How to Make Lactose-Free Ranch Dressing

Oh yes, friends, it can be done, with nary a soy product in sight. Unless you like it that way.

I’ve been lactose intolerant since I was 15, and in the 14 years since, I’ve progressed from major feelings of WOE (because it seems like dairy is in damn near everything) to now finding it mildly annoying. Still, there are things that I miss: fancy cheeses, sour cream and cheddar Ruffles, and occasionally, ranch dressing. I’ve tried vegan versions of ranch, and while it tasted fine, it didn’t really taste like ranch.

Those Hidden Valley Ranch packets have dried buttermilk in them, so without taking a lactase supplement*, they’re not really much better than the stuff in the bottle. I always figured that I could make it myself, but I was lazy about it until my aunt sent me a variety of special seasonings. Now, I think I make a pretty decent lactose-free ranch.

Ranch dressing ingredients: lactose-free milk, seasoning, mayo with olive oil
Our cast of characters. And a photo-bombing Raisin Bran sun.

Here’s how I do it:

  • 2 tablespoons dry ranch seasoning (I use this Penzeys mix**)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup lactose-free milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup mayonnaise

Stir together the seasoning and the water, then let it sit for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into the milk. This is a common cooking substitution for buttermilk, so it works out nicely for our lactose-free purposes. I used skim milk, since that’s what I had.

Stir together the seasoning and the “buttermilk,” then whisk in the mayonnaise. You’ll have to do it for longer than you might think to really get everything mixed together well. You can play with the ratio of mayo and milk to get the thickness you prefer. Made this way, it seems a little thin, but after it’s been in the fridge for an hour, it thickens up a bit.

This makes 2 cups worth of dressing, and it keeps for a week in the fridge.


Bowl of Ranch DressingIf you instead have a dairy allergy, in which case the lactose-free milk isn’t going to help you, you can always try this recipe with the milk substitute of your choice and save yourself the $4 for the vegan bottled stuff. Give it a shot.

And if you’ve got any other lactose-related questions (i.e., the difference between lactose-intolerance and a dairy allergy), do give a shout in the comments. I’m no certified expert, but I’ll do my best to answer them.


* Lactase supplements, or the brand name Lactaid. I take two of these pills when I eat pizza or other things that have dairy, but not too much for my stomach to handle. Even with Lactaid, my stomach is powerless against real butter and cream.

**If you didn’t want to buy this seasoning mix, the ingredients listed on the back are salt, bell peppers (dehydrated), garlic, onion, sugar, black pepper, parsley, thyme, and basil.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

9 replies on “How to Make Lactose-Free Ranch Dressing”

Lactase supplements, or the brand name Lactaid. I take two of these pills when I eat pizza or other things that have dairy, but not too much for my stomach to handle. Even with Lactaid, my stomach is powerless against real butter and cream.

This was something I totally didn’t understand when I first figured out I was  lactose intolerant… I tried eating icecream a few times and it almost killed me. I didn’t realize that the picture of icecream which adorns the bottles of the brand of lactaid I buy here in Canada is in fact a lie. :P  For the most part, I can have about a cup of skim milk (which is about 80% lactose free anyways… all on its own) or a small amount of cheese and the lactaid will be sufficient to cover it. Thank you for the awesome recipe! I will definitely be trying this as I miss creamy dressings and dips!!

My daughter is also lactose intolerant, and she could probably get away with a small amount of ice cream with lactaid, but she’s not as bad off as I am. She can handle a single string cheese without lactaid, whereas I’d be miserable.

I was able to handle skim milk + lactaid when I was pregnant — something about having the baby’s digestive oomph, I guess — so I’d save the soy milk up-charge when I bought a latte or whatever. But I can’t do that now. And strangely, I can do small amounts of cream cheese and sour cream with lactaid, but not regular cream. It’s certainly a long, annoying process figuring out what works, but I’ve more or less figured it out after 14 years.

I hope you like the dressing!

Maybe? It’s been a long time since I’ve had restaurant ranch, but my husband said it reminded him of the ranch he would get when he’d eat chicken fingers at a casino his grandma liked to go to…. so if that means anything to you. I’m guessing that it’s dependent on the seasoning you use. If you make your own mix and don’t use the Penzey’s mix, it might taste different.

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