Ranch dressing and ranch dip are very similar in appearance, scent and flavor. Dressings and dips have different formulas and purposes, however. While the two are interchangeable if you are in a tight spot, the best results will come from using each of them as they are intended.
Ranch dressing is typically used on salads for an added touch of flavor. The creaminess of the dressing, richer and thicker than an oil-based dressing, helps to bind the different salad ingredients together or on your fork. Ranch dressing can also be added to a sandwich as a condiment for extra flavor instead of using the typical mustard, relish or mayonnaise. Ranch dip is used for dipping as a casual appetizer. Chips are the traditional dipping element of choice along with carrot sticks and celery.
Ranch dressing is much thinner than ranch dip. Ranch dip is much heartier than ranch dressing, making it easy to scoop onto a chip or carrot stick without dripping off. The thinness of dressing is meant for easy tossing in a salad.
While both are created with ranch seasoning, the other critical ingredients in dip and dressing vary. Ranch dressing is typically composed with buttermilk. Ranch dip's central ingredient is sour cream, instead of buttermilk, which gives it the firmer consistency. Some dips can be mixed with mayonnaise in lieu of sour cream, which is also not used in the dressing.
Since ranch dip is typically composed with sour cream or mayonnaise, the fat and calorie count is generally higher than that of ranch dressing. While typically lower in calorie count than a ranch dip, ranch dressing is known as one of the heavier, more fattening types of dressings on the market, due to its creamy consistency.