Who makes the best ranch dressing?

Grace Wong
Chicago Tribune
Ranch dressing.

We don’t just use creamy white ranch dressing for our vegetables. Oh, no. We use it as a dip for our pizza, wings, chips, cheese curds and egg rolls; as a marinade for meats to throw on the grill; and as a topping for nachos, burgers, wraps, sandwiches and potato skins. The dressing has become the mark of a true Midwesterner, an indicator that residents wear as a badge of honor.

And why shouldn’t we? Typically made with a combination of buttermilk, salt, garlic and fragrant herbs and spices, it’s rich and versatile with a lovely tang that excites the palate.

According to the Santa Barbara Independent, the condiment was created by Steve Henson, who worked as a plumbing contractor in Alaska in 1949 and fed it to his crew. After Henson retired, he and his wife, Gayle, settled at Hidden Valley Ranch near Santa Barbara, California, in 1956. With outdoor activities and home-cooked meals, the ranch catered to tourists who quickly spread the word about the dressing served with their salads. By the early 1970s, the sauce was nationally coveted.

Ranch is king, according to the Association for Dressings and Sauces, beating out Italian, blue cheese, Thousand Island, Caesar, balsamic vinaigrette and French. It’s been that way since 1992, according to Slate. It can be found on nearly half of all restaurant menus nationwide and 60% of menus in the Midwest, said Mike Kostyo, a trendologist with Datassential, which conducts food industry market research. These days, you can find myriad versions of it, from wasabi to chipotle to barbecue, and 70% of consumers say they either love or like ranch.

We at Chicago Tribune Food & Dining are Team Ranch. But with a huge variety of brands, which one is best for your dipping and spreading? There’s only one way to find out — a blind tasting.

We tried 14 brands of bottled, shelf-stable plain ranch dressings, avoiding ones found in the refrigerated section. After including the major labels, we also added store brands. We also tried gluten-free and dairy-free dressing to be inclusive of people who cannot have dairy or are on a restricted diet but still wish to partake.

This is our latest iteration of taste tests of common supermarket products. If you’re interested in seeing more — such as which brands of tortilla chips, grapefruit sparkling water or vanilla ice cream are the best — check them out here.

This was a blind tasting, which means tasters didn’t know which brand of ranch they were trying. Each dressing was placed in a bowl and served with carrot sticks for dipping. Tasters were asked to comment on the appearance, aroma and flavor of the ranch and how they felt it would pair with foods such as the carrot sticks or pizza. Participants were also asked to comment on aftertaste and consistency.

The ranch dressings were purchased at Jewel-Osco, Trader Joe’s, Target, Whole Foods and Aldi. Prices listed are what they are priced normally, without any promotions or discounts.

Tasters for ranch had strong opinions, with some of the brands receiving the lowest scores ever seen by this series. The winner won by a landslide and the loser, well, reviewers were not shy about their thoughts. There were no ties.

See the results below, listed from worst to best. And let us know what product we should try next.

14. Walden Farms Calorie Free Ranch Dressing

“This tastes like straight up chemicals mixed with dirty water,” one taster wrote about Walden Farms, the last-place finisher. The consistency was watery and thin, and the dressing smelled like paint or a public pool. Many complained of a dirty water or chemical flavor, but one optimistically said that it could be the kind of ranch used for bagged iceberg lettuce or a cheap banquet salad. “This would make anyone hate ranch, even ranch lovers,” one wrote. $3.99, 12 ounces

Annie's ranch dressing.

13. Annie’s Naturals Cowgirl Ranch Dressing

Participants were not kind to Annie’s dressing. “I literally gagged,” one wrote. Tasters hated the consistency, saying that it was too watery and looked “oddly gray, drab and sad.” It smelled like feet or sweat and tasted like bad cheese with a powdery aftertaste, they said. “This is maybe the grossest one. I couldn’t taste it again,” one wrote. $3.29, 8 ounces

12. Sir Kensington’s Avocado Oil Ranch

Made with avocado oil and eggs, Sir Kensington’s is gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and seasoned with mustard extract, black pepper, garlic and onion. It was the most expensive bottle of ranch included in this taste test. Nevertheless, tasters did not enjoy it. Describing its flavor as like lemon Pledge or poppyseed dressing, tasters complained that this ranch was too salty, cloyingly sweet and acidic. “This is super gross,” one taster wrote. $7.69, 9 ounces

11. O Organics Ranch Organic Dressing

While O Organics ranch dressing from Jewel-Osco evoked childhood memories for one taster, others complained that it tasted like spoiled dairy with an overpowering tartness. Another complained that it smelled like fish or mayo, neither of which were what they wanted in a ranch dressing, and that it was too sweet. $3.29, 12 ounces

10. Daiya Homestyle Ranch Dressing

Daiya’s ranch was dairy-, gluten-, soy- and egg-free. One taster said that despite being strangely sweet, the dressing had texture and flavor profiles one would expect from ranch dressing. Another participant wrote that though the dressing looked cheap, it tasted better than expected. But many complained that it tasted chalky and smelled like cheese. Another said it simply tasted weird, while one taster picked up mango and coconut flavors. “It tastes wrong,” one participant said. $4.99, 8.36 ounces

9. Newman’s Own Ranch Dressing

With a runny consistency and evident spices, Newman’s was super sweet and sour with a chemical note. Some said it tasted like a factory, and others complained it was too citrusy, almost like an AirHead candy. Another taster said that it tasted like cheap pickles. $4.39, 16 ounces

8. 365 Organic Ranch Dressing

Tasters praised this 365 ranch from Whole Foods for its not-too-thick, not-too-thin consistency and said it hit the tangy and sour notes that they looked for in a good ranch dressing. However, multiple people said it tasted less like ranch and more like Caesar dressing, writing that the flavor was off and totally unbalanced. One taster said it was “pretending it’s ranch,” but others said it may be good on salad, pizza or fries. $3.99, 16 ounces

7. Simply Balanced Organic Ranch Dressing

This ultra-thick, Target-brand dressing had a strong, garlicky scent and a super thick consistency. “This tastes like ranch I grew up eating,” one taster said, complimenting it for its vinegar profile and calling it the “ideal carrot dip.” But other participants had issues with it tasting too much like mayo and not enough like ranch, saying that the flavor was too mellow. $2.87, 12 ounces

6. Wish-Bone Ranch Dressing

This is the kind of ranch dressing that one taster would serve to vegetable-averse children to convince them that vegetables are good. It could also be a good complement to cheese curds, but most tasters complained that Wish-Bone was oddly sweet without any tang or herb flavors. Tasters said this was a lighter style and looked cheap on a table. $2.49, 15 ounces

Trader Joe's organic ranch dressing

5. Trader Joe’s Organic Ranch Dressing

For people who want a dressing that is on the sweeter end and without that tangy zip, this is the one for you. Although it had an egg-forward flavor and a thinner consistency than others, tasters complained that it “lacked something to tie it together.” Another went as far as to say “this is absolutely not ranch. I refuse to accept it.” A more optimistic taster said it had potential if served with fries. $2.79, 16 ounces

4. Ken’s Steak House Ranch Dressing

“Unremarkable, but gets the job done without messing it up,” one commenter said. Ken’s Steak House also received compliments for its rich flavor, consistency and appearance. Although one taster said she would dip her pizza in this ranch, another participant said it reminded him of the ranch from the salad bar in middle school. “It’s a little boring,” one said. $3.49, 16 ounces

3. Tuscan Garden Ranch Dressing

The most common praise for this Aldi-brand ranch dressing was the consistency, which is thicker than most of its competitors. Participants said Tuscan Garden would be good on fries and wings and has a creamy flavor that reminded them of buttermilk. But some complained that it was too sweet, almost like ranch candy, and had a strange aftertaste. $1.49, 16 ounces

2. Kraft Classic Ranch Dressing

Although Kraft Classic didn’t receive marks as high as the winner, tasters were pleased with its balanced flavor and called it “generic and inoffensive” with a great consistency and pleasant, egglike aroma. However, others said it tasted cheap, like a grocery store brand, and one taster complained that the consistency was too thick for a dressing. $3, 16 ounces

Hidden Valley ranch dressing

1. Hidden Valley The Original Ranch

Hidden Valley’s The Original Ranch is proof that sometimes, the original really is the best. Tasters loved this one for its creamy texture, strong tang and peppery flavor. One commenter said this would go perfectly with pizza, and another said that the more she tasted it, the more she grew to like it. Another participant accurately called it “classic,” and another said “it tastes like ranch and makes me happy.” $2.49, 16 ounces