Ambrosia Salad – Sugar Spun Run

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Ambrosia salad is a classic, old-fashioned dessert. My version is made even better with homemade whipped cream and colorful, fruity marshmallows for the best taste. Recipe includes a how-to video!

Glass bowl of ambrosia salad topped with a maraschino cherry.

A Better Ambrosia Salad Recipe

While dessert salads may be less conventional than classic potluck options like macaroni salad or potato salad, ambrosia salad is one that will always have a place on my picnic table (and it deserves one at yours, too!). Made with a not-too-sweet, whipped cream base and bejeweled with plenty of fruit and colorful marshmallows, this is a light and refreshing dessert that’s perfect for summertime cookouts (or anytime).

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Made without Cool Whip. If you’ve had this salad in the past, chances are it was made with Cool Whip. Sure, Cool Whip is easy and works in a pinch, but the taste just can’t compare to making our own homemade, from-scratch whipped cream.
  • Customize it to your liking; skip the coconut, add toasted nuts, swap the fruity marshmallows for regular, etc. This is your ambrosia salad, so make it how you like it!
  • Great for making in advance! The flavor develops as it sits, so feel free to make this the night before you need it.
  • Old-fashioned, but better. We’re keeping with tradition with everything but the Cool Whip base. This recipe appeals not just to fans of retro desserts, but to everyone.

What You Need

You will see a few extra ingredients in my recipe since we’re making our own whipped cream, but trust me on this. It’s worth it!

Overhead view of labeled ingredients including mini marshmallows, canned fruit, heavy cream, and more.
  • Heavy cream. Rather than using Cool Whip, we’re making our own homemade whipped cream today. It not only improves the flavor and texture of the “salad”, but it also only takes 5 minutes to make. If you’ve never made your own before, I’m pretty sure this will convert you (and open the doors to so many more recipes, like my Oreo pie and banana pudding).
  • Sour cream. The key role of this ingredient is to add depth of flavor (it also makes such a difference in my cheesecake, so don’t think it’s just for savory dips and summer salads). Sour cream also keeps the salad from being too sweet.
  • Fruit. Including mandarin orange segments, sweetened shredded coconut, maraschino cherries (remove any stems) and pineapple tidbits. If you can’t find pineapple tidbits, the pineapple chunks will also work; just cut each piece in half so the pineapple doesn’t overwhelm things. Alternatively you can chop up your own fresh pineapple into small bite-sized pieces!
  • Mini marshmallows. Regular mini marshmallows will work just fine, but I personally prefer the fruit-flavored mini marshmallows in this recipe. They add such a nice pop of color and flavor to the salad!

SAM’S TIP: You could also add nuts! Personally, I don’t care for nuts in ambrosia salad, but if you are a fan, then feel free to add ¾ cup of coarsely chopped nuts in with the marshmallows. You can use whatever kind you like; almonds, pecans, or walnuts would be my suggestions.

This is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post.

How to Make Ambrosia Salad

Ambrosia Salad Collage, Steps one thru four, Whipping cream to stiff peaks Folding in sour cream/other ingredients Combining fruit Stirring fruit and whipped cream mixture together.
  1. Make a homemade whipped cream by whipping the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until thick and fluffy. You should have “stiff peaks”, meaning that when you pull the beater straight out of the mixture, the peak that forms should hold straight and not fold over or dissolve back in on itself. And once you master stiff peaks, you’re ready to tackle other recipes like my meringues or even macarons!
  2. Fold in the sour cream. Be gentle when you do this and use a spatula (rather than a mixer); you don’t want to deflate the air you just spent time whipping into the cream!
  3. Stir together the fruits, marshmallows, and nuts in a separate large bowl until combined.
  4. Fold the whipped cream into the fruit mixture, then cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving. I’m guilty of sampling things immediately, but honestly chilling helps the flavor develop.

SAM’S TIP: If you struggle with whipping cream to stiff peaks, try placing your bowl and beaters in the fridge for 10-20 minutes beforehand. The cold bowl and beaters will encourage the (cold) cream to whip quicker, and you’ll be left with billowy, perfectly whipped cream.

Overhead view of bowls of a fruit and marshmallow salad made with homemade whipped cream.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can ambrosia salad be made ahead of time?

Yes! For the best flavor and texture, I recommend making this salad 1-24 hours before serving. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (make sure to store in an airtight container). I do not recommend freezing as the quality degrades when thawed.

Is this the same thing as watergate salad?

They are similar, but not quite the same. Watergate salad (another retro dessert) gets its flavor from pistachio pudding mix, so it tastes quite a bit different. Also, most recipes for watergate salad do not include mandarin oranges or shredded coconut, and the cherries are usually just a garnish.
If you’re looking for a pistachio dessert, check out my pistachio cake (made without the need for any pudding mix!).

Can I use Cool Whip instead?

You could, but I really recommend trying my version first. It’s so quick and easy to whip the cream yourself, and the flavor is SO much better.

If you do substitute, you will want to leave out the powdered sugar and you’ll need about 1 ½ cups of Cool Whip.

Glass bowl of ambrosia salad topped with a maraschino cherry.


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Glass bowl of ambrosia salad topped with a maraschino cherry.

Ambrosia Salad

Ambrosia salad is a classic, old-fashioned dessert. My version is made even better with homemade whipped cream and colorful, fruity marshmallows for the best taste. Recipe includes a how-to video!


Course: Appetizer, Dessert, Side Dish

Cuisine: American

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Chilling Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Servings: 10 servings

Calories: 301kcal

Prevent your screen from going dark


  • Combine heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat until mixture is thick, billowy, and the consistency of Cool Whip.

    ¾ cups (180 ml) heavy cream, ¼ cup (35 g) powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Use a spatula to fold in sour cream until completely combined.

    ½ cup (120 g) sour cream

  • In a separate bowl, stir together oranges, cherries, pineapple, coconut, and mini marshmallows.

    11 oz (312 g) can mandarin oranges, 10 oz (¾ cup) maraschino cherries, 1 8 oz can pineapple tidbits, 1 ½ cups (120 g) sweetened shredded coconut, 4 cups (200 g) mini marshmallows

  • Add whipped cream/sour cream mixture and stir until completely combined.

  • Cover bowl and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving.



I like to use the rainbow/fruit flavored mini marshmallows for more of a tropical flavor, but classic white mini marshmallows work just fine, too!

Adding nuts

Some people like to add nuts to their ambrosia salad. ¾ cup of coarsely chopped nuts such as pecans or walnuts would make a great addition.


I recommend making Ambrosia Salad 1-24 hours before you intend to serve, for best flavor and texture. However, Ambrosia Salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (make sure to store in an airtight container). I do not recommend freezing.


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 301kcal | Carbohydrates: 45g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 30mg | Sodium: 70mg | Potassium: 156mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 38g | Vitamin A: 769IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 50mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.

I originally shared this recipe over on Real Housemoms in 2019. The recipe remains the same but I have updated the photos and added more helpful tips and notes!

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