Watergate Salad is one of my favorite summer desserts. It goes by several different names, including pistachio fluff, but the end result is the same — an easy dessert that starts with a box of pistachio flavored instant pudding mix. Keep this Watergate salad recipe handy, because everyone will be asking for it!
This pistachio fluff is a delicious summer dessert that has fruit, marshmallows, pecans, and a tub of Cool Whip topping.
It’s so easy to make that I make sure I always have the ingredients on hand — especially instant pudding. It’s one of my most requested recipes for summer barbecues and potlucks!
Watergate salad does need to be refrigerated for at least an hour before you serve it. So, keep that in mind when you are planning your meal.
There are so many ways to use instant pudding mix in desserts. It adds flavor and texture, and most of the time, you can add it dry!
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Crushed Pineapple – These pieces are much smaller than tidbits, so pay attention to the label.
If you grabbed the wrong can, you can mash them down by hand or with a food processor.
- Pudding Mix – You must use a pistachio-flavored mix to get the right flavor and color.
Check the box carefully — it has to be the instant kind, not the one that needs to be cooked on the stove.
- Mini Marshmallows – Here’s a fun way to add some extra flair!
While regular white marshmallows will do, you can also use the rainbow bags to add pops of color and fruit flavor.
- Chopped Pecans – Feel free to swap these with chopped walnuts, pistachios, or macadamia nuts. Or, leave out the nuts entirely!
Recipe for Pistachio Fluff Tips and Tricks
- Save some of the juice.
Pour about 1/2 cup of the canned pineapple juice into a measuring cup and set aside.
This keeps your dessert from being too soggy, but you’ll have it on hand in case the texture is too thick.
- Plan ahead.
The tub of Cool Whip needs to be thawed first — this can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours in the refrigerator.
To be safe, move it over the night before you plan on making this recipe for pistachio fluff.
- Enhance the color.
With just the pudding mix, you’ll end up with a lovely pastel green.
If you prefer a bolder hue, stir in a few drops of green food coloring right at the end. Gel tends to give better results than the liquid kind.
Make Ahead Instructions
Yes, pistachio salad needs to be refrigerated for at least an hour. But, it really is best when it’s refrigerated overnight!
So, if you want to make this recipe for pistachio fluff up to a day in advance, you can.
Just cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Then, give it a quick stir before you serve it.
Watergate Salad Variations
- Add extra fruit. Include a drained can of mandarin orange slices or halved Maraschino cherries.
These can be in addition to or in place of the mini marshmallows.
- Make it extra creamy. Whip a softened block of cream cheese with the pudding mix and crushed pineapple before adding the Cool Whip.
- Use real whipped cream. You can certainly whip up your own whipped topping if you prefer.
But because it isn’t stabilized like Cool Whip, it’s not a great option if you’re planning on leftovers.
Storing Leftover Pistachio Salad
If you manage not to lick the bowl clean, you can store leftover pistachio salad in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Keep tightly covered or transfer to an airtight container. For best results, stir well before serving.
You can’t freeze this dessert — it will come out grainy and watery when thawed. Luckily, it’s easy to make a fresh batch whenever the craving strikes!
Watergate Salad Recipe FAQ
Many believe that this fluffy concoction is named after the presidential scandal of the same name. Or, at least after the Watergate Hotel where it took place.
The dessert has been around in some form since the early 1900s, when ambrosia salads became popular on household menus.
In fact, the name comes from Watergate Cake which includes similar ingredients and features a pistachio pudding frosting.
According to a news article from the 1970s, it’s a satirical reference to a dessert “full of nuts” with a “cover up” in the form of thick frosting. But no one knows for sure!
There are several variations of this recipe for pistachio fluff, and one of them calls for a 16-ounce tub of cottage cheese.
If you want to do that, you certainly can. The final results will be extra thick and creamy, and it’s a great way to add protein to the dish.
However, the flavor will make your Watergate salad less sweet and not as dessert-like.
If you’re following Weight Watchers and want something that is a little bit more in line with their plan, simply swap in a tub of sugar-free Cool Whip and a box of sugar-free instant pudding.
That will help cut the sugar content, which also makes for a slightly healthier Watergate salad recipe.
With love, from our simple kitchen to yours.
Other Dessert Salad Recipes
Pistachio Fluff Watergate Salad + Video
- 20 ounce can crushed pineapple in juice, do not drain
- 3.4 ounce box pistachio flavor instant pudding mix
- 1 cup mini marshmallows
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 8 ounces thawed Cool Whip whipped topping
- optional green food coloring
- Reserve 1/2 cup of pineapple juice from the crushed pineapple can.
- In a large bowl combine the pineapple in its remaining juice with the pudding. Mix until well combined and all of the pudding has dissolved.
- Stir in marshmallows and pecans.
- Fold in the whipped topping.
- If it needs more liquid add the reserved juice a tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency. Add a couple drops of green food coloring if desired to get a darker green color
- Refrigerate at least 1 hour, but it is best overnight (6-8 hours).
- Serve with a dollop of cool whip and a maraschino cherry.
All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.
Originally published June 2020, updated and republished August 2023
Disclosure: Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link your price will remain the same and The Slow Roasted Italian will automatically receive a small commission. Thank you for supporting us, it helps us keep creating new recipes.