Grandma’s Ambrosia Salad

Ambrosia Salad – My grandma’s recipe for the iconic light and refreshing dessert that includes mandarin oranges, coconut, marshmallows, pineapple and Cool Whip. This five-ingredient dessert takes only five minutes to make and is perfect for serving a crowd!

An overhead shot of ambrosia salad in an orange bowl.

I can’t ever remember a time before ambrosia salad. We’ve been eating it in my family since I was old enough to chew, and most likely, for years or 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. How is that possible?!

Actually, it’s possible when you’re talking about an Italian lady who felt that the best way to show people you love them is to feed them. Then feed them some more. Then, even when they’re so full they can barely speak, you urge them to eat more, claiming that you hardly saw anything on their plate. That’s love.

That, also, is how it comes to be that there is endless supply of whatever you’re serving. God forbid someone might still be hungry and there not be anything left. THAT is the definition of an Italian tragedy.

Watch How to Make Ambrosia Salad!

Bowl with marshmallows, mandarin oranges, pineapple, and coconut.

Ambrosia 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, which makes it perfect for sweltering July days.

The first time I wanted to make it after my grandma passed away, I asked my mom for my grandma’s recipe, and a debate ensued…

Stirring Cool Whip into a bowl of mandarin oranges, pineapple, marshmallows and coconut.

What is Ambrosia Salad Made Of, You Ask?

My mom said my grandma used 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.)

Back and forth they went. As it turns out, they were both right.

My grandma’s original recipe is the one you will find below, and included mandarin oranges and pineapple, as well as coconut and miniature marshmallows. However, my mom did say that when my grandma was in a pinch and didn’t have the oranges and pineapple, she’d just use a can of fruit cocktail, which is the memory that stuck with my sister.

That said, ambrosia is totally adaptable, but usually includes some combination of the following:

  • Mandarin oranges
  • Fresh orange segments
  • Pineapple
  • Coconut
  • Miniature marshmallows
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Pecans

A bowl of ambrosia salad mixed together.

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
  • Pudding
  • Cream cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Sour cream
  • Jello

There is even a green ambrosia version that uses pistachio pudding! (Sometimes it’s referred to as “Watergate Salad“)

An overhead view of ambrosia salad in an orange bowl.

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!

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.

Does your family have an ambrosia recipe? I’d love to hear what it includes!

An overhead shot of a forkful of ambrosia salad.

Four years ago: Soft Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies
Five years ago: Mini Tiramisu Cheesecakes

Grandma's Ambrosia Salad

Servings 10 to 12 servings
Prep 5 minutes
Total 5 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Michelle
My grandma's recipe for the iconic light and refreshing dessert that includes mandarin oranges, coconut, marshmallows, pineapple and Cool Whip. Perfect for summer!


  • 11
    can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 8
    can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 2
    sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2
    miniature marshmallows
  • 8
    container Cool Whip


  1. 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.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Ambrosia can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Recipe Notes:

Nutritional values are based on one serving


Calories: 154kcal
Fat: 6g
Saturated fat: 5g
Cholesterol: 3mg
Sodium: 60mg
Potassium: 137mg
Carbohydrates: 25g
Fiber: 1g
Sugar: 19g
Protein: 1g
Vitamin A: 220%
Vitamin C: 8.8%
Calcium: 35%
Iron: 0.4%

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!

This recipe was originally published on May 30, 2012.