The History of Ranch Dressing

Tasting Ranch for the first time was a transcendent experience in my young life. I totally remember my first taste. It was at a family get-together and my uncle’s then-girlfriend brought Ranch dip. I was instantly hooked and wanted to taste EVERYTHING Ranch. The problem that stood in my way was my mother who was not only a die-hard California Dip lover (the one where you mix the onion soup mix with sour cream), but she also really didn’t like salad dressings. Well except for oil and vinegar. Oh and she really did not like Ranch. I know guys my life was hard. Luckily the rest of the world seemed to love it as much as I. So every opportunity my young self got to slather salad at restaurants, dip appetizers, or eat Ranch flavor anything I was down.

What ingredients are in Ranch Dressing?

It is a mixture of dry herbs and spices that is typically mixed with mayonnaise and buttermilk. Some homemade modern versions use either all fresh ingredients or do a hybrid.

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Who and where was Ranch Dressing created?

The story goes that while working in Alaska, Steve Henson came up with the dressing. In 1954 he later relocated to California and bought the Hidden Valley Ranch, he started serving the dressing to the guests. They loved it so much that many asked to be able to bring the dressing home with them after leaving the ranch. Henson started handing out a herb mixture that only needed to be mixed into some mayonnaise and buttermilk. 

In 1967(or 1964 depending on the source), Henson started officially packaging the spice packets to sell in a mail order business after selling the dude ranch. Clorox (yes the company known for bleach) bought the spice packets business and the rights to the Hidden Valley name in 1972. In 1984, Hidden Valley introduced a bottle version of the famed dressing. It came in an 8 oz. bottle and cost $1.19 with three varieties – original, country, and garden herb. If you want to see how the packages have changed throughout the years and other long gone products Hidden Valley used to sell check out this link.

Hidden Valley Ranch Packets 1976

There is a second claim that is mentioned in John Mariani’s Encyclopedia of American Food and Drinks.  An Arizona company called Todd’s Foods part owner David Bears claims his company created the recipe. It was developed for Bobby McGee’s Restaurants in 1980 to serve as a dipping sauce for their breaded and fried zucchini.

Robb Walsh in his cookbook Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook makes a good point when he writes about how buttermilk dressing is not new. In the book, he writes: “The Henson and Clorox may have given us the name, but the recipe is much older. Although Hidden Valley Ranch dressing was shortened to ranch dressing in popular parlance, the same stuff was one called buttermilk dressing and has long been a western favorite, perhaps with its origin in cowboy cooking.” 

When was Ranch Dressing popular?

The 1990s. Something about that decade Ranch grabbed a hold of the hearts of Americans and never let go. In 1992 Ranch beat out Italian as the most sold dressing. People started using the dressing for more than just salads. A Fort Worth, Texas Pizza Hut claimed to have to order 8 to 12 gallons of ranch each week. They said that most customers were using it for dipping pizza crust. In a 1996 article after the author jokes about what even is the flavor that is Ranch, they write “from its modest beginnings as a salad dressing, Ranch has become big stuff, leaving its mark on everything from pretzels to fried chicken.” The article also mentions that Ranch was in the top five flavors of chips (hello looking at you Cool Ranch Doritos). 

“Whoever thought ranch salad dressing would become a staple of the American diet?” a 1999 newspaper asks. In the article, they mention that in 1998 30% of bottled salad dressing sold was Ranch which equaled 12 billion dollars in sales. Obviously, the top brand was Hidden Valley.

A 1998 article titled “Hidden Valley is More than Salad Dressing” talks about how the dressing, both bottled and dry mix, is being used for more than salad. Hidden Valley noticed consumers were using it as a dip for appetizers and the dry mix for casserole and entrees. A quote from the article says that “Cooks sprinkle a bit of salad dressing and recipe mix into mashed potatoes, creativity has led to a variety of recipes that are now ranch-inspired ‘family favorites’.” If it was for a packet of ranch dressing we would not have the viral sensation that was Mississippi Pot Roast.

Hidden Valley Ranch Primavera Recipe Working Mother 1987Hidden Valley Ranch Burgers Ebony Mag

Ranch dressing is still a popular salad or condiment choice today. In the cookbook Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland’s The Country Cat, they call Ranch dressing an American staple. In the cookbook, they say “As far as I’m concerned, it’s the top-of-the-heap-dressing, spread, dip, and sauce” mentioning that it is perfect on a salad, burger, chicken, raw veggies, and anything fried. In the 2021 Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook, the gourmet book calls it America’s most popular dressing. Honestly, just look at almost any restaurant or fast food menu in America and I’m sure Ranch is listed on there somewhere whether as a dressing or as a dipping sauce.

Why should I make Ranch?

Honestly homemade Ranch is a whole different beast than the bottle versions. It is amazing the taste difference. Even my mother, a DIE HARD Ranch dressing hater will eat a bit of the dressing if it is homemade. Even making the dressing from the spice packet that is sold in grocery stores versus the bottle just hits the taste buds differently as well. So if you like Ranch, I would urge you to try making homemade at least once.

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How do you make Ranch?

I will admit that I never make this dressing the same way twice. Most of the time I wing it with what I have on hand. I always have the dried version of the herbs and spices on hand and will switch them out for fresh if they happened to be in my fridge. Basically what I am saying is use this as a base and mess around with until you get a version that is your personal ultimate Ranch dressing.

Here are some other posts about dressings:
The History of Thousand Island Dressing
The History of Green Goddess Dressing
Eve Arden’s Dill Dressing

Before we get to the recipe let me leave you with this 1990s gem of a commercial for Hidden Valley Ranch. Please let me know which flavors you would be willing to try!

Ranch Dressing

  • Servings: 8-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

One of the many ways one can make Ranch Dressing.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 Tablespoon parsley flakes or 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 Tablespoon dried chives or 1 Tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1/2 Tablespoon dillweed or 1 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice
  • Optional: a few dashes or Worcestershire sauce and/or hot sauce

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and chill for a few hours or overnight in the fridge.
  2. Serve with your favorite salad or use as a dipping sauce for veggies, nuggets or appetizers.


Sources:

Bundy, Beverly. “Ranch Dressing Has Risen Above Its Roots”. The Free Lance-Star. March 3, 1993.

Clair, Diane St.. The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections from a Small Vermont Dairy. N.p.: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013.

Gilbar, Steven. Chicken a la King and the Buffalo Wing: Food Names and the People and Places That Inspired Them. United States: Writer’s Digest Books 2008.

“Hidden Valley is Bottled, Now”. The Deseret News. September 19, 1984.

Lopez, Molly. “Kids Decided Ranch Dressing Need Fat to Be Good”. Lakeland Ledger. April 18, 1990.

Mariani, John F.. Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink. United States: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.

Sappington, Adam., Sappington, Jackie., Gartland, Ashley. Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland’s the Country Cat. United States: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.

Shindler, Merrill. American Dish: 100 Recipes from Ten Delicious Decades. United States: Angel City Press: 1996.

Snow, Jane. “Back at the Ranch”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 7, 1996.

Tanaka, Wendy. “Dressing Maker Keeps Pouring It On”. Gettysburg Times. February 27, 1999.

Thompson, Teri T. “Cool & Creamy Ranch Pael Puts Dressing to Test”. Times Daily. May 10, 2008.

Walsh, Robb. Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook, with More Than 200 Recipes. United States: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed, 2012.

Weldon Owen. Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook (Expanded Edition): 1,100+ Recipes + Expert Advice, Tips, & Tales. United States: Weldon Owen, 2021.

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