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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}

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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


Best Ambrosia Salad

My first exposure to an ambrosia salad was in college.  When I was living in the dorms as a freshman, I’d hit the cafeteria for at least one meal a day. Occasionally, they’d have this creamy, fruit-laden salad with coconut and marshmallows. Once I discovered ambrosia, I was in love!

Living with a coconut averse family, I never had an occasion to make it at home. It was time. High time. And, surprise, this  fruit salad recipe was way better than that most basic version I ate as a coed!

The Best Ambrosia Salad {No Cool Whip} in two small white bowls

Tips for Making Ambrosia Salad

Though a little foggy, my memories of that first ambrosia salad’s 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.

  • 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. Toast, then cool your pecans if you’d like to enhance their flavor.
  • 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 in the past, but I loved this no Cool Whip version so much more!
The Best Ambrosia Salad {No Cool Whip} in a white ceramic bowl surrounded by grapes, marshmallows and orange segments

More Festive Salads You’ll Love:

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!


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

Best Ambrosia Salad {No Cool Whip}

The classic fruit salad made without Cool Whip!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Yield 6


  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 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
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1 8.25 jar maraschino cherries, drained and rinsed (mine were bourbon soaked)


In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream with the sugar until stiff peaks form. Beat in the sour cream until smooth.

Add all the rest of the ingredients except for the cherries, and use a rubber spatula to mix. Mix in the cherries.

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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