles – Chow mein noodles remain crispy and add an Asian twist.
  • Wonton strips – Deep-fried wonton wrappers make a crunchy garnish.
  • Seed crackers – Whole grain crackers add healthy crunch and carbs.
  • Granola – Use a no-sugar granola to contribute sweet crunch.

Sturdier crunchy toppings can be mixed right into a salad for a consistent textural experience in each bite. More delicate ones can be scattered on top.

Best fresh fruits for salads

Fresh fruits add bright flavors, vitamins and contrasting sweetness to complement the vegetables in a salad. Some tasty fruit choices include:

  • Apples – Sliced apples pair well with chicken salads.
  • Pears – Diced pears complement bitter greens and strong cheeses.
  • Oranges – Citrus juices brighten up dressings and provide vitamin C.
  • Grapefruit – Tart grapefruit sections balance fatty ingredients like avocado.
  • Berries – Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries add sweet juice and visual appeal.
  • Cherries – Fresh sweet cherries liven up summertime salads.
  • Grapes – Halved grapes, especially red and green varieties, give pops of sweetness.
  • Pomegranate – Vibrant arils add juicy sweet-tart flavor and crunch.

The fruits can be prepared in various ways – sliced, diced or sectioned. For salads served immediately, mix the fruits right in. For make-ahead salads, add fruits just before serving to avoid sogginess.

Best salad proteins

Adding protein-rich ingredients to a salad makes it more satiating and nutritionally complete. Some nutritious proteins for salads include:

  • Eggs – Hard boiled, over-easy or poached, eggs work well in salads.
  • Chicken – Grilled, roasted or poached, chicken provides lean protein.
  • Turkey – Sliced turkey breast or ground turkey make hearty salad additions.
  • Beef – Grilled steak or roast beef sliced thin gives salads heft.
  • Salmon – Grilled or smoked salmon pairs well with greens and avocado.
  • Shrimp – Cooked shrimp or canned for convenience, shrimp add protein and color.
  • Tuna – Canned tuna is an easy, inexpensive protein for salad.
  • Chickpeas – Protein-packed chickpeas work in vegetarian salads.
  • Beans – Kidney, black or cannellini beans also provide plant-based protein.
  • Tofu – Cubed tofu can be baked or fried to add heartiness to veggie salads.

Aim for 3 to 4 oz of protein per salad. Proteins can be prepared in advance or added to salads at assembly before serving.

Best dressing flavors

Salad dressing is truly the glue that holds a salad together, moistening ingredients and infusing everything with bold, balanced flavor. Take inspiration globally with these delicious dressing varieties:

  • Vinaigrettes – Made with oil, vinegar or citrus juice, herbs and seasonings. Timeless.
  • Caesar – Garlic, lemon juice, Parmesan, olive oil, Worcestershire. A classic.
  • Ranch – Buttermilk, mayo, herbs like dill, onion, garlic. Creamy and tangy.
  • Blue cheese – Blue cheese crumbles, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream or mayo lend signature flavor.
  • Thousand Island – Mayo, chili sauce or ketchup, pickles, onions, herbs. Sweet and tangy.
  • Green goddess – Avocado, herbs like tarragon, anchovies, yogurt or mayo make it luxuriously green.
  • Italian – Red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil. Packed with herb flavor.
  • Greek – Lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, dill, oregano. Bright Mediterranean flavors.
  • Tahini – Sesame paste, lemon, garlic, yogurt or olive oil. Nutty creaminess.
  • Asian – Rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce, chilies. Good with noodles and proteins.

Get creative mixing and matching acid, oil, herbs, spices, cheese, nuts and more to design signature dressings. Adjust thickness and creaminess to suit your tastes.

Making your own salad seasoning mixes

For easy salad prep, make your own homemade seasoning mixes to keep on hand. Here are some tasty combinations:

Italian herb salad seasoning

  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Ranch salad seasoning

  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon dried thyme

Greek salad seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Make a big batch of seasoning mix and use about 1-2 teaspoons per salad. Store extra in an airtight container for later.

Top salad seasoning tips

Follow these best practices when using seasonings in your salads for maximum flavor:

  • Taste as you go – Seasonings can always be added but not removed, so start with a small amount and add more to suit your preferences.
  • Toast whole spices and seeds briefly to intensify their flavor before using.
  • Bloom dried herbs in a little oil before using to hydrate them.
  • Chop or tear fresh herbs finely so their flavor disperses throughout the salad.
  • Match seasonings to main ingredients like proteins or dressings. Italian seasonings with Italian dressing, for example.
  • Layer flavors with multiple herbs, spices and other seasonings for complexity.
  • Allow time for flavors to meld if making salad ahead of time.
  • Balance flavors – something sour, something salty, something spicy, something sweet and bitter.


Salad seasonings don’t have to be boring or basic. With fresh and dried herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, cheeses and beyond, the possibilities are endless for crafting salads bursting with flavor. Always taste and adjust seasonings to find the perfect balance. A well-seasoned salad takes this healthy dish from mundane to magnificent!