The Best Bottled Ranch Dressings: A Taste Test of 11 Popular Brands

Now that ranch dressing has achieved cult status, it has a nickname befitting a diva. Like Cher or Adele, ranch dressing is now just ranch. So says Deborah Crandall, marketing director at Hidden Valley Ranch, the standard-bearer and inventor of the genre (the company was literally founded by the guy who invented ranch dressing).

Whatever you call it, ranch dominates its field — of households that had used dressings in the past six months, more than half said it was ranch, according to consumer research firm MRI-Simmons. But of the dozens of bottles that line grocery store shelves, which one deserves a coveted spot in your basket? Like real ranchers at the grocery store, we compiled the best-selling brands of dressings according to MRI-Simmons, a list that included two bottled flavors from Hidden Valley Ranch and several unspecified private label options (we picked several from popular grocery chains). And while there’s a seemingly endless number of ranch-themed variations (there are versions with every imaginable spice, from Buffalo flavored to all spices), we’ve stuck to the classic.

As with previous taste tests in the pandemic era, the logistics were a challenge. Since we hadn’t yet returned to Washington Post headquarters — the home of our beloved Voraciously food lab — we arranged for a completely remote, blind taste test, with Voraciously editor Matt Brooks portioning samples of the 11 dressings and delivering tasting kits to colleagues an epic journey through the District, Maryland and Virginia. Each of the eight judges (six ranch fans, including a colleague’s 7-year-old son, and two ranch-agnostics) gave each sample a score from 1 to 10, taking into account flavor, spiciness, and texture.

But the effort was worth it. Our intrepid judges have found that there’s plenty of bland, mayo-like gloop on those grocery shelves along with a few flavorful finds, and if we can save readers from the horrors of a substandard ranch, well, we’re up to the task.

Whatever you choose to dunk in it, there is no right or wrong.

Let’s get to the rankings. The maximum possible score was 80 points; Prices listed are for standard size bottles of each brand that ranged from 8 to 16 fluid ounces.

Unfortunately, the dressing we most hoped our panel would enjoy (huge “Butch Cassidy” fans here; plus the company does great things for charity!) was the biggest loser of the bunch. Several tasters noted that it moved beyond spicy into overly vinegary territory. One thought it was “artificial,” and another just wanted to continue: “I’m just speechless, next one please.” ($4.30/16 fl oz at Giant)

A “thin, fluffy” texture has been a snub to some for this dairy-free entry with organic ingredients. Bland, muddy flavors had a few tasters wondering if they would have even identified it as a ranch had they not been briefed on the general category of dressings they were sampling. And one taster correctly dubbed this guy the One Without Dairy, picking up on the presence of coconut cream, the alternate ingredient used to give it that signature mouthfeel: “Tough to shake off that tanning-lotion tell.” ($4.99/8 fl oz at Whole Foods)

There was a lot of consensus about it – but unfortunately that wasn’t a good thing. A majority of tasters called it — the ranch giant’s version that professes to be made without artificial ingredients — an overly mayo-centric blend, while another compared it to Miracle Whip, which is right next to mayo. However, one outlier praised its subtlety, calling it “an overall star.” ($3.46/12 fl oz at Walmart)

If the Hidden Valley was simply mayo masquerading as a ranch, our tasters noted that the version from Whole Foods’ in-house line was another pretender: “Sir, that’s a vinaigrette,” one snapped. “Italian Dressing Cosplaying as Ranch,” wrote another. The texture seemed to call the shots – too oily, not creamy enough. Still, it strived for mid-range status here, with one taster finding it “safe.” ($3.79/16 fl oz at Whole Foods)

The grocery chain’s packaged products are often iconic, but such a crown is not waiting for this product. Tasters noted many off-flavors (too heavy on black pepper, including an oddly prominent note of thyme and a “pickled” vibe), and some found it unappetizingly sweet. “Ranch dressing shouldn’t be so sweet!” said one. “What is that, a raspberry vinaigrette?” ($2.79/16 fl oz at Trader Joe’s)

Appealing patches of green herbs wowed our panel, with a taster awarding it the title of the ‘most visually appealing’ of the bunch. But just like a disappointing middle school crush, his good looks couldn’t overcome a boring personality — yes, it was another dressing that had our judges wondering where the ranch in this ranch went. “It’s only dairy,” said one. “Underseasoned,” complained another. But one man’s milquetoast is another’s casual, and one taster explained that he could “dip and dip” into this “light” mix. ($3.99/12 fl oz at Giant)

A thicker body appealed to several tasters, including one who noted it might work better as a dip than a salad dressing. Most tasters found this acceptable, although not overly enthusiastic. “A solid ranch,” declared one. Some found it a little bland – “a bit off-flavored,” as one put it. ($2.89/16 fl oz at Giant)

If you invited this ranch to a party, she’d probably be the wallflower of the crowd — but at least she probably won’t offend anyone, according to our panel. “Not life changing, but solid,” said one taster. “That’s what you settle for when your favorite brand is sold out,” said another. And a few spotted glimmers of the benchmarks of a good ranch: one taster appreciated a strong onion note, while another found “a nice smell in the foreground reminiscent of buttermilk.” ($2.69/15 fl oz at Giant)

The ubiquitous classic performed well with most of our tasters, and it might have received top honors had it not been dragged down by a few low scores. One considered it a “familiar ranch,” which it probably was — to many it’s the ranch of our youth. Another called it a “wonderful, classic ranch — creamy, balanced, which is why I’ll aggressively defend the dressing to any naysayer.” And one taster praised “lots of herbs and a definite dash of garlic.” But a few critics pulled its score down, with one insisting, “I’d rather go without than have this one. And that’s telling, because I’ve tried it myself and preferred the taste of a plain spoon.” ($4.50/16 fl oz at Giant)

We seemed to be heading near Flavortown with this bottle. Our tasters liked the “bolder” hits of herbs and garlic, although one taster found the latter a little underwhelming. “Garlic tastes great, but I want to taste the food I eat with it,” they wrote. The dressing also seemed to evoke some nostalgia: “It’s PTA mother approved, which is an important endorsement for ranch dressing,” one wrote. “This tastes like the ranch dressing that comes in the vegetable platters you buy at grocery stores,” mused another. ($2.99/16 fl oz at Giant)

This was the ranch that many on the podium had been waiting for. “Classic ranch,” said one. “This is the epitome of what comes to mind when I think of ranch,” gushed another. A thick texture, flavor that doesn’t drift off acid, and a good flavor profile (with discernible chives, according to one judge) were its selling points, though one taster found the flavor artificial – “There’s something about the seasoning that tastes like a bag.” Other brands of sour cream and onion potato chips.” But it was our 7-year-old ranch fanatic who sealed this dressing with his boffo rave at the top of our list: “10!!!!!! BEST!!! BEST and FAVORITE.” ($4.49/13 fl oz at Giant)

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