Make or Buy? Salad Dressing

It's easy enough to whisk together oil and vinegar to make a vinaigrette at home, no question. But what if we want a dressing that's a little more complex in the flavor department? Maybe something creamy? Does it still make sense to make it then?

To start the conversation, let's take a look at ranch dressing: Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dressing vs. our homemade recipe. All costs were taken from Peapod Online Grocery unless otherwise noted.

Creamy, Herby Ranch Dressing
Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dressing from Peapod Online Grocery

COST BREAKDOWN

Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dressing
TOTAL: $4.25
PER 2-TABLESPOON SERVING: $0.27

Creamy, Herby Ranch Dressing
Makes two cups

3 scallions: $0.35
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves: $2.99 (assuming you'd use the whole 2.5-oz package)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice: $0.25
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard: $0.16
1 tablespoon nice olive oil: $0.18
1 small garlic clove: $0.05
1 scant teaspoon salt: $0.01
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper: $0.01
1 cup good mayonnaise: $1.28
1 cup plain yogurt: $1.00

TOTAL: $6.28
PER 2-TABLESPOON SERVING: $0.39

That cost difference is surprising to me. Of course, if you have your own basil plant or can buy it more cheaply than the plastic containers at the grocery store, that alone cuts the homemade cost nearly in half!

CONVENIENCE

Whether you whisk this one together in a bowl or whiz it through the food processor, this homemade salad dressing can't take more than a few minutes to throw together. The key here is making sure you have all the ingredients on hand when you need them.

The finished dressing keeps for at least two weeks in the fridge. (I'm going by the shelf-life of the main ingredients here; in this case yogurt would be the first to go and it generally lasts around two weeks or a bit longer.) This probably wouldn't be cost-effective if you only have ranch on occasion, but sounds like it would work fine if you like it in your daily salad or plan on using it as a party dip.

TASTINESS AND HEALTHFULNESS

There's no question that making your own salad dressings, ranch or any other, is generally healthier than buying it at the store. Even the better brands like Newman's Own and Brianna's use stabilizers and other ingredients to keep the dressing from separating, to thicken it, and to extend its shelf-life.

Homemade wins for me in the taste-test, too. Compare the fresh ingredients going into a homemade dressing against the ones that have been in a bottle for who knows how long, and is there really a contest?

MAKE OR BUY?

This one is a solid "make" for me. This is one of those foods where it just doesn't make sense to me to buy it at the store. The tastiness and healthiness of making dressing seem well worth the few minutes it takes to make them. And for every interesting new flavor that tempts me from the shelf, there are equally interesting recipes all over the internet.

I'm curious about the cost of homemade verses store-bought. It would change depending on the dressing you were making, of course, so it might be worth it to keep track of your expenses for a few weeks to see how they come out.

VERDICT: Make

Do you make your own dressing? Is there a store brand that you particularly love?

Related: Make or Buy: Sandwich Bread

(Images: Peapod and Dana Velden)