Why this recipe works
Watergate Salad, sometimes called Pistachio Fluff, Pistachio Pudding Salad or Pistachio Delight, is a light and fluffy dessert or side dish made of whipped cream, pistachio pudding, marshmallows, and pineapple topped with pistachio bits and a cherry. If you’ve had an ambrosia salad before, this pistachio salad is similar in ingredients and method.
One of the easiest desserts you will ever make with just a handful of ingredients and no baking involved, it’s the perfect addition to any holiday gathering or summer BBQ. It’s sure to be a family favorite!
Growing up in the Midwest, my family often ate pistachio fluff salad as a side dish for our family gatherings rather than a dessert and let me tell you.. it is a family favorite! It never occurred to me that it might be odd to eat as a side dish growing up. Dessert or side dish.. you decide!
Why is it called Watergate Salad?
There is no confirmed explanation for why this recipe is traditionally called a Watergate Salad, but there are a few popular myths. The most accepted history is that the original recipe was created by the Kraft test kitchens back in 1975 under the name Pistachio Pineapple Delight.
Less than a year later, a Chicago food editor republished the recipe under the name Watergate Salad. Maybe due to the Watergate scandal, maybe due to a chef at the Watergate Hotel, or maybe due to its striking resemblance to the watergate cake (which was created right after the Watergate Scandal).
Will we ever really know where this recipe got it’s name? Probably not. But it’s fun to theorize while we eat the green stuff!
- Cool Whip – You may be tempted to use homemade whipped cream for this recipe, but I find that the consistency is best with Cool Whip since it contains hydrogenated oil to keep it light and fluffy. Homemade whipped cream does not contain this, and therefore isn’t as sturdy and will make for a runny pistachio fluff.
- Maraschino cherries – While you don’t have to include maraschino cherries if you don’t want to, I think they add a fun color (and flavor!) pop to the dessert presentation for an otherwise green dish.
- Canned crushed pineapple – I would not suggest using larger chunks of pineapple because it will be too much in this watergate salad. You want just little bits of pineapple in every bite. If you have only larger pineapple chunks, run them through your food processor. Also, I highly recommend you add the pineapple juice as instructed in the recipe. It creates an amazing flavor!
- Toasted pistachios – I love pistachios in this recipe for their color, favor and crunch. However, pecans are actually the more classically used nut in this recipe. Feel free to substitute with pecans!
- In a large bowl, add together the undrained canned crushed pineapple, mini marshmallows, toasted pistachios, and instant pudding mix. Stir until combined.
- Place 8oz. of the cool whip into the bowl with the other ingredients.
- Fold in the cool whip until fully distributed and mixture is an even, light green color.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour or until ready to serve. Top with additional cool whip topping, pistachios, and maraschino cherries.
- If you are anything like me, your Cool Whip likely came out of the freezer. Before adding it to your pistachio pudding salad, be sure to thaw it fully. To thaw, simply place the tub of Cool Whip in the refrigerator for 4 hours. Do not thaw in the microwave as it will get very oily and thin, and the key to this recipe is to have a thick, whipped topping for this dessert salad.
- You can make this watergate salad ahead of time. Just be sure to store it in an airtight container and eat within 2-3 days. The longer it sits, the runnier it will be, so make it only a day in advance for best results.
- Do not drain your canned crushed pineapple. The liquid in the can is what activates the pudding mix. Without it, your recipe will not be the correct texture and will likely have powdery pudding bits.
Is instant pudding mix gluten-free? Some instant pudding mixes are considered gluten-free. Kraft, which makes JELL-O branded instant pudding mixes, does not label its products as gluten-free. However, Kraft is very good at identifying any gluten-containing ingredients on its labels. As of right now, it seems that only their cheesecake instant pudding mix contains gluten, as it contains barley in it.
Like the pudding mix, Cool Whip is made by Kraft and not labeled gluten-free. However, it does not contain any gluten containing ingredients and is considered gluten-free. If you use a brand other than Cool Whip, be sure to check the ingredients and allergy statements before using.
If you don’t have toasted pistachios or cherries on hand, or simply want to switch it up, you can top your pistachio pudding salad with mandarin oranges, shredded coconut, pecans, walnuts, or almond slivers.
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Did you make this recipe?
I’d love to know! Please rate it and leave a comment below. You can also share your pictures and tag @adashofmegnut on Instagram.
- 20 oz canned crushed pineapple (undrained)
- 2 cups mini marshmallows
- 1/2 cup toasted pistachios (plus more for serving)
- 3.4 oz instant pistachio pudding mix
- 8 oz Cool Whip (thawed, plus more for serving)
- maraschino cherries (for serving)
- In a bowl, add together the crushed pineapple, mini marshmallows, pistachios, and pudding mix. Stir until combined.
- Fold in the cool whip.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour or until ready to serve.
- Top with additional cool whip topping, pistachios, and maraschino cherries.
- To thaw your Cool Whip or whipped topping, place tub in the refrigerator for 4 hours. Do not thaw in the microwave as your whipped topping will get very oily and thin and ruin the consistency of your pistachio fluff pudding.
- If you are gluten-free, make sure that your instant pudding mix is gluten-free. I used Kraft JELL-O pistachio instant pudding mix. Kraft, which makes JELL-O branded instant pudding mixes, does not label its products as gluten-free. However, Kraft is very good at identifying any gluten-containing ingredients on its labels.
- Do not use low-fat Cool Whip topping for best results. The full fat version works better in this recipe.
- Do not use homemade whipped cream in this recipe. Cool Whip contains hydrogenated oils that the pistachio fluff stay light and fluffy. Homemade whipped cream will fall quickly and not hold its shape so it is not recommended.
- If you don’t have toasted pistachios or cherries on hand, or simply want to switch it up, you can top your pistachio pudding salad with mandarin oranges, shredded coconut, pecans, walnuts, or almond slivers.
This post was originally published on September 28, 2014 and updated on January 28, 2022 with new photos, tips and tricks to help you make this watergate salad perfectly every time!