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Mama’s Ambrosia – a Christmas Tradition

Mama’s Ambrosia is a cherished Christmas tradition in our family, showcasing a delicious, refreshing combination of Navel oranges and sweetened shredded coconut. Learn how to create this simple yet heavenly dessert that will brighten up your holiday table.

Crystal dish of ambrosia on a serving tray with vintage spoons in the foreground.

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This is one of my favorite recipes of all time. Actually, it’s hardly a recipe. Just two, maybe three ingredients and a little work is all that’s required, but the result? Well, it tastes like Heaven to me.

Mama’s Ambrosia contains two simple ingredients, resulting in a bright, clean flavor. The bright, slightly acidic bite of orange paired with an almost creamy sweetness from the coconut. Yum. Yum.

I vividly remember this dessert being on our table for Christmas every year when I was a child. And I remember Mama standing at the kitchen counter peeling and peeling and peeling oranges. The kitchen smelled like an orange grove in bloom by the time she was finished.

Over the years, I’ve found that there are about as many recipes for ambrosia as there are cooks making ambrosia. And over those years, I’ve also never found another ambrosia recipe as simple as this one.

I believe most people think of ambrosia as a combination of oranges, pineapple, coconut, and other fruits, with some sort of sweet dressing such as “cool whip” or sour cream. In our family, we call that fruit salad. It’s quite different from our orange ambrosia, and it’s delicious, too, but for us…this is ambrosia.

But let me also make one thing clear – whichever way your Mama makes it…that’s the right way :-)

❤️ Why We Love This Recipe

  • It’s a bright, refreshing counterpoint to heavy holiday meals.
  • Makes the best use of seasonal produce.
  • Kids and adults both love the flavors.
  • It’s a proven, tried, and true heritage recipe.


“That’s the Ambrosia I grew up with also. It was navel oranges, fresh from the orange groves in Plaquemines Parish Louisiana and shredded coconut. Heaven!”
— Alice

🛒 Essential Ingredients

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  • Navel oranges (I always choose navel oranges because they’re nicely sweet yet still a bit tart. They have the familiar flavor of morning orange juice.)
  • Shredded coconut (My favorite brand is Baker’s Angel Flake coconut.)

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

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🥄 How to Make Mama’s Ambrosia

Four navel oranges on a cutting board.

You’ll need one large Navel orange for each serving of Ambrosia. These were just beautiful. Bright, blemish-free skin and so juicy and sweet!

Prep the Oranges

Peel the oranges and remove all of the white pith. That pith is bitter, and you don’t want it in your lovely, sweet ambrosia.

Now, there are several methods of peeling oranges, but the one I learned and still use is the round and round one. I just start at the end opposite the “navel” and peel around using a sawing motion with the knife until I reach the other end. This works for me.

Some people cut a slice off either end, stand the orange on one end, and cut in a downward motion, removing sections of the peel as they go. Do whatever works best for you.

Cut into Sections

Photo collage showing how to section oranges.

Once you have the oranges peeled and all the pith removed, you’ll need to cut the oranges into sections following the lines of the membranes inside the orange. Those sections, when removed from the orange, are called “supremes.”

Section the oranges while working over a bowl to catch the juices. Holding the orange firmly in one hand and using a thin, very sharp knife, cut down as close to the membrane as possible, going from tip to bottom and all the way through to the core. Repeat on the other side of the orange section. Turn your knife to the side gently to release the “supreme.”

This does take a little work and practice, but I think it makes a much nicer presentation. However, if you just can’t manage the supremes, then cut the oranges crosswise into about 1/2″ thick slices.

When you have removed all the orange sections, give the core and membranes a gentle squeeze to remove any remaining juice, allowing it to fall back into the bowl. Discard the core and membranes.

Sweeten if Needed

Taste the oranges and, only if needed, add a tablespoon or two of sugar. I usually don’t need any or just a very minimum amount.

Add Coconut

Mixing bowl containing oranges and coconut.

Scatter the shredded coconut over the oranges. Gently stir it together, taking care not to break the orange supremes you worked so hard on :-)

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to blend.

🍽️ How to Serve

Mama’s Ambrosia shines as a light and refreshing dessert to follow heavier holiday meals. Its zesty citrus notes complement roasts, hams, and other festive dishes wonderfully. Consider serving it in individual glass cups or a beautiful crystal bowl to enhance its visual appeal.

🍚 How to Store

If you have any leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This will keep your ambrosia fresh for a day or two, but it’s so delicious that it rarely lasts that long!

❓ Questions About Mama’s Ambrosia

Can I use other types of oranges in this recipe?

While Navel oranges are my choice for their flavor profile, you can certainly experiment with other orange varieties for a unique twist.

Is it essential to add sugar to the oranges?

It all depends on the oranges. Taste first, and only add sugar if you think it needs it. The natural sweetness of Navel oranges is typically sufficient.

Can I make this in advance for a holiday meal?

Absolutely! In fact, allowing the flavors to meld in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight enhances the taste.

What other fruits can I add to this recipe?

While our family’s version keeps it simple, you can add fruits like pineapple, maraschino cherries, or even mandarin oranges for variety.

Lana Stuart.

More Questions? I’m happy to help!

If you have more questions about the recipe, or if you’ve made it and would like to leave a comment, scroll down to leave your thoughts, questions, and/or rating!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

📖 Recipe

Crystal dish of ambrosia on a serving tray with vintage spoons in the foreground.

Mama’s Ambrosia

Mama's Ambrosia is a Christmas tradition featuring Navel oranges and sweet coconut. It's a refreshing counterpoint to heavy holiday meals.
5 from 18 votes
Print It Rate It Save Text It
Course: Desserts
Cuisine: Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 125kcal
Author: Lana Stuart


  • 4 large Navel oranges
  • Sugar to taste (optional)
  • ½ cup shredded coconut


  • Peel the oranges and remove all the white pith. Working over a bowl to capture the juices, remove the orange sections. Squeeze any remaining juice from the core and membranes into the bowl with the orange sections.
  • Taste the oranges and add a small amount (1-2 tblsp.) sugar if needed.
  • Add coconut. Toss together.
  • Cover bowl and refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to blend.


  • If blood oranges are available, use half blood oranges and half Navel oranges for a pretty effect.
  • May be made up to two days in advance and stored, well covered, in the refrigerator.
  • Leftovers keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

Nutrition Information

Serving 1 | Calories 125kcal | Carbohydrates 23g | Protein 2g | Fat 4g | Saturated Fat 4g | Sodium 31mg | Potassium 270mg | Fiber 4g | Sugar 17g | Vitamin A 346IU | Vitamin C 83mg | Calcium 60mg | Iron 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This post was originally published on January 8, 2013. It has been updated with additional information.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This is a tradition in our family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. My grandmother was raised in the South (Kentucky), and she made this for us since I was a very small child (I am not 80!). It is such a wonderful memory and this is the first time I have seen it in print. I have served this while entertaining, and no one had ever had it, but they raved on and on. And it is so simple. I learned something from you today. I never heard of cutting the membrane off, so now I will be doing that from now on. No one ever complained before, and my kids always look forward to it each holiday…and they are in their mid-fifties now! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

    1. My family has been enjoying this recipe for generations, too! It’s included in my new cookbook as well. I’m glad your family and guests love it!

  2. 5 stars
    THIS is what I call ambrosia too! Nothing else….just oranges and coconut 😊
    I am making it for a teacher breakfast tomorrow and wanted to know the ‘proper’ ratio of oranges and coconut and yours came up. I had to put in ‘ambrosia oranges and coconut’ in my search engine because just ‘ambrosia’ brought up those other versions. Thanks for sharing and it’s great reading the comments to know others grew up with this version on their tables as well.

    1. This is the ambrosia that my family always had and still has. I hope the teachers enjoyed it!

  3. Lynda Elliott says:

    5 stars
    This is exactly like the ambrosia my mom made when I was a child. Simple to make and very good. Can hardly wait to make it for Thanksgiving. Such a refreshing dish to add to a holiday meal. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

    1. My pleasure, Lynda! I agree that it’s a great palate cleanser for such a rich meal as Thanksgiving.

  4. Ian Cummins says:

    5 stars
    I recall my late father making this for me many years ago. I had an odd craving for it and your recipe set me on the right track. Thank you!

    (Hope you don’t mind, I used grated, fresh coconut- it seemed to work well!)

    1. I’m so glad you found the recipe. And, of course, I think fresh coconut would be wonderful.

  5. Allye Parks says:

    It took a lot of looking but I finally found your recipe.
    This is how my mother made it years ago.
    Will be making it for Easter. May add a few marscino
    cherries for color.
    Thanks for the recipe.
    A. Parks

    1. I truly hope you enjoy it! Be careful with those maraschino cherries, though. They’ll quickly overpower the flavor of the oranges and coconut and will stain everything so you’ll have pink ambrosia 😊.

  6. Hi Lana – my sister-in-law’s mother used to make this, and I remember her using whole coconuts and breaking them open to chop up the flesh. It was a whole day process of layering her ingredients into jars to give as Christmas gifts. I want to make it – my question is, how long will it keep in the fridge, and does it taste better after a day or so? Thanks!

    1. Hi Sue. The ambrosia will keep for 3 to 4 days properly refrigerated. It only needs a few hours for the flavors to blend. I’ve never noticed it tasting better with time (of course, there’s rarely any left after a day at my house).

  7. Alice Rousselle Corkern says:

    5 stars
    That’s the Ambrosia I grew up with also. It was navel oranges, fresh from the orange groves in Plaquemines Parish Louisiana and shredded coconut. Heaven!

      1. 5 stars
        Exactly how I remember my Mom’s ambrosia at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Thanks

  8. ColleenB. - Tx. says:

    Normally I will use the little ‘Cuties’ or canned mandarin oranges which have been very well drained.
    I also add just a light touch of pure Almond Extract.

  9. FINALLY!!! the “real” ambrosia recipe. My family gets highly upset at Christmas if we dont have “Granny’s”ambrosia, and it’s this recipe except she used fresh coconut and a touch of sugar. You have to make it a couple of days ahead to let the flavors blend.

    1. Yes, this is always on our Christmas dessert table! It’s so refreshing with all the heavier holiday food.

  10. Yes, this is very like my mama’s ambrosia , too. My mama made sure to catch every bit of orange juice and but she always added some crushed pineapple along with the coconut. So delicious. We either ate small bowls of it or put it on top of angel food or pound cake.

  11. Grace Covington says:

    5 stars
    My family recipe too!

  12. This is exactly how my grandmother made her ambrosia!

  13. My mom’s version also had pineapple tidbits in it. She would just cut the orange in half and scoop out the sections. It was one of my favorite things for the holidays, especially after a heavy meal.

  14. This is the ambrosia my grandma would make at Christmas! Only difference, she would thinly slice a banana and stir it in just before serving, so it wouldn’t brown. Either served on top a slice of plain pound cake with whipped cream, or just in a pretty little glass dessert dish on it’s own! She did make the “other” kind but called it five cup salad; it is good too for summer cookouts or casual events. But real Christmas ambrosia is a special, once a year treat. Great memories!

    1. I really enjoy the “other” ambrosia, too, Hollie. But for me, this recipe is real ambrosia :-)

  15. Was looking for an ambrosia recipe and discovered your site. Your ambrosia is much like the Christmas tradition I remember, but I think my mother added crushed pineapple and a cherry on top. I looked at the rest of your site – It’s as if you channeled my mother’s recipe cards! Baked rice pudding, green jello salad, Russian tea, oh my! Can’t wait to try more of your recipes!

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      Thanks! Hope you enjoy trying my recipes.

  16. I enjoyed reading this and the comments. It was the one I also grew up with. No cherries, no marshmallows. We added a splash of orange juice. And chopped pecans when we ate a bowl. I have never had the fruit salad some poor unfortunate people call ambrosia :). I will try it some day without the cherries and marshmallows and I suspect I will like it, but it will never be ambrosia. So glad to find others who know that! I’d like to mention that a bowl goes well with party mix (our version of chex mix). My mom and I killed our dinner appetites many times with party mix and ambrosia.

  17. My mother made this ambrosia every Christmas. Sometimes she would add pecans. I’ve never eaten creamy ambrosia, just doesn’t sound good to me. Thanks for bringing back good Christmas memories.

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      I have eaten them both, but this one is my preference by far! The creamy one I call “fruit salad.”

    2. 5 stars
      This sounds about as Close to my Mommas Ambrosia as I’ve found… the only difference being that my Momma ALWAYS Adds chopped pecans… I Totally Agree that All those Other recipes are NOT Ambrosia but Really Fruit Salad instead!!! True, Honest to Goodness AMBROSIA is Simple and allows the Oranges to be The STAR of the dish!!! There isn’t ANY Cream of Any Kind in it, be it whipped or sour and Definitely NO Marshmallows…if you’d like you can also put in a FEW Maraschino Cheries but other than that Please leave IT ALONE LoL

  18. Now this is the Ambrosia my grandma made 60 years ago. No marshmallows! She did add a little of her homemade wine and a dab of whipped cream on top, if you wanted it. Thank you for this recipe

  19. After my grandmother passed away, I wanted to carry on the Easter tradition of ambrosia but was shocked when every recipe I found was a sticky fruit salad with tons of ingredients. Thank you SO much for posting this incredible pared down version. Happy Easter!

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      You’re welcome, Amanda. Happy Easter to you too!

  20. Penny Smith says:

    This is the first recipe that I have seen that uses ONLY these 3 ingredients. Same way my mother used to make it. Only difference : we like ours with a good amount of sweetner. One of my favorites, for the holidays. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      It’s a favorite of mine, too, Penny! Of course, the amount of sweetener depends on your tastes and how sweet your oranges are.

  21. Wendy Dement says:

    Thank you so much, my grandmother used to make this at Christmas and she always served it with her refrigerator coconut cake. She passed several years ago and I had been looking for the recipe but could only find the salad type recipes. This brought a huge smile to my face thinking of all the special Christmas Dinners at my sweet grandmothers. This will be on my table this holiday season. thanks for the Memories!

  22. Hi, I was so happy to find this recipe! My grandmother always made this for the holidays, but she didn’t have the recipe written down. She died last year and I want to make ambrosia just like she used to make. What kind of coconut do you use? I assume not sweetened? Thanks for your help and the recipe! Have a blessed day. :)

  23. This IS ambrosia. Anything else is fruit salad. And, why cover up something so fresh and crisp? Save the “dressing” for something that needs help. Not this.

    Miss P

  24. Wendy @ La Phemme Phoodie says:

    I find myself craving bright/colorful food to snap me out of the winter blues. I bet the smell of fresh citrus would be so wonderful. I love how simple the recipe is.

    1. Wendy – this ambrosia is bright both in color and flavor. Just the thing for the winter doldrums!

  25. Another comment: remember the man from central Florida who brought fern for the Flower shop along with those wonderful navel oranges? Don’t think I have had any that good since. I used to cut them up and add marshmallows , coconut and sour cream for a salad that we all loved.

    1. I had forgotten about him! But, yes, I do remember. He brought the best, sweetest oranges I think I’ve ever had. And I do like that salad with the marshmallows and sour cream, too :-)

  26. Wish I had some right now. Just bought some oranges, but hate to peel
    and section them. Oh well, nothing is easy, I’ll just get busy.

  27. Hello Lana,
    This is Glinda in Alabama and this is the same way we always make our ambrosia for Christmas. Every year my aunt and uncle from south Florida would come for Christmas and bring bags of oranges from the groves. We always had ambrosia when they came. It was was a tradition in my grandmother’s home, mother’s,, and mine for the last 42 years. Nothing but love making it is required more than oranges, sugar, and fresh coconut! I use frozen coconut now, because I’ve gotten lazy, but you’ve got the correct recipe girl! I love it!

    1. Hi Glinda, I’m so glad to know that someone else enjoys this old ambrosia recipe! It’s so fresh and bright during a season when there is so much heavy food. We really love it.

      1. Lana, my Great Aunt Grace used to make this!!! I have been searching the internet for this simple recipe to make sure that I had remembered it correctly! Thank you so much for posting it. I was going a bit bonkers thinking that I didn’t remember sour cream or marshmallows or any of the others items on the recipe lists… The only thing she added – to my delight – was chopped pecans. I will make this tomorrow and think of her. Thank you, again, Lana.

  28. Hi Lana,
    The ambrosia recipe brought a smile…Wanted to say “amen.” I’ve eaten so many versions with the added ingredients that you mentioned, but nothing compares to the one we have always eaten.

    1. This is the ambrosia that’s always on our table for the holidays. We enjoy the other fruit salads, too, but for us this recipe is what ambrosia is meant to be.