My great-grandmother’s fruit salad always graced our holiday table. For a delicious alternative, my Best Ambrosia Salad is incredibly delicious! And as a bonus, there’s no Cool Whip in the dreamy dressing.

This Fruit Salad Recipe is a bit of a splurge as far as salads go, but a perfectly tasty recipe for your Thanksgiving or Christmas table!

The Best Ambrosia Salad {No Cool Whip} in a white ceramic bowl.

Why You Must Make

  • This is a classic holiday salad that’s perfect for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and more!
  • Instead of Cool Whip, the rich, creamy dressing is made with a combination of real whipped cream and sour cream.
  • It’s highly adaptable depending on your tastes. My family doesn’t like nuts, so I make it without the pecans. Add any favorite fruit cut into bite-sized pieces.
The Best Ambrosia Salad {No Cool Whip} in two small white bowls.

Ingredient Notes:

  • Heavy cream – Use the real stuff, never Cool Whip which is non-dairy and full of chemicals.
  • Sour cream – Don’t use low fat or nonfat as this is a splurge dish for special occasions
  • Mini marshmallows – Regular marshmallows cut into small pieces may be substituted in a pinch
  • Canned mandarin orange slices – drain well so the juice doesn’t water down the dressing
  • Canned Pineapple tidbits – drain well, plus avoid buying either fruit in heavy syrup
  •  Fresh grapes – seedless red or green grapes are best. Slice in half if they’re large.
  •  Sweetened coconut flakes – though the original recipes had home cooks grating their own coconut, angel flake coconut is an easier option.
  •  Chopped, toasted pecans – toasting nuts helps bring out their natural oils, enhancing their flavor. Place pecan halves in one layer on a baking sheet and toast for 5+ minutes at 350 degrees. Shake the pan every few minutes to prevent burning and never walk away from them as they’re roasting. Cool and chop.
  •  Maraschino cherries – rinse and drain to prevent the red dye from bleeding into the dressing.

Expert Tips

Though a little foggy, my memories of my first ever ambrosia salad was in my freshman college dormitory cafeteria. The ingredients included mandarin oranges, pineapple, marshmallows, coconut, and some sort of whipped cream dressing. After researching and hunting for ambrosia without Cool Whip, I saw a variety of ingredient options. So, I selected my favorites.

  • PRO-Tip: A combination of sweetened whipped cream and sour cream provided the creamy dressing (from Alton Brown’s version). Not much sugar was needed since the marshmallows provide additional sweetness.
  • I used both canned and fresh fruit: canned pineapple tidbits, canned mandarin oranges, bagged coconut, fresh grapes, and a jar of maraschino cherries. Add or eliminate ingredients according to your preference!
  • Mini-marshmallows and pecans are classic additions I included as well.
  • PRO-Tip: Toast, then cool your pecans if you’d like to enhance their flavor.
  • PRO-Tip: The maraschino cherries will bleed and color the dressing pink. To avoid that, place your cherries on paper toweling to dry the excess juices, and mix in just before serving. 
  • I only used part of the cans of mandarin oranges and pineapple. Feel free to add all the fruit so you don’t have to deal with leftover canned fruit.
  • So many recipes used Cool Whip, and though I’ve definitely enjoyed those kinds of ambrosia salads in the past, I loved this no Cool Whip version so much more!
Ambrosia Salad in a white ceramic bowl surrounded by grapes, marshmallows and orange segments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is this called Ambrosia?

The word ambrosia comes from Greek mythology and was “Food for the Gods” on Mt. Olympus. So this salad or dessert, made with fruit like oranges, bananas, and coconut, was given the name ambrosia. Hence, designating it as food tasty enough for the gods.

Where and When Did Ambrosia originate?

The first written recipes were in both Dixie newspapers and a cookbook as early as the 1870s, so there is speculation that this recipe debuted in the South. The early, simpler versions were made of layered oranges, coconut, and sugar. It is still a popular dish served as part of a holiday menu.

Why Is Using Cream Better than Cool Whip?

Though Cool Whip may be more stable, it’s full of chemicals and doesn’t taste as rich or delicious as real whipped cream. If you’d like to stabilize your cream, look for a product called Whip-It by Oetker which is a powder you can add to the heavy cream before you beat it into whipped cream. There is a link in the recipe card.

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There are certain salads I seem to reserve for the holidays. The term salad usually conjures up visions of lettuce or other greens tossed with a creamy or vinegar-based dressing and other ingredients. But rules are broken during the holidays and salads which include marshmallows and whipped cream dressings are acceptable fare!

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The Best Ambrosia Salad {No Cool Whip} | A dreamy fruit and coconut salad with marshmallows and pecans.

Best Ambrosia Salad {No Cool Whip}

Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Yield 6

The classic fruit salad made without Cool Whip!


  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 3 cups mini marshmallows
  • 1 cup mandarin orange slices, drained
  • 1 cup pineapple tidbits, drained
  • 1 cup fresh green (or red) seedless grapes, halved if large
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • ½ cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1 8.25 jar maraschino cherries, drained and rinsed (mine were bourbon soaked)


  1. In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream with the sugar until stiff peaks form. Beat in the sour cream until smooth.
  2. Add all the rest of the ingredients except for the cherries, and use a rubber spatula to mix. Mix in the cherries.
  3. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.


Recipe adapted from Alton Brown.

Feel free to use the whole can of mandarin oranges and pineapple in this recipe.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 387Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 34mgSodium: 73mgCarbohydrates: 50gFiber: 4gSugar: 38gProtein: 3g


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