Why is Ranch the Most Popular Salad Dressing?

Ranch Dressing

The Wall Street Journal published an article about Ranch dressing with some interesting facts:

  • Americans consume salad dressing 38 times a year
  • Ranch is consumed 15 out of 38 times, with Italian dressing a far second, being eaten just 6 times
  • Hidden Valley, the company that invented Ranch Dressing in the 1950′s, sold $440 million worth of salad dressing last year.
  • There are over 50 different varieties of Ranch Dressing available today, including vegan options.

This would all be wonderful if Ranch Dressing was a healthy option to pair up with your veggies. We’ll let you in on a “hidden secret” – it’s not!

People love ranch dressing because it is a combination of mayonnaise and buttermilk along with 3 strong flavors – sweet, salty, and umami (MSG).

From a caloric perspective, a serving of 2 tablespoons has 140 calories, which is what you would expect from an oil-based dressing. Our problem is the manipulation of our taste buds with a host of questionable ingredients:

Vegetable oil (Soybean oil and/or canola), water, egg yolk, sugar, salt, cultured nonfat buttermilk, natural flavors (milk,soy), less than 1% of: spices, dried garlic, dried onion, vinegar, phosphoric acid, xanthan gum, modified food starch, monosodium glutamate, artificial flavors, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid and calcium disodium EDTA as preservatives, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate.

Soybean / Canola Oil – the use of oil in salads makes sense because it helps absorb vitamin A,D, E and K. However, soybean and canola are low quality, GMO oils.

Water – Q: why add water to salad dressing as the second ingredient? If you were preparing at home, you would NEVER add water, just buttermilk. A: water is cheap!

Sugar – helps cut the acidity of a product. There’s not too much here, according to the nutrition facts panel, just 1/4 of a teaspoon.

Salt - the sodium content here is 260mg or about 11% of your daily maximum. If you don’t add any other salt to your veggies, then this works out OK because your sodium to calorie ratio will be around 1.

Cultured Nonfat Buttermilk – buttermilk can be awesome in a dressing, too bad it is present in tiny amounts here. Since it is listed after the 1/4 tsp of sugar, that means there is less than 1/4 tsp of buttemilk here.

Natural Flavors (Milk, Soy) – OK, it’s a natural flavor, and it’s based on soy and milk. What is it?

Phosphoric acid (E338) -An artificial additive that provides a tangy taste for a much cheaper price than lemons. It is also used in soft drinks. Some studies have linked it to lowering bone density. Read more about it here.

Xanthan Gum (E415) – an emulsifier to keep oil and water from separating. It also increases the viscosity of a liquid.

Modified Food Starch – an additive used as a thickening agent, stabilizer, or an emulsifier. In salad dressing it behaves as an emulsifier. It’s usually derived from (GMO) corn.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) (E621) – used as an enhancer to create the umami flavor. In the past MSG was derived from wheat gluten, but now it is mostly made from bacterial fermentation. Some people are highly sensitive to MSG and there have been calls to list warnings on products that contain it.

Artificial Flavors - Yikes. This doesn’t look too promising. Wish they’d tell us what they’re putting in our food.

Disodium Phosphate - an additive used as an emulsifier.  It also increases shelf life.

Sorbic Acid (E200) – antimicrobial agents often used as preservatives. Prevents the growth of mold, yeast and fungi. It is made from the fruit of the European Mountain-ash (Sorbus aucuparia ).

Calcium Disodium EDTA - A preservative with a mildly salty taste.  Unfortunately, it may cause kidney damage, and blood in urine.

Disodium Inosinate (E631) and Disodium Guanylate (E627) - these are food additives used as flavor enhancers and to reduce the sodium content. They are often used in conjunction with MSG. They are produced from dried fish/seaweed. Should be avoided by people with gout and asthmatics.

Are you a ranch dressing fan? Do you make your own?

  • Carol O.

    I often use 1 T of the dry Hidden Valley ranch mixed with plain Greek yogurt. Now I may have to remake my veggie dip.

  • H2O

    Scary !!! Here’s a little Poison with your sald.

  • Mary

    I make my own version. No yucky stuff

  • Karen

    Yuk…I think I will make my own from now on

  • 7

    If people will eat only eat veggies with ranch it’s better than eating junk food. Pick your battles. What would you suggest instead.

    • Sheryl

      There are so many great homemade veggie dips that don’t have the chemicals, are easy to prepare, and taste so much better!

      • nala

        You completely missed 7′s point.
        Yes WE know that but some people don’t. Heck, I’m pretty sure most people know that there are healthier options out there but don’t care because they like ranch.

        I personally agree that having ranch with all your veggies is better than having no veggies at all. Yes they are both unhealthy habits but at least one of them provides some nutrition.

        • Sheryl

          You would be surprised how focusing on the little things have more of an effect on nutrition. For example – with a more delicious dip, people are more likely to consume vegetables in the first place. I don’t think a lot of people actually do understand that.

          • 9

            Except it doesn’t matter if the healthier dip tastes better when someone who is accoustumated to the yaste of ranch is unwilling to tryy it much less eat it?

  • Cactus_Wren

    A simple Google search for “homemade ranch dressing” offers dozens of recipes, none of which look difficult.

  • timlockk

    So Americans are only consuming an average of 38 salads a year??? That can’t be right. I have a salad of some form every single day.

    • Razz

      Yes I am pretty sure it is right. It’s a statistic.
      Fooducate wouldn’t be such a big deal if healthy habits were the norm.

    • Tina

      No 15 out of 38 people on average choose ranch. Not 38 salads a year

  • LovePJ

    Processed ranch dressing tastes terrible. It’s those who haven’t tried anything else that buy into this crappy food product.

  • Janine Mindykowski Tacey

    Avocado Ranch dressing
    2 large avocados
    2 T apple cider vinegar
    1 T fresh dill, chopped or freeze dried dill (1/4 T dried) (I use regular dried dill)
    2 t garlic powder
    1 T dried parsley or 1/4 C fresh parsley
    2 t onion powder
    2 green onions, chopped
    1/2 t salt
    1/4 t pepper
    Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary.
    course, you can use real garlic and onion instead of the powders if
    desired and the recipe is easily halved. Keeps well x 2 days in
    refrigerator if there is any of this delicious dressing left.

    Also a great dip for veggies

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Sounds delish!

  • jadegreen_eyz

    I subscribe to Foodie with Family and this is her recipe for Ranch dressing powder base – all the ingredients are natural and it contains ingredients most, if not all, of us keep in our spice cupboard:


  • Deb

    Canola oil is not a low quality pil.

  • Carol H

    The “Buttermilk” ingredient is most likely powdered/dried buttermilk, hence the water. Although it still seems like a tiny amount… unless they misplaced/ordered that ingredient on the list (it happens all the time).
    PS: There should be a closed parentheses after “canola”.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Fixed. Thanks

  • Ranch lover

    I LOVE bolt house farms ranch, it’s greek yogurt based and actually tastes like “real” ranch, even better than hidden valley!


      how can you say “real” ranch when hidden valley created it.

  • Jane Doe

    Good article, except you forgot to tell us what dressing to use instead! Give us healthy alternatives in your articles

    • TM

      This is something Fooducate always forgets to do. I mean give REAL suggestions not the “just drink water” or “skip the dressing” easy way out the always seem to go for.

      I KNOW that water is healthier than juice – that is common sense. But sometimes kids will be kids and want a sweet drink on a hot day. Sometimes we are short on time and need the convenience if being able to buy a ready made meal. Sometimes we need a quick on the go snack we can keep in our purse. Give me suggestions for what to do in THESE situations. Most of us know the “right” thing to do “most of the time”.

      Sometimes “Offer your kids coconut water” is miles better advice that “just drink water”.

    • Jenna Taylor

      I agree. What’s a healthy alternative?! Fooducate usually gives us examples while we scan so why not in a blog? Good point.

  • Stardust

    I LOVE Italian dressing:) And balsamic vinegar:P

  • Michael Heffez