The truth about ranch dressing

I hope you're ready. This expose about one of America's favorite creamy dressings promises to be just as scandalous as the title implies. As a kid growing up in the '90s, I can attest to this ubiquitous flavor's strong hold over my own teenage life. No break or lunch period was complete without the thrilling sound of popping open a bag of ranch-flavored Doritos. I loved all of it. I was obsessed with its irresistible tangy, salty flavor and the inevitable tell-tale evidence of its consumption: pants covered by powdery seasoning flecked with blue and green. And ranch makes for good salad dressing, too. But whether you love it or hate it, we should all know the facts.

Ranch is everywhere!

Ranch dressing is made with a buttermilk base emulsified with oil, herbs, garlic, and salt. These days, this flavor can be found in every corner. Having gone way past dressing up bland salads, this creamy potion has many, many uses. From dipping celery sticks at the office work party to dunking leftover pizza crust, ranch is the ultimate flavor booster. Its alluring flavor is a stealth parental weapon for getting children to eat their veggies. It's everywhere!

In 2014, the NPD Group concluded that ranch dressing is the number one flavor shipped to eating and drinking businesses, including schools and other institutions. According to the report, ranch has double the sales of any other dressing, leaving vinaigrettes and blue cheese in the dust.

The Hidden Valley story

So what's the deal with ranch? Well, no discussion of the topic would be complete without the mention of Hidden Valley ranch dressing. This dressing maker is located just outside of Santa Barbara, California, where founder Steve Henson initially turned 120 acres of land into a dreamy getaway. There, guests could participate in outdoor activities and enjoy warming meals for dinner. According to the company, what kept them coming back was the herbaceous homemade buttermilk dressing. Soon the demand for this salad topper led to the booming Hidden Valley ranch dressing empire. Today it remains one of the most popular store-bought dressings.

As much as it is beloved, the commercial ingredients that are now in what Hidden Valley calls its "original" ranch might raise the eyebrows of those seeking more all-natural food products. In addition to the original ones from the homey 1954 recipe — vegetable oil, buttermilk, and herbs — there's also phosphoric acid, zantham gum, and MSG. Yikes!

Natural store-bought alternatives

If you're perpetually short on time but prefer a more natural alternative, there are other dressing companies out there that cater to people like you. Most notably, Newman's Own and Annie's Naturals have made quite a name for themselves in the market. Both of these brands offer ranch dressings made without MSG.

And if you want to go homemade?

If you can't get enough of the cool, creamy, rich, and tangy flavor of ranch dressing but would rather skip the preservatives and MSG, you're in luck. It's a cinch to recreate the famous flavors you love so much. While the preservatives in commercial dressings help them to stabilize and increase their shelf life, you can go au naturale when you make it at home and enjoy it immediately or in the next few days.

As a ranch head myself, I can confidently recommend Ree Drummond's classic recipe. It satisfies every craving for rich and creamy, while the fresh herbs lend an infusion of brightness you'll never get from a bottle. Made with mayo, sour cream, and buttermilk, this winning salad topper gets its leg up on store-bought with the addition of fragrant Italian parsley and chives. Bold spices like paprika, cayenne, and dried oregano bring it all together, giving you those flecks you have come to love in ranch.

For a lighter alternative to traditional ranch dressing, you'll want to check out this recipe from Wellness Mama. This streamlined version uses Greek yogurt in place of buttermilk, mayo, or sour cream. The addition of dill brings a slightly sweet flavor, while Parmesan cheese lends a surprising salty kick akin to Caesar dressing. I love the versatility of this recipe since you can substitute your own favorite herbs if you like. It also includes suggestions for variations, including one that uses avocado if you're going vegan.

Uses for ranch dressing

Whether you opt for natural store-bought ranch dressing or make it yourself, you'll be happy to find that there is no shortage of delicious ways to infuse this flavor into breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

This breakfast sandwich recipe from Will Cook for Smiles has me smiling my way to a full belly every time. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I unabashedly adore breakfast sandwiches. I'm all for portable ways of eating eggs. If you're short on time in the morning but want to get your ranch fix in early, this dish is for you. Classic English muffins are topped with runny eggs, creamy ranch, bacon, and avocado. I don't know why I never thought of it, but thank goodness someone had the genius to pair ranch dressing with eggs.

This lunchtime winner from Recipe Lion brims with fresh, yummy flavor. Leafy mixed greens are paired with barbecue-basted grilled chicken, bell pepper, corn, black beans, and cumin-spiced ranch dressing. The result is a bold dish full of bright veggies, hearty proteins, and cool, creamy zest. The lovely contrasting textures make every bite a delight. You'll want to add this to your rotation since I'm sure it'll become a household favorite.

If you're a fan of creamy pasta dishes like fettuccine Alfredo, you can certainly get excited about this simple recipe from The Crockin' Girls. To start, you should know it's easy to make and requires few ingredients. Perfect for a busy weeknight, this dish of egg noodles is topped with chicken seasoned by a mix of ranch dressing mix, chicken soup, sour cream, bacon, and garlic. Since this meal is prepared in your reliable slow cooker, you can get it cooking and have a few hours to relax — no slaving away in the kitchen.

So that's the lowdown on ranch dressing from a self-proclaimed ranch queen — the good, the bad, the ugly … and the delectable. Yeah, sure, skip the processed junk, but never say goodbye to America's sweetheart of dressings. Ranch forever!