Ranch is easy to make and tastes SO much better homemade. But despite being so simple, a surprising number of things can go wrong.
The worst of these is that your ranch turns out too thin.
Luckily, this is easy to fix. There are lots of suggestions online about the best way, but I wanted to do an experiment to see how well each one really works.
I made some ranch and deliberately made it too thin.
In this article, I test six different methods for thickening ranch and give my view on the effectiveness of each method.
A lot of the items used as the thickening agent are likely to already be in your fridge or pantry.
So, what’s the best way to thicken ranch dressing?
To thicken ranch dressing, vigorously mix in 1/4 teaspoon of xantham gum per cup of ranch. Xantham gum is an excellent thickening agent and does not alter the taste of the ranch. Other methods for thickening ranch include using mayonnaise, cream cheese, sour cream, or Greek yogurt.
How to thicken ranch dressing
The methods I tried were:
- Greek yogurt
- Sour cream
- Cream cheese
- Xanthan gum
- Corn starch.
I go through how well each of these performed, and tell you how much to add to get a nice thick ranch dressing.
I also discuss some other methods I haven’t tried (yet), but that could work well for you.
The basis of most ranch dressings is mayonnaise and buttermilk, mixed with a load of seasonings.
Mayonnaise is thick, while buttermilk is runny.
If you want to increase the thickness of your dressing, simply add more of the thicker ingredient – mayonnaise.
This is a very convenient method because chances are, you already have mayonnaise in your fridge (unless you just used it all in your ranch dressing).
However, I found I had to add quite a lot of mayonnaise to thicken the sauce significantly.
For 100ml of thin sauce (think milk consistency), I added 60g of mayonnaise to get it to a ketchup-like consistency.
Therefore, I would only recommend this method if you need a touch of thickening, but not if you want to go from soup to caramel.
Adding the mayonnaise altered the taste of the dressing a fair amount. The sauce tasted extra mayonnaise (is that even a word?), which I wasn’t a fan of. But if you love mayonnaise you might not mind.
Add the mayonnaise slowly, and remember, the mayonnaise will thicken up in the fridge. Get the dressing to just below your desired thickness then pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, check the ranch and decide if you need more mayonnaise or not.
Cream cheese works really well as a thickener for ranch dressing. A small amount goes a long way, so you don’t need to add bucket loads.
It will alter the flavor slightly but in a good way. It adds depth to the sauce and a hint of cheese. I love cheese, so I enjoyed the new taste. It also gave the dressing a smooth, but firm texture.
I added 15g of cream cheese per 100 ml of dressing. Much less than the mayonnaise/yogurt options. This took the sauce from soup-like to a thick ketchup.
If you only need to thicken the sauce a little bit you can expect to add even less than this.
I would suggest using the spreadable kind and softening it for a few seconds in the microwave before adding it to your ranch.
Otherwise, it will be hard to mix in without creating any lumps.
For an extra flavor kick, you can add flavored cream cheese. Garlic and herb or black pepper are my favorites.
Xanthan gum was something I’d never used before and so I was a bit skeptical. But I ended up being very impressed!
It’s a tasteless ingredient, so didn’t alter the flavor of the ranch at all. This was a BIG plus for me because I already had the perfect flavor. It just wasn’t thick enough.
You add the xanthan gum in its powder form. There’s no need to make a slurry.
It’s VERY important not to add too much, or you’ll end up with a sticky, gummy ranch dressing.
For every cup of dressing you have, add a ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum. This will give a significant thickening effect, so adjust this according to the level of thickening you need.
As soon as you add the xantham gum you need to start whisking/mixing the dressing extremely fast. This makes sure the powder gets well distributed throughout the mixture and thickens it all.
If you mix it in too slowly it will form small glue-like balls within the mixture and make it lumpy.
The best way to ensure you mix it in well enough is to mix the dressing in the blender. If you don’t have one a hand whisk will work, just be prepared to put some elbow grease in.
Guar gum is an alternative to xanthan gum, but it is less effective in acidic liquids. Since ranch dressing tends to contain lemon juice or vinegar, guar gum isn’t the best choice.
An alternative to mayonnaise is greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is healthier than mayonnaise and adds a nice tang to the dressing.
I like the flavor of greek yogurt, so I liked the way it made my ranch taste. But this is very much personal preference.
If you’ve never added greek yogurt to your ranch before I recommend taking a small amount of your ranch, adding some yogurt, and tasting it. If you like it, go ahead and add the yogurt to your main batch of ranch.
Greek yogurt is thicker than milk but thinner than mayonnaise. You will need to add a LOT of greek yogurt to get significant thickening. But if you just want get a slightly thicker dressing, greek yogurt will do the trick.
I added 70g per 100ml of my ranch dressing. This took it from soup-like to ketchup-like.
Sour cream is very similar to Greek yogurt or mayonnaise. It will thicken your dressing, but you’ll need a good amount to see a significant difference.
For 100ml of dressing I added 50g of sour cream, and the sour cream I had was pretty thick.
Sour cream is found in a lot of ranch dressings already, adding more accentuates the sour cream taste. If you’re not sure you’ll like it you can do a test on a small portion of your ranch first.
Corn starch is a well-known thickener for hot sauces, but there was conflicting information about using it in cold sauces.
Some sources said it would work and some said it wouldn’t. Naturally, I had to test it out for myself.
I tried the cornstarch in two different forms
- straight from the packet in powder form
- in a slurry (1 part cornstarch to 1 part water)
Neither addition made any noticeable difference to the thickness of the dressing. Cornstarch NEEDS heat to work.
Heat activates the cornstarch. Only once it gets above 180 degrees will the scratch start to swell and absorb water, a process known as starch gelatinization. This is the process that thickens the sauce.
Without the heat, you’re just adding a useless powder to your sauce.
As well as not working, the cornstarch gave my ranch dressing an unpleasant, grainy texture.
Arrowroot and tapioca starch and two common alternatives to corn starch but they also need heat to work. Therefore, they aren’t suitable for ranch dressing.
This one is a little out there, and I didn’t test it in my experiment. But I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.
Chia seeds have a mucilaginous quality (big word I know, it means to have a gelatinous consistency). They thicken when added to a liquid. If you’ve ever used chia seeds in overnight oats or a smoothie you’ll know what I’m talking about.
They’re often used as a substitute for eggs in things like pancakes or muffins. This is due to their thickening ability.
Add a teaspoon at a time of the seeds (ground is best, but whole is also fine) until the dressing reaches your desired consistency. The seeds take a few minutes to work so be patient. Add each tablespoon 2-3 minutes after the last one.
Chia seeds have a pretty neutral taste, but you will be able to see them in the ranch. If you’re serving it to guests you may want to explain what the little black dots are!
Added bonus: chia seeds are a superfood. They’re packed with nutrients and contain very few calories. Just two tablespoons have 4 grams of protein, plus decent amounts of magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and B vitamins.
Other tips for making a thick ranch dressing
These are tips for the next time you make your ranch dressing, so it doesn’t end up being too thin again.
Prevention is key!
Put it in the fridge
First up, have you left the ranch in the fridge for a good few hours?
The dressing will thicken in the fridge as all the creamy components mix together and firm up.
If you fear the sauce is too thin, and you have time, I would first leave it in the fridge overnight and see how it is in the morning.
If it’s still too thin, go ahead and add something to make it thicker. But you might find it’s already thickened up to your liking.
Avoid the blender for mayonnaise
Mayonnaise is an emulsion and overprocessing/overheating it can cause the emulsion to break, thinning it out massively.
This is easy to do in a blender/food processor. Adding all your ingredients to the blender and blitzing it for too long will leave you with a super-thin dressing.
Instead, add the mayonnaise and a small amount of the buttermilk to the blender, then add the herbs and spices. Blend for a few seconds to chop up all the herbs.
Then pour the dressing into a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients (sour cream and the remaining buttermilk). You can whisk these by hand until everything is nice and mixed in.
Start without milk and add slowly
Instead of adding everything at once, start with mayonnaise and herbs and spices. Mix these, and then slowly add in the milk/buttermilk until you reach your desired consistency.
Remember the dressing will thicken in the fridge, so make it a tad runnier than you’d like.
By adding the liquid ingredient slowly, you’re eliminating the risk of you overdoing it and ending up with a dressing that’s too thin.
How to thicken vegan ranch dressing
To thicken a vegan ranch dressing you can add some vegan mayonnaise or chia seeds, swap out the milk alternative for a milk powder (or remove it completely), or use xanthan gum.
Xantham gum is vegan 99% of the time. It’s made by fermenting corn sugar, which is vegan. Rarely, you might find a Xantham gum that’s been fermented with lactose, meaning it’s not vegan.
If this is the case, it should be called out on the packet. If a dairy product is used in production it has to state this on the packet due to dairy allergies. Bob’s Red Mill xanthan gum is vegan. You can get it on Amazon.
How to thicken Whole30 Ranch dressing
Whole30 approved thickeners that you can use in a ranch dressing include an approved mayonnaise, xanthan gum, and chia seeds.
Mayonnaise is best if you need a little thickening, while xanthan gum is best if you need to thicken the dressing a lot.
How to thin ranch dressing
To thin ranch dressing, add more liquid. Water, milk, buttermilk, heavy cream, half and half, or a flavorless oil like canola oil will all work. If you find the flavors become too diluted you can add extra seasoning. Add the liquid slowly until your ranch has reached your desired consistency.
Another idea is to infuse your liquid before you add it to your dressing. For example, you can boil garlic and water to make garlic flavored water. You can then add this to your ranch, thinning it and adding flavor at the same time.
To make the garlic syrup, add 2 teaspoons of sliced garlic to half a cup of water and bring the mixture to the boil. Let the mixture cool down before adding it to any cold sauces
Coconut water (or milk) is another flavored water you could try. This will give your ranch a tropical twist.
Why is restaurant ranch thinner than bottled ranch?
Bottled ranch is stuffed with preservatives to make it shelf stable and increase its shelf life. These extra ingredients change the taste of the ranch and make it thicker. Restaurants generally make their ranch in-house or buy it fresh from a supplier without preservatives, so it’s thinner.
The supermarket stuff needs to last a good few weeks or months, while restaurants use their ranch in a matter of days. The preservatives thicken the ranch and give it a gloopy texture.
Also, since the restaurants make it themselves (or pay someone else to make it for them), they can play around with the ratios. If they want a thinner ranch, they can simply add more buttermilk. That’s why ranch may differ from restaurant to restaurant.
Ranch that’s sold in the chilled section of the supermarket contains fewer additives than the room-temperature stuff. If you want to buy bottled ranch, the stuff from the chilled section will be the most similar to restaurant-style ranch.
Some brands I recommend are: