The Pantry Ingredient That Makes Homemade Ranch Taste Like Your Favorite Bottled Dressing

updated Mar 12, 2021
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Sometimes, as a food editor and all-around food-lover, I feel a little pressure to always be advocating for homemade salad dressings. Many of them taste better than their store-bought counterparts, are cheaper, and more adaptable (you can tailor them based on your your tastes and/or food allergies). For years, I struggled with homemade ranch dressing, though. No homemade version compared to my beloved Hidden Valley Ranch. Buttermilk ranches were too tart. Mayo-based ranches tasted too oily. It wasn’t until I studied the ingredients list on a packet of ranch seasoning mix that I discovered the missing flavor: sweetness.

Yes, a high sugar content is often used to vilify bottled dressings, but just a pinch of sugar goes a long way toward making your homemade salad dressings taste more like your bottled favorites. Here’s what I learned when I added a bit of sugar to my homemade ranch dressing, and how it turned me back into a DIY salad dressing advocate.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

A Little Sugar Helps Homemade Dressing Taste More Like Your Grocery Store Favorites

After trying and rejecting lots of homemade ranch recipes, I spent a few years making ranch dip with packets of dressing mix, mayo, and Greek yogurt with a bit of success, but the yogurt mixture was always just a little off. Then Kitchn contributor Patty Catalano introduced me to her ranch seasoning mix — and her secret ingredient for better homemade ranch. Turns out that all I was missing was sugar.

There’s no sugar in Patty’s dried seasoning mix, but she calls for adding a little sugar when you mix up a batch of dressing. And that makes perfect sense: Sugar helps temper the tart buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream and also cuts the fat in these ingredients, as well as in the mayo. It doesn’t take much to balance the flavors. Here’s how to do it: For every cup of buttermilk (or other creamy, tart ingredient), add 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar. Cup for cup, you’ll end up eating a lot less sugar than you would in bottled dressing, but what you gain in flavor will make you a homemade ranch convert, too.

Try it out for yourself: Ranch Mix and Dressing