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Ambrosia salad is more than just a dish; it’s a delightful creation that has graced holiday tables and family gatherings for generations. This classic easy fruit salad, most popular in the Southern United States, is often referred to as “food of the gods”. 

While it might not be the prettiest thing you’ll ever serve, it is a delicious blend of fresh fruit, a sweetened creamy tangy base, and a touch of nostalgia. 

homemade ambrosia salad in bowl.

If you’ve ever had grape salad or Watergate salad, you will certainly love this creamy fruit salad recipe.

You can certainly find a ton of variations online and in cookbooks, but I feel confident that you’ll find my adaptation is the best ambrosia salad out there!

homemade ambrosia salad in bowl.

Why You Should Make It

There are plenty of reasons to consider making ambrosia salad:

  • Perfect Side Dish: Ambrosia salad is a perfect side dish for holiday dinners, family gatherings, or any special occasion. Its vibrant colors and delicious flavor make it an attractive addition to your holiday table.
  • Nostalgia: This classic recipe has been cherished for generations, evoking fond memories of simpler times and family traditions.
  • Easy Preparation: With simple ingredients and no baking involved, ambrosia salad is a breeze to prepare, making it an excellent choice for first-time cooks and busy hosts.
  • Crowd-Pleaser: Its sweet and tangy combination appeals to a wide range of palates, making it a favorite among both kids and adults.
  • Versatility:  Ambrosia salad is a versatile dish that can be tailored to suit your preferences. You can add or omit ingredients to create your version of this classic salad.
homemade ambrosia salad in bowl.

The Ingredients

The classic ambrosia salad recipe boasts a combination of sweet and tangy flavors, with each ingredient playing a crucial role.

  • Shredded Sweetened Coconut and Raw Pecans: These two ingredients add a delightful crunch and a hint of nutty sweetness to the salad.
  • Cream Cheese and Sour Cream: The creamy base of the salad consists of softened cream cheese and sour cream. This combination lends a rich and tangy flavor, balancing the sweetness of the fruit.
  • Granulated Sugar and Vanilla Extract: These ingredients sweeten and flavor the creamy dressing, creating a harmonious blend of tastes.
  • Fresh Pineapple and Canned Mandarin Oranges: The fresh pineapple, chopped into small pieces, adds a burst of tropical freshness, while the sweet mandarin oranges provide a sweet and citrusy zing.
  • Mini Marshmallows: They not only bring sweetness to the salad but also contribute to its light and airy texture.
ingredients used to make ambrosia salad.

How to Make Ambrosia Salad

Once you see how quick and easy it is to make, 

Toast the coconut and pecans

This step is optional but highly recommended. Spread the coconut and pecans onto a baking sheet. 

Toast them in a preheated oven for 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure everything browns evenly and does not burn.

Allow the coconut and pecans to cool completely completely.

Mix the creamy base

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. 

Mix in the sour cream, sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Mix in the remaining ingredients

Fold in the drained mandarin oranges, the pineapple pieces, the toasted pecans and coconut, and the marshmallows. 

You can serve this sweet salad immediately, but for best results you’re going to want to let this salad chill before serving.

Recipe Modifications

Ambrosia salad is a versatile dish, and there are several ingredient additions or substitutions you can make to accommodate dietary restrictions or ingredient swaps. 

Whether you’re looking to make it healthier, accommodate allergies, or work with what you have on hand, here are some options.

Nut Allergies

If you or your guests have nut allergies, simply omit the raw pecans or replace them with toasted coconut flakes for a nutty flavor without the actual nuts.

Dairy-Free Options

Replace the sour cream and cream cheese with dairy-free alternatives like coconut yogurt and dairy-free cream cheese. 

Fresh Pineapple Substitutions

If fresh pineapple isn’t readily available or the one you’ve had sitting on your counter doesn’t look so good, you can use frozen fruit chunks like pineapple tidbits, mango, or peaches. Be sure to thaw and drain them before use.

Canned pineapple tidbits or chunks (in juice, not syrup) can also be used. Similarly, canned fruit cocktail can be used.

Other Dairy Options

Substitute cottage cheese for the cream cheese and/or Greek Yogurt for the sour cream to create a tangy and protein-rich alternative.

Heavy whipping cream can be used in addition to or in place of the sour cream (be sure to whip the heavy cream into stiff peaks before folding into other ingredients).

Vanilla yogurt can be mixed into the base.

Lastly, while I’m not a fan, Cool Whip is often used when making ambrosia salad.

Custom Fruits

Customize your ambrosia salad by adding other fruits you love or have on hand.

Some kid-friendly favorites include strawberries, kiwi, or green grapes.

And if you’re looking for that bright red pop of color, maraschino cherries are always a favorite with this type of recipe.

homemade ambrosia salad in bowl.

Recipe Tip

Most versions of this recipe mix in sweetened coconut and nuts. I find that toasting them first really enhances their flavor and texture. Feel free to reserve some of the toasted coconut and nuts to serve as a crunchy topping.


Can I make ambrosia salad ahead of time?

Yes, you can make ambrosia salad ahead of time. It actually tastes better when chilled for a few hours or overnight to let the flavors meld.

How long does ambrosia salad stay fresh?

When stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, ambrosia salad can stay fresh for up to 2-3 days.

Is ambrosia salad the same as Watergate salad?

No, ambrosia salad and Watergate salad are different dishes. Ambrosia salad features fresh fruit, while Watergate salad is a pistachio-flavored pudding-based dessert.

Ambrosia Salad

Prep20 minutes
Total20 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Indulge in heavenly Ambrosia Salad – a creamy, fruity delight perfect for any occasion! Discover the secret to its timeless appeal.


  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup raw pecans chopped
  • 4 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 11 ounce can mandarin oranges in light syrup drained, Trader Joe's recommended
  • 2 cups fresh pineapple chopped into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows


  • Toast the coconut and pecans: This step is optional but highly recommended. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread coconut and pecans onto a baking sheet. Toast in preheated oven for 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure everything browns evenly and does not burn. Allow the coconut and pecans to cool completely completely.
    toasted pecans and shredded coconut on baking sheet.
  • Make the base: In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a standard bowl using a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Mix in the sour cream, sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth.
    adding sour cream, sugar, and vanilla to whipped cream cheese.
  • Mix in the remaining ingredients: Fold in the drained mandarin oranges, the pineapple, the toasted pecans, the toasted coconut, and the marshmallows.
    adding pineapple, oranges, marshmallows, and toasted coconut to creamy base for ambrosia salad recipe.


Can be served immediately but best if refrigerated and chilled overnight, then served the next day.


Calories: 289kcal, Carbohydrates: 22g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 13g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 31mg, Sodium: 66mg, Potassium: 189mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 15g, Vitamin A: 394IU, Vitamin C: 20mg, Calcium: 55mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Did you make this? Leave me a comment below

Hi! I’m Krissy.

I love to create the BEST versions of your favorite recipes. If you love to cook, love to eat, or just have a deep appreciation for good food, you’re in the right place! Stick around… I have hundreds of recipes for you to make.

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