Understanding the Difference Between Pasta Salad and Macaroni Salad

Pasta salad and macaroni salad are both popular summer side dishes, often served at picnics, barbecues, and potlucks. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are some key differences between the two.

Pasta Salad:

  • Base: Pasta salad is made with any type of pasta, but short, shaped pasta like farfalle (bow tie), fusilli, penne, or rotini are most commonly used.
  • Dressing: Pasta salad is typically dressed with an oil and vinegar-based dressing, similar to Italian dressing. This gives the salad a lighter and more refreshing flavor.
  • Ingredients: Pasta salad can include a wide variety of ingredients, such as vegetables (cucumbers, black olives, corn, peas, spinach, tomatoes), meats (grilled chicken, salami), and cheeses (shredded or cubed).
  • Flavor Profile: Pasta salad tends to be lighter and less sweet than macaroni salad.

Macaroni Salad:

  • Base: Macaroni salad is specifically made with elbow macaroni.
  • Dressing: Macaroni salad is typically dressed with a creamy mayonnaise-based dressing. This gives the salad a richer and more flavorful taste.
  • Ingredients: Macaroni salad usually includes ingredients like shredded carrots, green bell peppers, celery, and chopped pickles.
  • Flavor Profile: Macaroni salad is creamier and sweeter than pasta salad.

Additional Differences:

  • Texture: Pasta salad tends to have a firmer texture due to the use of short, shaped pasta. Macaroni salad has a softer texture due to the use of elbow macaroni.
  • Origin: Pasta salad is believed to have Italian Jewish roots, while macaroni salad is distinctly American.
  • Variations: Both pasta salad and macaroni salad have regional variations with different ingredients and flavors.

Which One to Choose?

Ultimately, the choice between pasta salad and macaroni salad comes down to personal preference. If you prefer a lighter and more refreshing salad, pasta salad is a good option. If you prefer a creamier and sweeter salad, macaroni salad is a better choice.

While pasta salad and macaroni salad share some similarities, they are distinct dishes with different ingredients, dressings, and flavor profiles. Understanding these differences can help you choose the right salad for your next gathering.

Macaroni salad is actually a type of pasta salad that’s creamier and sweeter. Elbow macaroni is traditionally used and tossed with a sweetened mayonnaise dressing. Ingredients in this deli staple typically include shredded carrots, green bell peppers, celery, and chopped pickles.

Vegetables like cucumbers, black olives, corn, peas, spinach, and tomatoes could be used as ingredients. You can also add tiny bits of meat, such as salami or grilled chicken. Shredded or cubed cheese is also delicious. Pasta salad can have a lot of different ingredients and, once put together, is usually lighter than macaroni salad.

Since both pasta salad and macaroni salad are made with pasta, they should be the same thing, right? This is a common comment and question that our customer service gets, so we thought we’d address it (and of course give you Blue Ribbon recipes)

Whatever you call them, though, we can all agree that they are both delicious. So tell us in the comments, pasta salad or macaroni salad—which is your favorite?

Although the names are similar and both are summer side dishes that are necessary for a BBQ, they are two distinct things.

How to Make Macaroni Salad

Prepare Ingredients

  • Cook macaroni following directions on the package.
  • Drain and rinse well.
  • Cool – Let it cool while working on the sauce. After cooling, refrigerate until ready to use.
  • To make the dressing, combine the mustard, vinegar, sweet relish, and mayonnaise in a small bowl. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.


  • Add the Extras: After the macaroni has cooled, combine it with the diced onion, chopped green and red bell pepper, sliced celery, and chopped eggs in a bowl.
  • Dress It: Fill the bowl with the prepared mayonnaise sauce and fully stir.
  • Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley, if desired.
  • Customize this salad with any topping you love. This salad has delicious bacon, ham, grated cheese, chicken, and olives. Feel free to use your imagination to create unique flavors and textures—the possibilities are endless!
  • If you prefer sour cream to mayo and still want to make this dish, just use two tablespoons of olive oil and the same quantity of sour cream in place of the mayo.
  • You can serve it warm or cold. However, if you really want the flavors to meld, refrigerate the salad after it has been assembled and serve it the following day.
  • Add a few tablespoons of mayonnaise (or sour cream) to the salad to moisten it if it looks a little dry.
  • Don’t overcook your pasta. This recipe is best with macaroni that is al dente. Mushy macaroni salad is not great, my friends. .
  • Rinsing the pasta stops the cooking process and keeps it al dente, so don’t skip it! Additionally, it removes the starchy film that could cause your salad to clump and the pasta to stick together.

This is a recipe that is best prepared ahead of time! I suggest preparing the macaroni a day in advance. It boosts the flavor and saves you time too. .

PASTA SALAD 3 WAYS (Literally The Best Pasta Salads I’ve Ever Had)


What is the difference between macaroni and pasta?

The pasta is made using hand techniques and machines as well because of their varied shapes. However, macaroni is only made using the machine as it’s not possible to shape them using your hands.

What is another name for pasta salad?

cold pasta salad
mixed pasta dish
pasta fredda
farfalle salad
fusilli salad
macaroni salad
tortellini salad
penne salad

What is macaroni salad made of?

Mix mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and macaroni together in a large bowl. Stir in celery, onion, green pepper, carrot, and pimentos. Refrigerate salad for at least 4 hours before serving, but preferably overnight.

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