Make it or Buy It: Homemade Vs. Bottled Ranch Dressing

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Photograph by Matt Duckor
Photograph by Matt Duckor

By Elizabeth Gunnison, Bon Appétit

Whether you like it on salad greens, chicken wings, crudités, or burgers, if you're a red-blooded American, you've guzzled your fair share of ranch. The nation's most popular dressing is everywhere, going so far as to make a run for ketchup's place on the American dinner table.

But who even knew it could be made from scratch? Store-bought bottles are ubiquitous; the flavor we all know is so consistent. It seems inherently synthetic, an industrial substance like axle grease or something. Curious about the potential, we called in our testers to determine whether homemade dressing would trump the bottled version.

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The Contenders Kraft Ranch Dressing vs. Ina Garten's Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
Ranch dressing is a mixture of mayonnaise, buttermilk, garlic, herbs, and spices invented in 1954 by Steve and Gayle Henson at their Hidden Valley Ranch in California. Originally sold as flavoring packets to be added to mayonnaise and buttermilk, the dressing first hit the market as a pre-mixed bottle form in 1983. It has been the best-selling dressing in America since 1992.

Relative Costs Store-bought is cheaper. I spent $3.99 for a two-cup bottle of the Kraft dressing, versus $7 on ingredients for an equivalent volume of the homemade.

Relative Healthfulness Homemade wins here. The two dressings are roughly equivalent in terms of fat content, but store-bought ranch is the prototypical processed food, with an ingredients list that includes modified corn starch, monosodium glutamate, sodium lactate, polysorbate 60, et cetera.

Time Commitment It took me 20 minutes to make the dressing from scratch.

Leftovers Potential Advantage store-bought. The Kraft can be stored in the refrigerator for months once opened, whereas the homemade version should be consumed within a couple of days.

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What The Testers Said
First let me introduce our panel.

THE HEALTH NUT A delicate eater, the health nut is calorie conscious but also likes to eat well

THE FOODIE Calorie agnostic, our foodie judge has a sophisticated palate and a love of cooking

THE DUDE Ambivalent toward food trends and health concerns, this guy just wants to be fed when he's hungry

THE KID Between ages of 9 and 12 years old, not jaded, typically not into strong flavors

Testers sampled both dressings blind, alone and with carrots and celery sticks. Everyone correctly distinguished the homemade from the bottled dressing.

The Health Nut: Homemade; "The store-bought is so gluey, I can practically feel it coating my arteries."

The Foodie: Homemade; "These two dressings are night and day. In the homemade you can really taste the herbs and buttermilk. It tastes fresh."

The Kid: Homemade; "I just like how it tastes more even though it's more runny."

The Dude: Homemade; "Usually I like bottled ranch dressing but when you put it next to the homemade stuff, suddenly it has this super gross aftertaste."

The Verdict Make it.

The homemade version's landslide victory surprised us, given America's insatiable appetite for bottled ranch dressings. But paired against a tangy, flavorful homemade dressing, the store-bought version came across as gloppy and one-dimensional, with an off-putting aftertaste to boot. Unfortunately the from-scratch version's short shelf life means that you're unlikely to have a jar of homemade ranch in constant supply for mid-week cravings, but it's very much worth busting some out when company's coming.

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