The United States of Salads

Title graphic for “The United States of Salads.

Salads might not be the first thing you think about when it comes to a satisfying meal. In many cases, people presume salads to be the less fulfilling option on the menu, but in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is true that salads are a healthier alternative to burgers, pizza, and other heavy dishes, they are also totally customizable and can be more satisfying than you would expect. However, not all salads are the same, and some are healthier than others.

For this study, the team at Diabetic.org took a deep dive into Google Trends data to determine every state’s favorite salad across the country. We also identified other regional trends and analyzed the average number of calories in each type of salad to identify correlations between nutrition and popularity. Learn more about which salads are healthy and filling and which ones to avoid below.

Methodology

To find out which salads were in demand across the country, we turned to online search interest. We gathered 48 search terms from sources, including Taste of Home, Erudus, and Taste Atlas, and used search term data from the past five years to determine every state’s most searched-for salad. Since you can’t enjoy a proper salad without dressing, we also used Wikipedia and The Food Channel to gather terms regarding salad dressings. Next, we pulled the average amount of calories and sugar in each salad and dressing, using Carb Manager, Eat This Much, Nutritionix, and My Fitness Pal Since many dishes claim the name “salad” we had to differentiate between them in this study, so we determined “nontraditional salads” are those without lettuce or other greens.

Mapping out Salad Popularity Across the United States

U.S. map showing the most popular salad and dressing in each state.

Throughout our study, we learned that salad and dressing preferences varied between different regions in the country. States in the midwest could not decide between a chef salad, southwest salad, and wedge salad, resulting in a tie between the three. Wedge salad won the west unanimously, while greek salads and southwest salads claimed the northeast and the south, respectively. 

When it came time to address the dressing situation, we found that ranch was the most popular option across the country, reigning supreme in 13 states. Ginger salad dressing came in at a close second next to ranch, claiming 11 states throughout the U.S. Apple cider vinegar and vinaigrette finished in third and fourth place, claiming six and five states, respectively. Here’s a deeper look at some of America’s more fascinating salad choices.

Michigan was the only state to elect fattoush as their salad of choice. Fattoush is a Lebanese salad incorporating fried pita bread, or khubz, to give it a little extra crunch. It’s a refreshing and healthy salad that typically includes fresh veggies like mixed greens, radishes, and tomatoes. Surprisingly, Lebanese cuisine is a staple in the Great Lakes state’s food scene; the only Michigan restaurant to make it into the New York Times’ top 50 list was AlTayeb, a Lebanese restaurant in Dearborn.

Residents of Hawaii sought out Chinese chicken salad more than any other state in the country. Chinese chicken salad features crunchy noodles and a tasty Asian dressing typically made by whisking together ingredients such as rice wine vinegar, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. It’s easy to see why it’s a delicacy on the island; Chinese chicken salad is tasty and easy to make in a hurry– definitely worth a try if you’re looking for easy-to-make alternatives to fast food.

The Most Popular Nontraditional Salad in Every U.S. State

Illustrations of the top 6 most popular nontraditional salads across the country.

Nontraditional salads are made for those who don’t go for the usual combination of mixed greens and other veggies. This category of salads features American classics like pasta salad, egg salad, and chicken salad. Whether you’re a fan of refreshing fruit salads or you’ve got a craving for a classy caprese, there’s something for everyone. 

Hawaii’s “nontraditional” salad of choice is actually one of the most beloved dishes of traditional Hawaiian cuisine: poke. It features slices of raw fish, usually marinated ahi tuna, and veggies like cucumber and carrots. Hawaii’s favorite is a dish that both sushi and salad lovers can agree on.

Oklahoma was the only state to choose tabbouleh as its preferred nontraditional salad. Tabbouleh is a classic Levantine side made from finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, mint, onion, and other veggies. The salad is usually seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, making it a satisfyingly zesty component of any meal. 

Wyoming’s nontraditional salad of choice was unorthodox, to say the least. The Equality State most searched for frog eye salad. Contrary to its offputting name, frog eye salad doesn’t contain any frog at all. The dish is a sweet pasta salad made of acini di pepe pasta, whipped topping, and egg yolks. Sometimes fruit and marshmallows are added for extra sweetness. Frog eye salad is something you’ll want to avoid if you’re trying to cut down on sweets, as it contains 19 grams of sugar.

Show Me the Nutritional Value

Salads are often marketed as the healthiest item on the menu, but that’s not always the case. Just because some dishes are salads doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a great choice if you’re counting calories or trying to be mindful of your sugar intake. Learn more about healthier salad and dressing combinations below, as well as the ones to avoid.

When it comes to unhealthy salads, watch out for macaroni salad and ambrosia salad. Macaroni salad ranked highest in calories, averaging 600 calories per serving. Ambrosia salads contained the most sugar on average out of all the other salads we researched, at a whopping 36 grams per serving. For context, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams of sugar per day for most men and 25 grams for most women.

In the dressing popularity contest, ranch dressing is a clear winner for its applications that reach far beyond the realm of salads, like dunking pizza crust or carrot sticks. While it isn’t the healthiest choice out of all the salad dressings, it was far from the worst. On average, two tablespoons of ranch dressing only contained roughly 74 calories and half a gram of sugar. Caesar dressing contained 170 calories per two tablespoons by comparison.

Our initial research revealed that ginger salad dressing is a close second next to the renowned ranch. However, when compared to ranch, ginger dressing had a higher calorie count and contained five times as much sugar per two table spoons. Many recipes for ginger salad dressing include a touch of maple syrup to give it its slight sweetness. If you like how ginger pairs with fresh produce, try to find a recipe that omits maple syrup to cut back on its sugar content.

On the other hand, there are a lot of healthy options available for salad lovers to consider. Italian dressing is by far the most healthy dressing you can choose to drench your salad in since it only contains 11 calories per two tablespoons and no sugar. Cobb salads and Italian salads are two well-balanced choices for those who are looking for something more filling, but watching both their sugar and caloric intake.

Closing Thoughts

Salads often get a bad rap, but in reality, they’re a healthy, customizable meal that can be filling and delicious. However, not all salads are created equal. We hope that by looking at different salad favorites across the country, you were able to identify an option that satisfies both your appetite and your nutritional needs.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans struggling with diabetes—and watching your diet closely—, Diabetic.org can help you achieve better health outcomes by offering the latest information on symptoms, treatments, nutrition, medical research, and breakthroughs in diabetes care.

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