The Best Store-Bought Ranch, Tested by Food Network Kitchen
We tasted 20 varieties to save you some time at the grocery store.
Tested by Vince Camillo for Food Network Kitchen
If we were to ask you what the most popular salad dressing in America is, we’re 99.9% sure your answer would be ranch. The zesty condiment has skyrocketed in popularity and has gained a reputation for its delicious versatility in the kitchen. While you can use it to dress up salads and as a topping for a slice of pizza, ranch dressing can also be used in more creative ways. Not only does it make a yummy marinade for chicken wings, but it also works really well as a crunchy coating for corn on the cob! You can even use it as an ingredient to boost the flavor of a number of baked and fried dishes, like these irresistible Mac and Cheese Balls from Food Network Kitchen. In short, ranch dressing is always a pantry (or refrigerator) must-have, but with so many versions out there, it could be difficult to choose which one is right for you and your tastebuds. For our latest taste test, we sampled 20 bottles of pre-made ranch and creamy ranch dressings, plus a few vegan and dairy-free options. Here are our findings!
A Note on Ranch
Historically, ranch dressing is made from a simple mixture of buttermilk, herbs and spices. This blend is then added into an emulsion, like mayonnaise, to give it the signature creamy consistency we all know and love. Nowadays, though, ranch dressing recipes have expanded to feature unique ingredients, like avocado, chipotle peppers, cannellini beans and coconut cream.
What really stood out to us while purchasing the dressings for this taste test is that they could be divided into two distinct categories: some are shelf-stable, while others were sold in the refrigerated section. It should be noted that these refrigerated varieties have shorter shelf lives, are made with more whole ingredients and contain fewer preservatives. They also tend to have a shorter ingredients list.
For this taste test specifically, we looked for ranch with a clean and creamy texture. Anything too greasy was not included on this list. We also paid very close attention to the balance between the flavorings (i.e.: pepper and herbs like dill, chives, etc.) and the acidic punch and tang of the buttermilk.
Diehard ranch lovers already know what really good ranch should taste like. We’re happy to report that this original variety from Hidden Valley has that flavor. Unlike all of the other major national brands we tested, Hidden Valley’s ranch offering was the most balanced of them all, with a strong backbone of herb and onion flavors. It also has a decent tang from the buttermilk. Though there was a slight sour aftertaste, this dressing had a creamy, dreamy consistency — it wasn’t too runny or too thick, making it suitable for all culinary applications.
We loved the onion-forward flavor of this glossy dressing from Drew’s Organics. It has just the right amount of tartness, and the right consistency to compliment your salad greens and any other mix-in that you might want to add, from bacon bits and croutons to tomatoes and cucumbers. If your go-to lunch usually consists of a big Tupperware full of lettuce leaves, you’ll want to stash this bottle in your office fridge.
This super-thick, refrigerated dressing from Toby’s Family Foods tastes just like fresh herbs have just been chopped and stirred into newly skimmed buttermilk. Almost pudding-like in texture, this dressing would be a showstopper if you served it with a crudité platter or buffalo wings. Though it’s a little too thick to mix with tender salad greens, for snacking purposes it’s a must-buy!
We tried a lot of refrigerated ranch options for this taste test, but this one from Marie’s made the most lasting impression. The dressing is pretty flavorful, with strong and clearly distinguishable notes of buttermilk. There’s also a stronger emphasis on the onion and garlic featured in its ingredients list, which makes it perfect for people who love the bolder characteristics of ranch dressing.
For those seeking a non-dairy alternative, this ranch dressing from Follow Your Heart doesn’t disappoint. Made from vegenaise (or egg-free mayo), this reimagined dressing is super creamy, thick in texture and contains plenty of herby notes, especially dill. It’s also the whitest in color of all the offerings we tasted, which makes it rather visually striking. Since it’s refrigerated, this ranch is best used for cold dishes, like salads and dips. A quick note: you’ll need to give this dressing a good shake or two to coax it out of the bottle!
How We Tested
For this taste test, 20 bottles of ranch dressing were sampled. The dressings were tasted plain over the course of a few days. We also used the ranch as a coating and dip for different foods, including carrot sticks, French fries, romaine lettuce and chicken wings. Some of the brands also got a second or third tasting on other days, to verify initial perceptions and compensate for any palate fatigue during the initial tastings.
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