Best salad dressings in a bottle
Your best bet for salad dressing? It could be to make it yourself. None of the 50 bottled ranch, Caesar, and Italian dressings that our experts tasted came close to our homemade versions (see the three recipes, below). It may take a few minutes of preparation, and the cost may be about the same as that of bottled dressing if you use high-quality ingredients, as we did.
We did find nine Very Good dressings, listed in the Ratings. The also-rans include dressings from big names such as Hidden Valley, Kraft, and Wish-Bone. All lack the fresh taste of homemade.
The lowest-rated dressings have a stale off-note, harsh flavors, or worse. Walden Farms Calorie Free Ranch, for instance, made us think of chalky raspberry vinaigrette mixed with a dairy substitute. Kraft Classic Caesar is overwhelmed by black pepper; Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Organic Caesar is sour and thin, with a strong taste of dehydrated garlic. Here’s how the best of the bottled dressings did:
Ken’s has a simple and clean taste—no harsh, dehydrated notes—and a very slight garlic flavor. It separates quickly, so you’ll need to give it a good shake. Olive Garden is flavorful but quite salty. It has cheese and herb flavors and slight citrus.
Check our supermarkets buying guide and Ratings to find the best grocery stores.
Walmart’s Great Value Classic is well-balanced, with subtle herb flavors and a taste like that of real buttermilk. Light dressings, which have about half the calories and less than half the fat of the regular versions, generally don’t taste nearly as good as regular, but Walmart’s Great Value Classic Light Ranch is an exception. It’s fairly well balanced, with some buttermilk flavors. Marie’s has real buttermilk, oregano and dill flavors, plus a slight mustard impression. Hidden Valley has a clean, real dairy flavor.
Trader Joe’s is a bit like a vinaigrette, with cheese, plus black-pepper and citrus flavors. Marie’s is somewhat like ranch dressing, but it’s balanced, with high-quality ingredients.
Bottom line. Homemade dressing tastes best, but we found at least two very good store dressings in each category.
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil
1 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir in fresh herbs and cheese. Makes ½ cup; serving size: 2 tablespoons. Per serving: 200 calories, 21 grams fat, and 85 milligrams sodium.
2½ cups mayonnaise
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor; process for 30 seconds or until well blended. Makes 3 cups; serving size: 2 tablespoons. Per serving: 180 calories, 19 grams fat, and 230 milligrams sodium.
Classic ranch dressing
1 clove minced garlic
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons each chopped fresh parsley, dill, and chives
In a medium bowl, whisk together garlic, Worcestershire, and vinegar. Add mayonnaise, sour cream, and milk. Mix well. Stir in chopped herbs. Chill. Makes 2 cups; serving size: 2 tablespoons. Per serving: 100 calories, 9 grams fat, and 105 milligrams sodium.
This article also appeared in the July 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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