Review: Heinz's Attempt At Harissa Aioli And Black Garlic Ranch Comes With One Hit And One Miss

Unbeknownst to those who only see Heinz as the king of ketchup, the brand is also responsible for a multitude of inventive sauces, from sandwich spreads to meat marinades. Among its plethora of sauce options is mustard, relish, barbecue sauce, and distinct ketchup-infused versions of classic condiments. Heinz always seems to have its finger on the pulse of the latest pop culture and food trends, releasing products accordingly. For instance, when Taylor Swift was photographed eating ranch and ketchup at a football game, prompting her fans to go goo-goo over the condiments, Heinz released a ranch-ketchup combo in her honor. Its name even references the now-legendary post on X, formerly known as Twitter. Then, for Barbie's 65th anniversary, Heinz partnered with Mattel to introduce Barbiecue sauce. Essentially, this behemoth of a sauce company manages to stay surprisingly trendy.

After experimenting with six unique sauces at select restaurants, Heinz settled on two for a limited-time launch, marking its first restaurant-to-retail release. In June 2024, to add to its extensive sauce repertoire, Heinz released harissa aioli and black garlic ranch — spreading its wings far beyond its beloved tomatoey burger topping. The sauces are aimed at Gen Z, who are known to lean more towards globally inspired flavors than older consumers. 

I tried both black garlic ranch and harissa aioli. I then compared each to their traditional counterparts, to see if these sauces — with widespread support from their participating restaurants — live up to the hype or can't stand up to Heinz's more prominent products.

Some recommendations are based on first-hand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by the manufacturer/distributor/etc.

What are Heinz's black garlic ranch and harissa aioli?

Ranch is among America's favorite condiments, with the Midwestern region consuming the most ranch in surprisingly offbeat circumstances — like dousing the creamy spread on pizza, cheese curds, french fries, and even incorporating ranch into ice cream. That being said, I think most Midwesterners can agree that it's about time someone shakes up the ranch scene. Heinz stepped up to do just that as part of its "sauce drops" program. In a press release, Heinz describes its black garlic ranch as smooth and creamy, combining aromatic, savory (and elusive) black garlic with decadent and tangy classic ranch.

Meanwhile, Heinz's harissa aioli may act as the first open door for some to experience international ingredients extending far beyond America's tried-and-true favorites. Traditionally, harissa is a pepper paste from North Africa, and it's also a staple in Indian cooking. In American cuisine, harissa is sometimes used as a tomato paste substitute, providing the sweetness that tomato paste normally brings along with a kick of heat and pepper flavor. To touch on the other aspect of this unique, squeezable sauce, aioli is typically defined as an oil and garlic emulsion, with a similar flavor and consistency to mayonnaise, but lacking in egg. 

With the richness of aioli and spicy sweetness of harissa combined, I imagined the possibilities for this sauce would be infinite. Heinz describes its harissa aioli as smokey, with roasted red peppers and flavorful heat, inspired by the culinary traditions of the East.

Where can you find the two new sauces, and how much do they cost?

One key feature of this summer-ready, double-sauce launch courtesy of Heinz is the sauces' availability. Black garlic ranch and harissa aioli aren't found at just any grocery or retail store. Both sauces are exclusives, each found only in one chain superstore. On June 4, 2024, the sauces became available in Target and Walmart stores. But unfortunately for those trying to get their hands on both sauces, two trips are necessary.

Harissa aioli is exclusive only to Target stores, while black garlic ranch is reserved for Walmart. However, both sauces can be found nationwide. So whether you're a Midwesterner who loves to get lost in the sauce or an NYC-dweller — where global cuisine is at the helm of everything food-focused — the coveted sauces are likely accessible in your area. At Target, harissa aioli can be purchased online for either pick-up at your local store or shipment directly to your home. 

Heinz's newly released sauces are priced at $3.99, so whether you're shopping at Target for spicy harissa aioli or Walmart for decadent black garlic ranch, you can expect to pay the same price for both.

Taste test: black garlic ranch

Heinz's black garlic ranch has an unmistakable tangy and slightly sweet ranch flavor with an added kick of deeply savory fermented garlic. Ultimately, it was everything I expected it to be, although its texture was runnier than I anticipated. 

As soon as you take a bite, the vinegary ranch flavor wakes up your palate and the real buttermilk creaminess coats your mouth. A few seconds later, garlic appears on the scene to provide that rich umami essence that makes it such a sacred kitchen staple. In this sauce's case, not just any garlic adds savory flavor, but fermented black garlic. Known for its lack of odor and balsamic-like sweetness, it makes for the perfect companion to sweet and zesty ranch.

This ranch makes an acceptable substitute for any garden-variety ranch. The garlicky flavor is subtle enough to not overpower a sandwich or salad, retaining the ability to pair with dishes that aren't typically enhanced by the flavor of garlic. However, for dishes that do benefit from added garlic, this sauce is a must-have. Drizzle it on pizza for added depth, or use it as a salad dressing in a veggie-packed power bowl. Black garlic ranch would even make a wonderful secret ingredient in egg salad, adding zest, slight sweetness, and layers of complex flavor. But be careful when adding this dressing to a sandwich; its wateriness might turn your bread into a pile of soggy goop.

Taste test: harissa aioli

Heinz's harissa aioli is sweet — overly sweet — masking some of the pepper flavor and spices. The spices come swooping in for the aftertaste, but the sugariness is so unpleasant that they're not much of a saving grace. 

However, I was surprised to discover that — a few seconds after the first bite — a wave of heat appears from the depths of creaminess to join the cumin and coriander flavors. Red jalapeños and roasted poblano peppers added fiery spice and tang to complement the smokey seasonings. Sweetness from the peppers alone would have sufficed, making the corn syrup addition all the more disappointing. The sauce relies on egg yolk for its creaminess, which is uncharacteristic for aioli. So really, this sauce may be more accurately described as harissa mayo. But hey, let's not split hairs here.

The tangy, smokey flavor of Heinz's harissa aioli could bring a filet of salmon to life, with the sauce's creamy egg yolks adding moisture, preventing it from drying out. Dip veggies — like carrot sticks or celery — into this sauce for a uniquely flavored and nutritious snack. Or drizzle it directly on vegetables, especially roasted squash, which always benefits from added spice and sweetness. Add a dollop to a burger while it's cooking to give it a subtle smokey and sweet taste. Although this sauce might not pair with any old dish, it can certainly add nuanced flavor and heat to otherwise bland snacks and meals.

Black garlic ranch vs. traditional ranch

Black garlic ranch has the unequivocal flavors of a traditional ranch with the added benefits of savory fermented garlic. Its taste is similar to any typical store-bought ranch dressing, including the ever-popular Hidden Valley. But it's also noticeably more flavorful than Kraft-Heinz's popular ranch, which has an infamous reputation among ranch enthusiasts for good reason. I was surprised that the black garlic ranch included buttermilk, despite not advertising the tangy, creamy ingredient directly on the front of the bottle. Buttermilk ranch is typically the top choice for fans of the dressing, and Heinz didn't skimp out to bring ranch lovers what they love when it crafted this unique version of one of America's favorite condiments.

Ultimately, the only stark, negative difference between Heinz's black garlic ranch and classic ranch is its texture and consistency. Traditional ranch is often much thicker, with decadent, milky creaminess akin to sour cream that carries zesty and herbaceous flavors along. Black garlic ranch, however, is much waterier and far less indulgently rich. Instead, it's thin and more vinegar-forward. So, although its flavor is on point, there's something to be desired in its texture compared to regular ranch dressing.

Harissa aioli vs. traditional harissa

I'll start this comparison off by reminding readers that harissa aioli and traditional harissa are undoubtedly different. One has a creamy base and the other is strictly a vegetable paste used primarily to add flavor and heat to soups, stews, and curries — not to use a sandwich spread or dip. That being said, the flavor of Heinz's creation was clearly a replication of classic harissa, but it was still missing a few key elements. To start, harissa is defined by its powerful pepper flavor. Harissa aioli only left a lingering peppery aftertaste, and not the initial kick of sweet heat that I was after. The addition of red bell peppers would have lent a more prominent pepper taste, rather than the mild veggie flavor of just jalapeños and poblanos.

The biggest factor that separates Heinz's harissa aioli and traditional harissa (or an aioli made with real harissa) is its sugar. Harissa doesn't normally include added sugars and instead relies only on the sweetness of peppers for its signature sweet-heat flavor. Heinz could have easily done away with ultra-sugary corn syrup in favor of a more subtle and natural sweetness, and the sauce would likely have been significantly more palatable, versatile, and delicious.

Are Heinz's limited-edition flavored sauces worth it?

Heinz took a big leap when it launched black garlic ranch and harissa aioli. Both sauces are based on unconventional flavors that most Americans don't seek out in their sauce — and for that, I applaud the company for acting as a trustworthy brand to expose customers to new flavor options. Ultimately, for their price, these sauces are absolutely worth a try, although I was far more impressed with black garlic ranch than with harissa aioli.

For those who already live by the ranch and die by the ranch, I'd implore them to absolutely make a stop at Walmart and get their hands on Heinz's new umami-packed ranch dressing. However, for fans of international cuisine who were thrilled to hear about a mainstream condiment brand bringing the flavors of the East to an American superstore, I'd caution not to let their hopes get too high. Like many store-bought dressings and sauces, its excessive sugar content drowns out the fresh flavors of herbs and veggies. But hey, for a mere $3.99, it's still worth it to try out the sauce and judge for yourself. Perhaps Heinz heavy-handed the sweet stuff, or maybe this Tasting Table writer is being overly discerning in the quest for a veggie-flavored, spicy sauce.