This Cranberry Jell-O Salad with Mandarin Oranges is a delicious mix of juicy mandarin oranges, tart cranberries, and colorful Jell-O... all in one. Plus, it's a refreshing and unique spin on traditional cranberry sauce.
This easy-to-make dish is the perfect side to any Thanksgiving feast and also pairs beautifully with a holiday ham. With just 5 ingredients and less than 10 minutes of prep time, you can easily make this family-favorite dish.
With its vibrant, festive colors and sweet, tart taste, Cranberry Jell-O Salad with Mandarin Oranges is always the star of the show every holiday season.
About This Recipe
Jello salad recipes are a perfect dish for both small gatherings and potlucks and this easy cranberry salad recipe is the perfect festive side dish for your Thanksgiving feast or holiday table.
While other families had a bowl of cranberry sauce or cranberry relish for their Thanksgiving dinner, my mom always made this cranberry Jell-O salad. I'm not sure where she got the recipe. Most likely it was from a can, box, magazine, or newspaper in the 1960s. And I remember clearly the first time she made it she added chopped nuts and decided they added nothing to the flavor and never added them again.
This old-school recipe is a basic fruited gelatin salad where gelatin is made, chilled until slightly thickened, and fruit is added so they are suspended in the jelly.
The twist with this Jell-O fruit salad is that whole-berry cranberry sauce is added to the hot gelatin so that it melts and is evenly distributed throughout the jelly. The Jell-O is then chilled until slightly thickened and crushed pineapple and whole mandarin oranges are added.
We didn't have an extra bowl or fancy mold to set the salad in, so we always used a 13" x 9" Pyrex baking dish, and the salad was cut into squares for serving.
The tricky part of this salad is to reduce the amount of cold water added to the gelatin so the salad sets firmly. Another key point is to drain the crushed pineapple and mandarin oranges well.
Some recipes, use the liquid from the canned fruit to replace the cold water when making Jell-O. However, we found that using the canned fruit liquids made the salad too sweet and we lost the sweet/tart balance that makes this salad so delicious and refreshing.
So, let's cook!
Here's what you need to make my mom's cranberry jello salad recipe:
- Raspberry Jello - I prefer to use the Jell-O brand because the flavor is consistently good and strong. Bargain brands sometimes have a weaker flavor or the box makes less than 8 - ½ cup servings.
- Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce - This needs to be the jellied sauce that contains whole cranberries. Using the whole berry sauce adds more texture and bursts of tart cranberry flavor to the salad.
- Crushed Pineapple - I've used "canned in own juice" and "light syrup" and both are delicious. You must drain the pineapple well to keep from diluting the gelatin.
- Mandarin Orange Segments - I generally buy a "canned in light syrup" for the best flavor. They also need to be drained well before being added to the salad.
- Boiling Water & Cold Water - You will need boiling water to dissolve the gelatin and cold water to cool it so it will set more quickly. (not shown)
Please see the recipe card for the exact quantities.
Dissolve. In a large bowl mix the Jell-O powder with the boiling water and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until the gelatin is well dissolved.
Add and Chill. Add the entire can of cranberry sauce to the hot Jell-O and stir for 5 to 6 minutes or until it is completely melted. Then, add the cold water and stir well.
Refrigerate the cranberry mixture for 1 hour or until it is slightly thickened.
Stir-in. Add the drained crushed pineapple and drained mandarin oranges to the thickened cranberry Jell-O. Stir gently and transfer the gelatin mixture into a 13 x 9” baking dish, a large decorative serving bowl, or a 2-quart flat casserole.
Chill. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight until completely set.
My Top Tips
♡ Be sure to drain the canned pineapple and mandarin oranges well or the gelatin won't set firmly.
♡ Don't use fresh pineapple. It contains an enzyme called bromelain that prevents gelatin from setting. However, heat destroys the enzyme which is why canned pineapple can be used.
Cranberry Jello Mold
To make a molded salad for extra festive holiday meals, pour the cranberry jello mixture into a mold and chill until firm. You can use a metal gelatin mold, silicone Jell-o mold, or bundt pan.
When ready to serve dip the mold into hot water to release the jelly, place a serving platter over the top of the mold, and flip the platter over. Use a paper towel to blot any juices to keep the plate pretty.
Substitutions & Variations
- Use Other Jell-O Flavors. This cranberry salad can be made with strawberry, raspberry, or cherry jello.
- Substitute Pineapple Tidbits. Instead of crushed pineapple, you can use an equal amount of pineapple tidbits.
- Substitute Orange Juice. Instead of cold water, you can substitute an equal amount of orange juice.
- Add Pecans. Add 1 cup chopped pecans when adding the pineapple and mandarin oranges.
- Add Chopped Celery. Celery is a great addition to this salad. Add 1 cup finely chopped celery when adding the pineapple and mandarin oranges.
Make-Ahead & Storage
For the best results make this Jello salad the day or night before you are serving it to give the gelatin time to set firmly.
After serving, to save space in the refrigerator you can transfer the salad to a smaller container.
Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap or stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
More Cranberry Recipes
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Cranberry Jell-O Salad with Mandarin Oranges
- 6 Ounces Raspberry Jello, 1 Large Package
- 2 Cups Boiling Water
- 14 Ounces Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce, 1 Can
- 1 Cup Cold Water
- 8 Ounces Crushed Pineapple, 1 Small Can, Drained
- 15 Ounces Mandarin Oranges, 1 Large Can, Drained
- Dissolve. In a large bowl mix the Jell-O powder with the boiling water and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until the gelatin is well dissolved.6 Ounces Raspberry Jello, 2 Cups Boiling Water
- Add and Chill. Add the entire can of cranberry sauce to the hot Jell-O and stir for 5 to 6 minutes or until it is completely melted. Add the cold water and stir well.Refrigerate the cranberry mixture for 1 hour or until it is slightly thickened.14 Ounces Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce, 1 Cup Cold Water
- Stir-in. Add the drained crushed pineapple and drained mandarin oranges to the thickened cranberry Jell-O. Stir gently and transfer the gelatin mixture into a 13 x 9” baking dish, a large decorative serving bowl, or a 2-quart flat casserole.8 Ounces Crushed Pineapple, 15 Ounces Mandarin Oranges
- Chill. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight until completely set.
Encharted Cook Notes
Nutrition Per Serving
All nutritional information on this site is an estimate. Your results may vary.