Ambrosia salad, just like grandma used to make! This classic fruit salad lies somewhere in between side dish and dessert. It’s sweet and delicious, but also somewhat healthy with bananas, mandarin orange, and pineapple throughout.
This ambrosia salad recipe has some things in common with my Watergate Salad and Creamy Grape salad. Specifically, all three of these things are called salads, but they are about as far away from a bowl of lettuce than anything can be!
What Is Ambrosia Salad?
Ambrosia is a word that comes from Greek mythology, and was the word used to describe the magical fruit of the gods. Today the word can mean “delicious” or “fragrant”. Ambrosia salad is a dish that is both delicious and fragrant, and is a fruit salad with inclusions of miniature marshmallows and coconut, all wrapped in a creamy yet tangy dressing.
Ambrosia salads come in many varieties, and cooks over the years have all added their own twists to the basic ambrosia recipe. From what I can tell, all ambrosias seem to have the same marshmallows, coconut, fruit, and a sweet creamy, tangy base.
This recipe is the one you’ll remember from church potlucks and backyard barbecues, or maybe your grandmother’s kitchen. I hope it’s nostalgic for you, and that you create new happy memories with this time tested dish.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe for Ambrosia Salad
- It’s Super Yummy! This is a fruit salad with marshmallows in it. Then we’re going to add whipped topping, creamy yogurt, sweetened coconut, and more delicious goodies. Ambrosia salad is sweet, soft, comforting, and delicious.
- It’s a Classic. Ambrosia salad recipes first showed up in cookbooks in the late 1800’s, during the first appearance of citrus fruits in markets across the US. Cooks, and particularly Southern cooks, have been making some version of this salad for a very long time, so it must be good.
- It’s Easy. There’s no cooking required to make this salad. We are going to literally throw everything in a big bowl and mix it up. Super Simple!
- Perfect Make Ahead Side. The fruit salad needs to chill before serving, making it a perfect option for a make ahead meal.
Ingredients Needed for Ambrosia Salad
It’s ok if my ingredients are slightly different than you remember! As I mentioned, there are many varieties of this old dish circulating around. Use these ingredients to start, and adjust and add things if you want to later.
- Whipped Topping – Cool Whip is the go-to ingredient here. You can also use a more natural whipped topping option if you prefer. Low fat and fat free cool whip can be used as well.
- Greek Yogurt – I love using greek yogurt in this recipe because it gives a bit of a tart, tangy flavor. You want to use plain, unflavored yogurt for this recipe. You can substitute regular plain yogurt as well if you prefer.
- Vanilla Extract – This flavoring brings all of the other flavors of the dish together and makes a cohesive salad.
- Mini Marshmallows – These add bulk, sweetness, and texture to the ambrosia salad. For fun, you can use multi-colored mini marshmallows too.
- Bananas – Sliced bananas are so creamy and delicious in this salad. Make sure your bananas are yellow but not too ripe that they’ll get mushy.
- Canned Pineapple – For me, pineapple is the star of the ambrosia. It’s tart and tangy and just amazing. Pineapple tidbits are my preference, but crushed pineapple will work too. Drain the liquid out.
- Canned Mandarin Oranges – These little sweet sections are so delicate and juicy! Again, drain the syrup from them.
- Pecans – Roughly chop the pecans to add a bit of crunch.
- Coconut – Sweetened, shredded coconut is perfect here. Avoid using unsweetened coconut or dried coconut that is in larger pieces as it will be hard to eat in this dish.
- Maraschino Cherries – These add a punch of both sweetness and color to the dish. I like to save some to garnish the salad at the end as well. Be sure to remove the stems!
How to Make Ambrosia Salad
- Make the Dressing: Whisk the whipped topping with yogurt and vanilla extract in a large bowl.
- Add the Rest of the Ingredients: Gently fold in the fruits, marshmallows, and nuts until well combined.
- Chill: Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving, garnished with maraschino cherries if you like.
Tips for making the BEST Ambrosia Salad
Fold the fruit in very gently. You want the bananas and mandarin oranges to keep their shape and not break apart too much.
Remember to drain the canned fruit. We don’t need any extra liquid in the recipe, so drain the pineapple, cherries, and oranges very well before mixing them in.
You can absolutely use lower fat whipped topping and yogurt in this recipe, but know that it’s going to taste better if you use the full fat versions.
The pecans will soften a bit after sitting in this salad. This is totally normal, but if you prefer them to be crunchier, add them at the last minute.
You can play around with this recipe to make it exactly how you and your family like it. Try these ideas, or come up with your own!
- Add Different Fruit. Any canned fruit will work in this recipe, including peaches or pears. Fresh fruit such as berries, grapes, or even diced apples would be delicious too. You should have approximately 3 cups of fruit in total, so mix it up however you like.
- Don’t want nuts in your Ambrosia? That’s fine, just leave them out! You can also substitute walnuts, pistachios or slivered almonds for the pecans.
- Ambrosia salad without Coconut? That’s fine too! Leaving out the coconut is no problem, and you don’t need to substitute it with anything.
- Make it tangier. Many home cooks make their ambrosia salad with sour cream instead of yogurt. This will give the salad a tangier flavor, so try that if you like. I’ve even seen ambrosia recipes with cottage cheese! I guess it’s one of those recipes that you really can use what you have.
Frequently Asked Questions
This recipe will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days. Over time the marshmallows will start to melt, so I suggest eating it within 1-2 days for best texture.
Definitely not. Ambrosia salad should not be frozen. If you tried, you would end up with a melted, watery mess when it thawed.
This is puzzling, as obviously ambrosia salad does not contain any vegetables. A long time ago people started to make sweet concoctions that involved fruit, whipped toppings, jello, and other ingredients, and they called those dishes salads. So we still call them salads now! These dishes are sometimes called Dessert Salads or Sweet Salads, which I think is very helpful.
Enjoy your trip down memory lane with this Ambrosia Salad recipe! Make sure to Pin this recipe so you can make it later.
- 8-ounce tub whipped topping thawed
- ½ cup greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups mini marshmallows
- 2 small bananas sliced
- 1 8-ounce can pineapple tidbits or crushed pineapple, drained
- 1 11-ounce can mandarin oranges in light syrup drained
- ½ cup pecans roughly chopped
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- ½ cup Maraschino cherries
- In a large bowl whisk the whipped topping with yogurt and vanilla extract until well combined.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, and gently fold them into the whipped topping mixture.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
- Garnish with extra maraschino cherries and fresh mint leaves if desired.
- You can substitute the whipped topping with sweetened whipped cream.
- This dessert salad does not freeze well, so I don’t recommend that you do.
- You can use multi colored mini marshmallows for a fun looking dessert.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.
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