Where Does Ranch Dressing Come From?

Many cultures are defined by their cuisines, the distinctive flavors developed over hundreds of years to reflect the lifestyles, beliefs, and taste buds of their people — so what does it say about us that one of the unique, most beloved flavors ever to emerge from the U.S. and Canada is ranch dressing? This video from Brain Stuff by HowStuffWorks explains where ranch dressing came from and what it’s made of. It cannot explain, however, the mystery of why this insanely popular condiment is so adored.

(OK, full disclosure: I do not like ranch dressing. And I grew up in Texas, so I'm not even sure how that happened. However, I fully respect your right to pour ranch dressing on whatever you’d like, even completely inexplicable things like pizza.)

Ahem. As host Ben Bowlin explains, ranch dressing was created by a guy named Kenneth Henson (who later changed his name to “Steve”) in the late 1940s or 50s, while he was working in Alaska. In the ‘50s, Henson and his wife moved to California, where they opened a dude ranch called “Hidden Valley Ranch” (Is this starting to sound familiar?). Guests at the ranch loved the Hensons’ dressing so much that eventually the couple began selling it. Fast-forward fifty years, and the condiment has an enormous following; it’s been ranked as the most popular salad dressing in the U.S. since 1992.

The original ranch dressing was made from a fairly simple set of ingredients: buttermilk, mayonnaise, parsley, pepper, salt, thyme, garlic and onion powder, and MSG. Because there’s so much dairy in it, the original recipe wasn’t suited for sitting on grocery story shelves for long periods of time, so manufacturers had to come up with a way to make it more “shelf stable.” After Clorox (yes, Clorox) bought Hidden Valley in 1972, the company’s food scientists developed a version of the dressing that could last on the shelves. The current version of Hidden Valley ranch dressing lists its first four ingredients as vegetable oil, water, egg yolk, and sugar.

Bowlin points out that Hidden Valley is far from the only brand producing ranch dressing these days. Ranch lovers have lots of options to choose from, as well as whole ranch-centric restaurants and a ranch-flavored soda. (Yes, that is a real thing, and, yes, I think it might be a signal of the end times.) Bowlin considers the popularity of ranch dressing in a positive light, saying,

That’s kind of inspiring when you think about it, right? A multi-million dollar industry because a guy in Alaska apparently decided that he was tire of eating mayo and buttermilk separately.

Watch the whole video below:

Images: Fotolia; YouTube (2)