I was always more of a ketchup gal when it came the condiment of choice. I don’t think I ever had ranch dressing until middle school when one of my friends insisted I dip my In N’ Out fries in the white goop. For some reason, it was the thing to do amongst my friends and this trend kept up through high school. Green onion and cheddar potato skins, cream-cheese filled jalapeno poppers, piles of crispy Walla Walla onion rings, crusty mushroom and black olive pizza; they just kind of call out for this creamy concoction, don’t they? I had my suspicions, but after visiting numerous websites, I’ve confirmed that ranch dressing is now and has been the most popular salad dressing in the United States for almost 20 years.

When you think of ranch dressing, what it the first picture that comes to mind? For many it is probably this extremely popular bottle pictured left: Hidden Valley The Original Ranch Dressing.  According to the Hidden Valley website, here is how they describe their premier product:

Our Original Ranch® recipes are made with wholesome ingredients and the perfect blend of herbs and spices. Enjoy the farm fresh taste of Hidden Valley® in our ranch dressing mixes, dips and salad toppings.

Okay, now, let’s compare that lovely description with the actual ingredient list:

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

Would you call these, “wholesome ingredients?” Regardless of your opinion on soy, I’m doubtful anyone would choose soybean oil as their “wholesome” option. To be honest, I’m surprised the dressing still contains actual egg yolks and buttermilk. Since the bottle needs to have a crazy long shelf life, a preservative is mandatory. Anyone for a little Disodium Ethylenediamine Tetraacetic Acid? When we get to the spices, there is one glaring red flag: good old monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG likes to hang out with his disodium buddies and ensure our umami taste buds are at full attention.  MSG seems to be everywhere these days. I remember as a kid it was the big ingredient in the news and many manufactures began removing it from their products. I have a sneaking suspicion that MSG has been making it’s way back into foods over the last 10 years as people began to forget about it.

So what’s the problem with MSG?

“…Collectively, these symptoms have been termed the “MSG Symptom Complex…[which] includes the following symptoms: burning sensation of the back of head, facial pressure, chest pain, headache, nausea, upper body tingling, weakness, palpitations, numbness, muscle tightness, an drowsiness. Other reported effects include exacerbation of existing health conditions such as asthma and fibromyalgia, depression, and difficulty breathing…People with [MSG] sensitivities may also experience similar reactions to Aspartame.”

- Description of FDA’s term, MSG Symptom Complex, on the Be Food Smart MSG report

Does that sound like the way you should be feeling after eating a fresh salad? I think not. But have no fear, just because this particular brand contains undesirable ingredients doesn’t mean you need to ditch the ranch all together. Instead, make your own! Check out these recipes from Simply Recipes and Farmgirl Fare. Know of another great recipe? Post the link in your comment.

Sources:
Dressing-Sauces.org
Hidden Valley
Slate