The Real Reason Ranch Dressing Tastes Better In Restaurants

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It's fair to say ranch dressing has transcended its original purpose. Fans 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 ranch seems to taste better when you eat out than it does in the confines of your kitchen (per 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 Mel op-ed, 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 have revealed that they mix up packets of Hidden Valley Ranch behind the scenes. And you can do this in your kitchen, too.

The difference is dairy

The key difference between bottled ranch and ranch that's been mixed from a packet — which is what's usually served in restaurants — is that ranch 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, per Mel. 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.

Ranch fans are overjoyed with the recipe

Many ranch aficionados are already onto the secret of how to replicate restaurants' versions of the delicious dressing at home, thanks to the aforementioned overwhelming number of Subreddits on the topic, as well as a Quora forum. One former restaurant employee says she makes the dressing in her kitchen at home. "I make it from the Hidden Valley dry packet. A lot. After an hour in the fridge, it's better than any RESTAURANT. The little Mom & Pop Cafe I worked at for 5 years made it in house, same recipe. I put Ranch on EVERYTHING. I don't know how not to!" 

Other ranch lovers are beyond thankful for the tip that allows them to infinitely elevate their ranch games. "My whole life I've been trying to imitate the powder ranch from restaurants and it never occurred to me to buy the powder," wrote one Redditor. Hidden Valley also offers recipes on its website that can be made with the ranch mix, such as Mississippi Roasted Cauliflower Bites. And get ready for this one — the company also makes ranch seasoning mix in various flavors. Try the Buffalo ranch seasoning when making a plate of wings for a football game, or perhaps the zesty potato seasoning for a Sunday night dinner.

Gather the supplies for homemade ranch

Are you frustrated because you haven't been able to replicate 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. Don't see the ranch powder at your local grocery store? It's also available on Amazon.

And, if you're a super ranch fan, it might be worth looking into some ranch-making memorabilia, as a Quora forum points out that Hidden Valley once made plastic shakers for making ranch dressing, with the recipe printed on the side of the bottle. The bottles were originally produced as promotional material, and it appears Hidden Valley doesn't make them anymore — but you can buy vintage ones on eBay.