Hidden Valley Original Ranch is probably the most well known ranch dressing on the market. This is the brand that started it all, and this is generally the ranch that all other ranch dressings are measured against. That said, this bottled version probably pales in comparison to the actual original recipe, and you can find better alternatives if you venture outside of the warm dressing isle. In order to make this available as a condiment, that needs no refrigeration until it is opened, they have to add preservatives to the ingredient list. Those preservatives do taint the flavor, and it gets worse as it ages. Of course, this will be true of all warm isle bottled dressings, but it’s still an important point to note about this staple of the ranch world.
According to Hidden Valley’s FAQ on the shelf life of the bottled version of this dressing, it “will continue to have the best flavor up to four weeks past the flavor date. After this, the vinegar flavor will tend to become stronger as the dressing goes beyond the best flavor date. However, the dressing would still be safe to eat. Refrigerate after opening“. They don’t really address the actual shelf life though, just how long it will taste its best… According to doesitgobad.com, most bottled ranch dressings can be safe to eat for a couple years after purchase, if left unopened. This is based on the dressing being good for at least a couple months after the printed expiration date. If you’ve opened it, then just be sure it doesn’t smell bad or look moldy. Also watch for bottle bloating or a release of gas when you open it – those are both clear signs of spoilage.
But note that they said “the vinegar flavor” will tend to become stronger over time. I think the presence of any vinegar flavor is what makes it not as good as it could be. When I have good quality restaurant ranch, or make my own from a seasoning packet at home, I don’t taste vinegar at all, and all the other flavors are far more prominent.
If we only compare this to other bottled dressings though, this is still probably the best there is. For the average consumer, that wants the convenience of a bottled ranch that tastes good, and won’t spoil any time soon, this should be your go-to ranch dressing. It’s based on the original recipe, and it does have a good, creamy flavor that you would expect from a ranch dressing. It’s thick enough to dip in, but not too thick, so it still makes for a great salad dressing. On a salad, ranch is more of a background seasoning than when used as a dip, so the other flavors found in the salad can easily overshadow any of that vinegar flavor that taints this dressing. This leaves the ranch to provide a nice cool, creamy flavor for the salad, and Hidden Valley Original Ranch does this well.
If you are looking for something better though, I’d highly suggest buying some milk, mayo and a box of Hidden Valley Original Ranch Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix to mix your own. The difference is night and day, and it’s even better if you use buttermilk. There are also plenty of good alternatives in the cold dressing isles (usually near the produce section). These dressings typically have fewer preservatives and better flavor, but they do tend to cost more and don’t last as long.
This is the best of the bottled dressings, and if you just need a salad dressing, then this is a great choice. If you are looking for something to dip your fries in or put on your pizza, you can get far better if you avoid the bottle.