Grandma’s Ambrosia Salad
I’m so thrilled to share my grandma’s classic ambrosia salad recipe for the iconic light and refreshing dessert that includes mandarin oranges, coconut, marshmallows, pineapple, and whipped topping. Known in some circles as “fruit salad with marshmallows”, this easy five-ingredient dessert takes only five minutes to make, is super customizable, and perfect for serving a crowd.
I can’t ever remember a time before ambrosia. We’ve been eating it in my family since I was old enough to chew, and most likely, for decades before I was even a blip on the radar. It seemed that my grandma could make ambrosia appear out of thin air, and we never ran out.
It was served up routinely for Christmas and Easter, and pretty much non-stop during the summer. Compared to things like cake and pie, ambrosia salad is a wonderfully fresh and light dessert.
What IS ambrosia salad?
If you’ve never heard of it before, you’re probably wondering what in the world this is! Ambrosia is an American version of fruit salad that dates back to the late 19th century and it seems as though everyone’s family has their own recipe or spin on it.
At its core, however, it traditionally contains pineapple and oranges (either fresh or canned), miniature marshmallows, and coconut. Keep reading for lots of variations!
Tips for Customization
My mom said my grandma used canned mandarin oranges and crushed pineapple. My sister insisted that my grandma used fruit cocktail. (Did anyone else’s grandma have can after can of fruit cocktail in the pantry? My grandma always had it, in large quantities, and I remember eating it a lot when I was a kid.)
My grandma’s original recipe is the one you will find below and included canned mandarin oranges and canned crushed pineapple, as well as coconut and miniature marshmallows, all tossed with whipped topping. However, when my grandma was in a pinch and didn’t have the oranges and pineapple, she’d simply use a big can of fruit cocktail, and we grew up eating both versions often!
That said, ambrosia is totally adaptable, and can include some combination of the following:
- Mandarin oranges
- Fresh orange segments
- Miniature marshmallows
- Maraschino cherries
And How, Exactly, Do You Make Ambrosia?
Okay, we have the main ingredients above, but what holds it all together? My grandma always used a single tub of Cool Whip and called it a day, but there are many other variations that use some combination of the following:
- Cool Whip
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
There is even a green ambrosia version that uses pistachio pudding! (Sometimes it’s referred to as “Watergate Salad“)
And if you opt for the combination of grapes, cream cheese, and sour cream, you’ll be close to making my easy grape salad!
Can You Make Ambrosia Salad a Day Ahead?
Yes, yes, yes! The beauty of this five-ingredient, five-minute recipe is that you can mix it together the day before you need it and pop it in the refrigerator. I think it’s even better once it has been chilled for a few hours, but you can also serve it immediately if you need to!
Can you Freeze Ambrosia?
I only recommend freezing ambrosia if you use all canned fruit and Cool Whip.
The lesson here? Ambrosia is tremendously adaptable. Use what you have on hand. Use your family’s favorite fruits. Make it your own. Sometimes the simplest of recipes become the most special. Using fresh fruit and/or homemade whipped cream can cause it to be soggy and watery when thawed.
If you make this recipe and love it, I would so appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a rating below. Thank you so much! ❤️️
Grandma's Ambrosia Salad
- 11 ounce (311.85 g) can mandarin oranges, drained
- 8 ounce (226.8 g) can crushed pineapple, drained
- 2 cups (180 g) sweetened shredded coconut
- 2 cups (150 g) miniature marshmallows
- 8 ounce (226.8 g) container Cool Whip
- Place the oranges, pineapple, coconut and marshmallows in a large bowl. Add the Cool Whip and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold the mixture until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Ambrosia can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Fruit Options: Fresh orange segments, maraschino cherries, bananas, strawberries, grapes, or canned fruit cocktail.
- Dressing Options: Pudding, cream cheese, yogurt, sour cream, or Jello.
- Cool Whip Alternative: Use homemade whipped cream in its place.
- Freezing Instructions: I only recommend freezing ambrosia if you use all canned fruit and Cool Whip. Using fresh fruit and/or homemade whipped cream can cause it to be soggy and watery when thawed.
- Make-Ahead: This can be mixed together and refrigerated the day before serving.
- Storage: Ambrosia can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
[Photography by Ari of Well Seasoned]
This recipe was originally published on May 30, 2012.