What's in a name - or should we say what's in a recipe?  After more than 70 years, the federal government has deregulated French dressing - stripping away the strict requirements and ingredients needed for a salad dressing to be marketed by a manufacturer with that name. The Federal Register has made the change official.

The change is significant.  The impacts could also be.

When they established the identity in 1950, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration included French dressing as one of the three dressings they identified - along with mayonnaise and just "salad dressing":

"[They] generally characterized the dressings as containing a fat ingredient, an acidifying ingredient, and seasoning ingredients.  The French dressing standard allowed for a certain flexibility in manufacturers' choice of oil, acidifying ingredients, and seasoning ingredients.  Tomatoes or tomato-derived ingredients were among the seasoning ingredients permitted, but not required."

In the case of French dressing, it's descriptive identity was "tangy, zesty, and spicy - flavored by tomato and or paprika products added to oil (35% minimum) and vinegar". Products that didn't meet the strict definition could not be legally marketed as French dressing in the United States.

Food and Wine.com
Robyn Mackenzie

At the same time, though, some other elements have come to be accepted or preferred by consumers - and those elements defy the prescribed definition.  Oil content is one of those things that defy the strict definition.  With the proliferation of low-fat and fat-free products on the shelf, most low-fat and fat-free French dressings don't comply:

"The FDA also seems to have noticed that low-fat French dressing is a thing that exists - even though those products don't meet the standard's minimum amount of vegetable oil by weight. And, the agency added, it was "unaware of any evidence" that customers were duped or confused by what "fat-free" or "low-fat" meant when it came to French dressing."

The changes to the FDA definition were first originated in 2020.  Now that they've passed, they'll go into effect on February 14, 2022.

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