Ranch is America's most popular salad dressing. So popular, in fact, that we slather it on things that aren't salad, too — pizza, chicken strips, potato skins. Sure, ranch dressing may have gotten its start as a way to make iceberg interesting, but six decades after its debut at a Santa Barbara dude ranch called Hidden Valley, the dressing's versatility and popularity have earned it top condiment status alongside ketchup and mustard.
As ranch's popularity has risen, so too has the number of brands throwing their versions in the ring. There's the OG brand Hidden Valley Ranch, with its many variations, plus at least one from just about every bottled salad dressing producer. With so many to choose from, it was clearly high time to determine which one is best.
How I Tested the Ranch Dressing
I gathered all the bottled ranch dressings I could find for a blind taste test. To make sure the playing field was even, I limited the selection to shelf-stable options, rather than refrigerated ones, and didn't include any flavor variations like Sriracha, chipotle, or bacon and cheddar (even though they sounded really good).
I also invited an 11-year-old ranch-dressing connoisseur to help me taste. She's one of my daughter's friends, and is known among her school lunch table for her unabashed love of ranch. As a result, this girl's palate is so fine-tuned to the dressing's nuances she was able to determine which one was the brand she eats at home. (Remember, this was a blind tasting.)
Tellingly, she also found a new favorite, which happened to be my favorite too. We tasted them both on their own and with baby carrots. Here's how they stacked up.
The Ranch Dressing Taste Test
Kraft Classic Ranch, $4.50 for 16 ounces
This was the seventh one we tried, and as soon as we did we knew it was a winner. It's rich and creamy with a bright tang and the most classic ranch flavor. In fact, it tastes extremely similar to Cool Ranch Doritos, which, in my world, is a good thing.
365 Everyday Value Organic Ranch Dressing, $4 for 16 ounces at 365 by Whole Foods
The last one we tasted turned out to be one of the best in the bunch. The Whole Foods store brand is thick and creamy as expected, but also bright and tart, with a pronounced dill flavor.
Ken's Steakhouse Ranch Dressing, $4.50 for 16 ounces
By pure chance, this one was situated next to the Hidden Valley Ranch in our tasting, and it tasted incredibly similar — very thick and creamy with an interesting cheesy note. But Ken's scored higher for being richer and having a more discernible onion and herb flavor.
Hidden Valley Ranch Classic, $5.50 for 16 ounces
Considering this is the ranch dressing I've probably eaten the most of in my lifetime, I was surprised it didn't take the top spot. It's also the one my fellow taster quickly determined as the one she eats at home. But both of us ended up scoring it a bit lower because it's on the bland side in comparison to the rest. It has a slightly cheesy flavor note, which is nice, but the herbs are barely detectable.
Brianna's Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, $3.50 for 12 ounces at Target
This is really very tart, yet super rich and creamy, with very pronounced onion flavor. It's tasty but skews a bit too "French onion dip" to score higher.
Newman's Own, $4 for 16 ounces
This is almost overwhelmingly tart, so much so that it's hard to taste any herbs at all. It also has a slightly odd aftertaste.
Hidden Valley Ranch Simply Ranch, $3.50 for 12 ounces at Target
There's a distinct eggy, mayonnaise-like flavor to this one, without much herb flavor to help it out. It really just reminds us too much of mayo.
Organic Ranch Dressing, $3 for 16 ounces at Trader Joe's
As much as I want to taste some herbs in my ranch dressing, this is almost too much. The flavor is very heavy with savory cooked herbs, almost like you'd expect in gravy, and the consistency is very thin. After we were done scoring I looked on the label and saw that it's made with oregano, which I'm not sure is the best choice for ranch.
Annie's Cowgirl Ranch, $3 for eight ounces at Walmart
I'm a fan of a lot of Annie's products, but wasn't a fan of this. It's much more yellow-brown than the rest, which isn't as eye-appealing as you'd want it to be. Also, the consistency is thin and a bit gritty and the flavor is really savory, almost like chicken broth. I expect ranch to taste creamy and bright, like a thickened blend of buttermilk and grassy herbs, and this is just too far from my expectations.
Wishbone Ranch, $2.50 for 16 ounces at Target
This one is far whiter than any other brand we tried. It looks like a puddle of Elmer's glue or Wite-Out with flecks of pepper in it. Turns out the flavor and consistency are just as artificial as it looks. The mouthfeel is exceptionally thick and silky in a very unnatural (and rather unnerving) way. Add in the bland flavor and this is just one big nope.
Do you have a favorite ranch dressing brand? Put it in the comments below!