The Real Reason Ranch Dressing Tastes Better In Restaurants

It's fair to say that ranch dressing has transcended its original purpose. We incorporate it (or its flavor) in everything from salads to macaroni and cheese. We dip our vegetables and chicken wings into it and even drizzle it on our pizza. The New York Times points out that ranch is the official American dressing.

But are some varieties of ranch superior to others? Most definitely. Many people are dismayed by the observation that it tastes better when you eat out than in the confines of your kitchen (via Just Restaurant Supplies). We counted nearly 12 Subreddits dedicated to this frustrating and confounding phenomenon. Some fans have suggested that the fancier grocery store brands are closer to restaurant ranch. Others say that bottled buttermilk ranch is most similar to the dressing served in your favorite eatery. But the real solution seems to be making it from semi-scratch.

This is the position of a recent piece in Mel Magazine, which like many Redditors, says your favorite restaurant ranch is probably made from powdered Hidden Valley Ranch mix, as opposed to the ready-to-serve kind, or making one from scratch. And there is no shame in the game. Both in the Mel article and on Reddit, restaurant kitchen staffers reveal that they mix up packets of Hidden Valley Ranch behind the scenes. You can do this in your kitchen too.

The difference is dairy

The key difference between a bottle of ranch in your refrigerator and the one mixed from a packet that is usually served in restaurants is that the dressing made from a mix usually contains real dairy ingredients. The store-bought varieties don't. The dry ingredients in ranch dressing are pretty much the same across the board: salt, herbs, and powdered buttermilk (via Mel Magazine). When you make the famous dressing from a packet, you add fresh dairy products, including mayonnaise, milk, and/or sometimes buttermilk or sour cream.

Bottled ranch, however, substitutes oil for all, or much, of the dairy to make the dressing shelf-stable. This base makes a crucial difference. As The New York Times pointed out, one of the elements that make us crave ranch is its creaminess. The other element is the herbs, including thyme, parsley, dill, and allium flavors — meaning onions and garlic. Remove the creaminess, and you're left with a less-than-satisfying experience.

Are you frustrated because you haven't been able to replicate the restaurant ranch at home? Next time you're in the salad dressing aisle, bypass the bottles, grab a packet of the classic packet mix, and follow the directions on the Hidden Valley website for restaurant-style ranch (which includes adding buttermilk, mayo, sour cream, as well as paprika, and fresh chives and garlic). By the way, Hidden Valley also makes a dry restaurant-style mix, which might not be in your local grocery store, but is available on Amazon.