Holiday Ambrosia Salad – Super Yummy!

by Ella

The holiday season is synonymous with family gatherings, festive feasts, and indulgent desserts. While many traditional holiday dishes have their place on the table, there’s always room for something a little different to surprise and delight your loved ones. Ambrosia salad is a classic, crowd-pleasing dessert that can add a touch of nostalgia to your holiday spread. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the art of making the perfect holiday ambrosia salad, complete with variations, tips, and all the information you need to become an ambrosia aficionado.

The Origins of Ambrosia Salad

Before we delve into crafting the perfect holiday ambrosia salad, it’s essential to understand the origins of this delightful dish. Ambrosia salad has been a beloved American dessert for generations. The word “ambrosia” itself comes from Greek mythology, where it was considered the food of the gods, conferring immortality to those who consumed it.


The modern ambrosia salad likely evolved from the late 19th-century Southern United States. It typically consists of a mix of fruits and nuts, often served with a sweet dressing, such as whipped cream or yogurt. Ambrosia salad has become a staple at holiday gatherings, especially in the southern states, where it’s a cherished part of the festive menu.


Ingredients for the Perfect Holiday Ambrosia Salad

To create a memorable holiday ambrosia salad, you’ll need to gather the following ingredients:


a. Fruits: The primary foundation of your ambrosia salad should include a variety of fresh and canned fruits. Common choices include:

  • Oranges (mandarins or segments)
  • Pineapple chunks
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Grapes (red or green)
  • Coconut flakes (sweetened or unsweetened)
  • Fresh apples or bananas (for a contrast of textures)

b. Nuts: Nuts provide a pleasant crunch and extra flavor. Some popular options are:

  • Chopped pecans or walnuts

c. Mini Marshmallows: Mini marshmallows add a touch of sweetness and create a fluffy texture.

d. Whipped Cream: For the dressing, you can use whipped cream or an alternative like Greek yogurt or sour cream, depending on your dietary preferences.

e. Sweetener: Depending on your choice of dressing, you might need a sweetener, such as powdered sugar or honey, to taste.

Preparing Your Fruits

Properly preparing your fruits is crucial for a successful ambrosia salad. Here are some key steps to ensure your fruits are ready for assembly:

a. Drain Canned Fruits: If you’re using canned fruits like pineapple or mandarins, be sure to drain them thoroughly. Excess liquid can make your salad watery.

b. Fresh Fruit Prep: For fresh fruits like apples and bananas, wash, peel, and chop them into bite-sized pieces. Toss them with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning.

c. Seedless Grapes: If you’re using grapes, slice them in half to ensure they’re easy to eat and distribute evenly.

Selecting the Right Add-Ins

While the basic ingredients listed above are the foundation of a classic ambrosia salad, you can get creative by adding extra elements to enhance the flavor and texture. Consider incorporating some of the following options:

a. Citrus Zest: A touch of citrus zest, such as orange or lemon, can elevate the flavor of your salad.

b. Dried Fruit: Consider adding dried fruits like raisins, cranberries, or apricots for an extra burst of sweetness and chewiness.

c. Chopped Candied Ginger: For a unique twist, add some finely chopped candied ginger for a hint of spice and warmth.

d. Mini Chocolate Chips: If you want to indulge your sweet tooth, mini chocolate chips can be an unexpected addition.

e. Coconut Variations: Experiment with different types of coconut, such as toasted coconut flakes for extra crunch or coconut cream for a more intense coconut flavor.

Whipped Cream and Dressing Options

The dressing you choose plays a crucial role in defining the flavor and texture of your ambrosia salad. Traditional ambrosia salad recipes often use whipped cream. However, if you’re looking for healthier alternatives or have dietary restrictions, consider the following options:

a. Whipped Cream: Classic and beloved, whipped cream adds a rich and indulgent quality to your ambrosia salad.

b. Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt offers a tangy and creamy alternative to whipped cream, providing a protein boost.

c. Sour Cream: Sour cream creates a milder tang compared to Greek yogurt, making it a great choice for those who enjoy a creamier texture.

d. Cool Whip: If you prefer a ready-made whipped topping, products like Cool Whip can save you time and effort.

Holiday Ambrosia Salad

Holiday Ambrosia Salad is a delightful and classic dessert that's perfect for special occasions. It typically includes a combination of sweet, tropical fruits, marshmallows, and coconut. Here's a simple recipe for making this delicious treat:
Prep Time5 minutes
Active Time14 minutes
Course: Salad
Yield: 2
Cost: $3


  • 2 cups of canned pineapple chunks, drained
  • 2 cups of mandarin orange segments, drained
  • 2 cups of sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 cups of mini marshmallows
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 1 cup of whipped cream or whipped topping (such as Cool Whip)
  • 1/2 cup of maraschino cherries, drained and halved
  • 1/2 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar (optional, for a sweeter salad)
  • A pinch of salt


  • 1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the drained pineapple chunks, mandarin orange segments, sweetened shredded coconut, and mini marshmallows. If you're using nuts, add them at this stage.
  • 2. In a separate bowl, mix the sour cream and whipped cream until well combined. If you want a sweeter salad, you can add 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar to this mixture. The sweetness of the fruits and marshmallows will also affect the overall sweetness of the salad.
  • 3. Gently fold the sour cream and whipped cream mixture into the fruit and marshmallow mixture. Use a gentle, circular motion to incorporate the cream without smashing the fruits or deflating the marshmallows.
  • 4. Add a pinch of salt to enhance the flavors. This might sound unusual for a sweet salad, but it can help balance the sweetness and make the flavors pop.
  • 5. Gently fold in the maraschino cherries. You can also reserve some cherries to decorate the top of the salad.
  • 6. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the Ambrosia Salad for at least 2 hours or until it's chilled. This allows the flavors to meld and the salad to set.
  • 7. Before serving, garnish the top with a few extra maraschino cherries and a sprinkle of shredded coconut for an attractive presentation.

Serving and Presentation

A well-prepared ambrosia salad is a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Here are some tips for presenting your salad beautifully:

a. Use a glass trifle dish or a decorative serving bowl to showcase the layers and colors of your ambrosia salad.

b. Garnish with additional fruit slices or cherries on top for a festive touch.

c. Consider serving individual portions in parfait glasses or dessert cups for an elegant presentation.

d. Keep your salad chilled until it’s time to serve to ensure that it’s refreshing and at its best.

Variations and Creative Twists

One of the joys of making ambrosia salad is that you can customize it to suit your taste and the occasion. Here are some creative variations and twists to consider:

a. Tropical Ambrosia: Add tropical fruits like mango, papaya, and kiwi for a taste of the islands.

b. Cranberry Orange Ambrosia: Incorporate cranberries and orange zest for a festive, holiday-inspired ambrosia salad.

c. Pina Colada Ambrosia: Use coconut cream and pineapple for a tropical twist, and consider adding a splash of rum extract for an adult version.

d. Pistachio Ambrosia: Add pistachio pudding mix to your dressing for a unique flavor and a pop of green color.

e. Ambrosia Fruit Salad with Jello: Create a layered dessert by incorporating a layer of fruit-flavored gelatin into your ambrosia salad.

Tips for Success

To ensure your holiday ambrosia salad turns out perfectly, consider these helpful tips:

a. Keep It Cool: Ambrosia salad is best when served chilled. Keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.

b. Taste as You Go: Be sure to taste the dressing and the assembled salad before serving. Adjust sweetness or add-ins to your liking.

c. Don’t Overmix: Gently fold the dressing into the fruit mixture to avoid smashing or bruising the fruits.

d. Use Fresh Ingredients: Whenever possible, use fresh, ripe fruits for the best flavor and texture.

e. Store Properly: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Be aware that the salad may become slightly less fluffy over time.

The Perfect Pairings

Ambrosia salad is a versatile dessert that pairs well with a variety of dishes. Consider these options for a harmonious holiday menu:

a. Ham: A classic pairing with the savory and slightly sweet flavors of ham.

b. Turkey: A light and refreshing contrast to the richness of roasted turkey.

c. Vegetarian Fare: Ideal for vegetarian and vegan holiday menus.

d. Other Desserts: Ambrosia salad can be served alongside other desserts like pie or cake, adding a refreshing balance to the sweetness.


Creating the perfect holiday ambrosia salad is a delightful and nostalgic way to bring a touch of Southern charm to your holiday festivities. With the right combination of fruits, a well-balanced dressing, and a touch of creativity, you can craft a dessert that’s as visually appealing as it is delicious. Whether you opt for a classic recipe or explore innovative variations, your holiday ambrosia salad is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, adding a festive and refreshing note to your celebration.



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