Our Best Ambrosia Ever

This delightful take on a Southern classic has layers of texture from creamy yogurt, juicy fruit, and crunchy coconut chips.

Our Best Ambrosia Ever
Photo: Greg DuPree; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke
Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
20 mins
Servings:
8

This is not your Grandmother's Ambrosia Salad. While we love Nana's take on this Southern staple, our Test Kitchen has developed a modern version of Ambrosia Salad that deserves a prime spot on your holiday table. After all, "best ever" is in the name. Our Test Kitchen calls this "a dream side dish: it's pretty, is a breeze to put together, and plays well with others."

Known as the "food of the gods," ambrosia's story goes back further than your grandmother's table—read about its delicious history here. No matter the origin, Southerners love their ambrosia. Whether it's layered into a trifle, transformed into a cheesecake, spooned over cupcakes, sipped in a cocktail, or baked into macaroons, there's no wrong way to enjoy this classic dish.

In this updated recipe, we swap canned pineapple for fresh, use a variety of oranges, and nestle it all over a bed of honeyed, vanilla-spiked Greek yogurt. Toasting the coconut chips adds another layer of flavor to this bright, fresh salad. As if it couldn't get any better, the yogurt can be prepared two days in advance, and the fruit can be sliced ahead of time. All there's left to do the day of is to assemble your ambrosia salad. This dish will fit beautifully in your Christmas brunch or dinner spread. Either way, Our Best Ambrosia Ever is something to celebrate.

What's In Ambrosia?

It feels unnecessarily polarizing to limit ambrosia's deliciousness to a strict list of ingredients. However, there are a handful of fruits and pantry staples that show up again and again in "classic" recipes.

In the South, ambrosia is traditionally served around the holidays, so the fruits included are either seasonal to that time of year, such as coastal citrus, or tropical fruits like pineapple and coconut. And who can forget that darling of banana splits everywhere—maraschino cherries!

Is Ambrosia a Salad or Dessert?

That depends on what's in it and who's serving it. Many recipes call for the addition of a creamy element, such as whipped cream, yogurt, sour cream, or even mayonnaise. The mayo and sour cream versions push this dish into the salad territory; the whipped cream and yogurt can make it feel more like dessert. Think of this dish like a great fruit salad at a cookout—it's a sweeter-leaning side that can balance out the more savory options on your plate.

Can You Use Canned Fruit in Ambrosia?

If you need to, by all means pop open a can of pineapple chunks or mandarin oranges—ambrosia made with canned fruit is better than no ambrosia at all. However, ambrosia made with fresh fruit will taste 100% better.

If you do need to use canned fruit, opt for those sweetened with fruit juice instead of syrup to keep the sweetness of the ambrosia in check.

Do You Only Eat Ambrosia at Christmas?

Traditionally, Southerners have enjoyed their ambrosia during the holidays, but you can eat ambrosia any time you please. Try it in the spring with fresh strawberries, in the summer with peaches and blackberries, or in the fall with tart, crisp apples.

What If I Don't Like Coconut?

If you're a big fan of coconut (like I am) then it may shock you to hear that there are folks out there who can't abide it. For some it's about flavor; for most, it's about texture. Don't worry—you can still enjoy the sweet, glorious flavor of coconut and keep every guest happy. For starters, toast the coconut—the crunch makes it easier to chew. Then, serve it on the side, like a garnish. That way, coconut lovers can spoon on a generous amount, while those who are "no-go for the coco" can still enjoy their ambrosia.

Editorial contributions by Josh Miller.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt 

  • 2 tablespoons honey, plus more for drizzling 

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste 

  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt 

  • 4 assorted medium oranges (such as navel, Cara Cara, and blood oranges) 

  • 1 fresh medium pineapple, peeled and cored 

  • ½ cup toasted, sweetened coconut chips (such as Dang)

Directions

  1. Whisk together Greek yogurt, honey, 1 tablespoon water, vanilla bean paste, and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. (Store yogurt mixture, covered, in the refrigerator up to 2 days.)

  2. Cut peel and pith from oranges; cut oranges into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Cut pineapple lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick planks; cut planks into 2-inch pieces. (Store orange rounds and pineapple pieces in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 day.)

  3. To assemble, spread yogurt mixture in a thick layer on a large platter. Arrange fruit over yogurt; drizzle with additional honey. Sprinkle with toasted coconut chips (breaking apart any larger chips), and serve.

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