Condiment Corner: The Rise of Ranch Dressing

Guide to Ranch Dressing - Who Invented Ranch?

We often think about how our food makes its way to our tables. But, have you ever wondered how your favorite foods came to be in the first place? Who invented them? How have their flavors changed over time? How have they made an impact on pop culture and the culinary world?

This article examines the history of ranch dressing, from its creation in the 1950s to its outstanding popularity now. Read on to learn about who invented ranch, how it became a household staple, the different ways it can be used, and even some fun facts about this beloved condiment.

The Origins of Ranch Dressing

Ranch has come a long way since its initial invention. Let’s explore a brief history of how this iconic sauce earned its place among the best condiments.

Who Invented Ranch?

Around 1950, Steve Henson unknowingly made history when he whipped up a unique mixture of dry herbs and buttermilk. Originally a plumber, Steve came up with the concoction while working briefly in Anchorage as a construction worker and part-time cook for his crew. 

After purchasing land in Santa Barbara, CA with his wife in 1954, Steve opened up a guest ranch called Hidden Valley. He started serving up the dressing with the dishes he prepared for his guests, including everything from steak and potatoes to vegetables. The dressing quickly became a favorite for locals, who took it home with them in jars.

As demand for his dressing grew, Steve Henson began packaging the dry ingredients into envelopes that could be mailed to customers. Sensing the success of the product, the Henson family eventually relocated to Albuquerque, NM to start their own catering business, eventually selling their recipe to the Clorox Company in the 1970s. 

How Did Ranch Dressing Become Popular?

According to a 2017 study, ranch dressing has officially taken over as America’s favorite salad dressing, with 40% of participants naming it as their favorite. The runner up was Italian dressing with a measly 10% in comparison. But how did a simple mixture of herbs and buttermilk achieve such a cult following?

The turning point for ranch from a simple salad dressing to a nationwide phenomenon occurred in 1986 with the invention of Cool Ranch Doritos. The addition of ranch seasoning on a crunchy chip had Americans hooked, and the dressing quickly found its way to condiment status as a partner for french fries, chicken wings, and more. Domino’s is typically credited with the invention of the legendary pizza and ranch combo, as the chain began serving ranch dressing along with its chicken wings in 1994.


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What Does Ranch Dressing Taste Like?

Anyone who’s ever tasted ranch dressing can recognize its unique flavor profile anywhere. This creamy condiment’s delicious mix of herbs and buttermilk gives it a distinctly tangy but fresh taste that brings life to salad, french fries, pizza, chicken wings, and anything else you can think of to dunk in it!

But ranch dressing has also evolved to be uniquely customizable! In fact, there are tons of variations you can try depending on the flavors you like, including:

  • Spicy Ranch. Add cayenne or other spices for an extra kick.
  • Bacon Ranch. Add bacon bits for a smokey flavor.
  • Herb Ranch. Add extra herbs like basil, dill, and parsley for a more intense flavor.
  • Avocado Ranch. Add avocado to make the dressing creamier.
  • Buttermilk Ranch. Replace regular milk with buttermilk for extra tang and a thinner texture.
  • Buffalo Ranch. Add buffalo sauce for a spicy kick with a bit of tang.
  • Chipotle Ranch. Bring in both smoke and heat by adding chipotle peppers.

Ranch dressing can be modified to fit various dietary restrictions as well:

  • Gluten-Free Ranch. Avoid any wheat-based products that could be found in the mayo or sour cream, such as rye starch, wheat starch, or barley starch.
  • Dairy-Free Ranch. Substitute in vegan mayo and dairy-free milk alternatives like almond, oat, or soy milk.
  • Vegan Ranch. Just like the above examples, try using dairy-free milk and vegan mayo.
  • Ranch Goes with Everything!

    People have tried dunking just about everything but their kitchen sink in ranch dressing. Here are some of the best combinations to try out for yourself.

    • Veggies. For all the crunch without the extra calories, try dipping your favorite raw vegetables in this creamy sauce. Popular favorites include celery, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, and more.
    • Chicken. From wings to tenders and nuggets, ranch dressing makes the perfect complement to any chicken dish, especially one smothered in barbecue or buffalo sauce.
    • Salad. Although ranch was originally intended to be a dressing for green salads, it can also work well on pasta salad, potato salad, or chickpea salad.
    • Fries, chips, and crackers. Ranch dressing is the perfect partner for any salty, crunchy snack. Try dipping your chips in both salsa and ranch for a fun flavor fiesta. Or better, pick up our Farmhouse Ranch Sweet Potato Chips.
    • Wraps and sandwiches. Spread a little ranch dressing on your sandwiches and wraps for a burst of fresh, herbaceous flavor.
    • Dry rubs and marinades. Infuse even more of that ranch-y goodness directly into your favorite meats by using the dry herbs as a seasoning for chicken wings, burgers, and more.

    Ridiculous Ranch Facts

    To wrap up our exploration of this beloved condiment’s history, we’ll leave you with some ranch-related facts you can use to wow your friends and family at the next pizza or wing night.

    1. Twisted Ranch, located in St. Louis, MO, is a restaurant entirely dedicated to the esteemed sauce, with every item on the menu somehow incorporating one of their 31 house-made ranch dressings.
    2. Yes, they really do make ranch-flavored everything. Lester’s Fixins’ collection of Food Sodas features not only a ranch dressing flavored soda, but also other interesting additions like bacon, buffalo wing, and sweet corn.
    3. The cowboys might have started it all. Although Steve Hansen is generally credited as the inventor of ranch dressing, some earlier buttermilk dressing recipes have been discovered as early as 1937 in Texas.

    Key Takeaways

    • Steve Hansen invented ranch dressing in the 1950s.
    • Ranch dressing has taken over as one of the most beloved condiments in America, with 40% of Americans naming it as their favorite salad dressing.
    • Various dietary and flavor profile modifications can be made to ranch dressing by using vegan ingredients or incorporating additional spices.


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