Frog eye salad is a sweet contradiction. Definitely not made of frog eyes, and not your average lettuce-based salad, this sweet, creamy side dish is a beloved treat in the United States’ Rocky Mountain region. A particular favorite among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, frog eye salad is a staple of Mormon potlucks, cookouts, funerals, and holidays. It’s especially beloved on Thanksgiving, claiming the top spot in online Thanksgiving recipe searches in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah in 2014.
So if it’s made of neither frogs nor lettuce, what exactly is this salad? The crucial ingredients are a small pasta, normally acini de pepe, an egg custard, whipped cream or Cool Whip, and canned fruits. Cooks beat the egg and heat it with pineapple juice, sugar, salt, and flour until it begins to thicken. The resulting custard is combined with the cooked pasta, refrigerated until thick, and mixed with whipped cream and canned fruit. The pudding then gets topped with marshmallows and shredded coconut. While the exact origin of the dish’s unorthodox name is unknown, the most popular theory is that the tiny spheres of the acini de pepe pasta resembled frogs’ eyes to a creative early proponent of the dish.
While it’s tempting to characterize this dish as a dessert akin to rice pudding, its true categorization in any meal depends—like its sister sweet, snickers salad—on its placement on the buffet table. In fact, classifying frog eye as a side salad may just be a clever strategy to get more dessert bang for your potluck buck. While frog eye salad may be the most originally named of the bunch, it’s one of many sweet side salads to grace the American potluck table, including cookie salad, pretzel salad, and glorified rice.