“Are you trying to kill me?” gasped hubby Patrick.
He was eyeballing the lineup of 24 bottles of ranch dressing on the counter. Patrick doesn’t even like ranch dressing, but his family does and they’re coming to visit soon.
The dipping commenced. All brands were tasted. There were some that left Pat puckering, ranking at the bottom of the list. In last place was Walden Farms Ranch ($3.99 for 12 ounces at Henry’s). “No calories, sugar, carbohydrates, cholesterol, or gluten. What are they making it out of?” wondered Pat.
365 Organic Light Ranch Dressing ($3.49 for 16 ounces at Whole Foods) had the highest salt of the group — a whopping 19 percent of your recommended daily sodium. It and its meatier relative, 365 Organic Ranch Dressing ($3.49 for 16 ounces at Whole Foods), were out of balance in the vinegar department.
Eating Right Light Ranch ($2.99 for 16 ounces at Vons) had the consistency of runny mayo and tasted like egg yolks and vinegar.
Though the darker color of the Annie’s Natural Cowgirl Ranch (two 8-ounce bottles for $7 at Ralphs) was appealing, its gritty, sour texture placed it in the lowest-ranked group.
Zito Ranch Dressing ($.99 for 16 ounces at the 99 Cents Store) also failed the taste test. “Thick, salty goop,” said Pat.
Organic Ville Non Dairy Ranch (two 8-ounce bottles for $6 at Whole Foods) was touted gluten-free and one carb per serving. “Organic is not the same as delicious,” groaned Pat. “My stomach is starting to revolt.”
The next group of dressings fell into the too-salty category. Kraft Light Ranch Reduced Fat ($2.99 for 16 ounces at Ralphs) comes with 18 percent of your daily sodium. “I only taste salt,” said Pat. Its cousin, Kraft Ranch ($2.99 for 16 ounces at Ralphs), had the same problem.
“I’m beginning to notice a pattern here,” stated Pat. “When they cut the calories, they up the salt. Look at the two bottles of Great Value Buttermilk Ranch [$1.22 for 16 ounces at Walmart]. The light version has no buttermilk taste to it, really just tastes salty and sweet. The non-light bottle has a buttermilk taste to it and less salt.”
An exception to Pat’s theory was Sun Harvest Natural Buttermilk Ranch ($2.99 for 12 ounces at Henry’s), which was the highest-calorie ranch we tried but tasted very salty.
“Should I be eating titanium?” questioned Patrick as he eyed the label on the Safeway Light Ranch ($1.79 for 16 ounces at Vons). The Safeway Light was filed with the too-salty group, as were the Wishbone Ranch ($2.99 for 16 ounces at Ralphs) and its fat-free sister ($2.99 for 16 ounces at Ralphs).
The third grouping was the forgettable dressings — nothing particularly delicious or disgusting about them. This included the Safeway Ranch Dressing ($1.79 for 16 ounces at Vons), Ralphs Creamy Ranch (two 16-ounce bottles for $4), and the Private Selection Herb Ranch ($2.59 for 12 ounces at Ralphs).
Now for the winners: In first place was the Trader Joe’s Parmesan Ranch Dressing ($3.49 for 12 ounces). “There are a lot of herb and spice flavors going on here,” said Patrick. “And though I wouldn’t have thought to put it in a ranch dressing, I like the Parmesan. Thirty calories a serving, and the second-lowest sodium of the group.”
Drew’s Buttermilk Ranch ($3.49 for 12 ounces at Henry’s) ranked second in flavor, and it had the lowest sodium of the bunch. “A more adult flavor — more complex, almost more of a sauce than a dressing.”
Ken’s Steak House Ranch ($4.29 for 16 ounces at Ralphs), touting the “2009 Chef’s Best Award for Best Taste,” lived up to that honor and earned third place.
“Some of these dressings look just like mayo. This one” — the All-Natural Newman’s Own Ranch ($3.69 for 16 ounces at Ralphs) — “has an appealing herby look to it, as does the Safeway Select Creamy Basil [$2.99 for 16 ounces at Vons]. The Newman’s has a subtle vinegar tang; the Safeway Select has a nice garden-herb flavor.”
At the bottom of the winners list was the Hidden Valley Ranch ($2.99 for 8 ounces at Ralphs). “It’s what you expect in a ranch dressing,” said Patrick. “A bit of tang and buttermilk, not too salty.”