A few weekends ago my family and I were out to dinner with another family who had young kids. One of the young boys was sitting next to me and getting a little restless with sitting still for so long. (Props to their mom and dad however, for not allowing any of the five kids to have a notebook or cell phone in hand!) The boy was finishing up his French fries and hamburger when I noticed he had some Ranch dressing nearby. I suggested he dip the fries in the dressing, to which I received a look of confusion and dismay. I kept encouraging him though and lo and behold, he did it and he loved it! Of course I went on and on from there explaining to him that Ranch dressing is good with almost anything.
Can I get an Amen?
What is it about that creamy herb bottle of yumminess? Similar to cream cheese, anything with Ranch dressing is better. Parties, tailgates, game days, and just about any event is not the same without it. You can say how gauche and icky it is, but you know it’s true.
Invented in 1950, the creamy dressing is today America’s most popular salad dressing and sold in more than 30 countries, some of which call it “American Dressing.” But as we all know, it’s certainly not reserved for salads. Servings of veggies, French fries, chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, and pizza just aren’t the same without it. Even chicken wings, those “in a class by themselves” appetizers from Buffalo, New York, are today served with Ranch Dressing on the side. But, as any true blue wing man will tell you, it’s Bleu Cheese that’s the way to go.
It’s those chicken wings that are credited (or blamed?) for making Ranch dressing the perfect side for pizza too. When Domino’s Pizza added wings and a side of Ranch to their menu back in 1994 they discovered that pizza eaters coast-to-coast were dipping their pizza slices in the Ranch along with their wings. There are pizza snobs who squeal at the thought of dipping a piece in Ranch, but it’s such a popular condiment and ingredient that Domino’s and other pizza makers now make Ranch flavored pizzas and we all have a Nebraska cowboy to thank.
Cornhusker state plumber Steve Henson had dreams of making it big so he headed west. He and his high school sweetheart wife Gayle landed in California and bought a real life ranch in 1954. Yes, “ranch” dressing has its origins at a true blue ranch!
Steve and Gayle opened the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch where guests enjoyed outdoor activities and homecooked meals. They loved all the activities, but it was the delicious homemade buttermilk salad dressing that had them at hello. So popular was the dressing that guests would ask for jars of it to take home. The demand was so great that the Hensons started a mail order business, which eventually led to the dressing taking over homes and grocery store aisles across the country.
By the 1970s the dressing was a bonafide hit, and by the time the grocery store bottle was introduced in 1983, it was gaining a cult-like following. Amazingly, it took something as far removed from a salad as you can get to make it a true household name and kitchen staple. In 1986 Doritos introduced its “Cool Ranch” flavor and rock star status was forever cemented.
Steve passed away in 2007 and Gayle in 1993, but not before selling the Hidden Valley Ranch to the Clorox company in 1972 for $8 million. Today his little ranch sells nearly $500 million of products annually.
So what is it about Ranch dressing that is so delectable and how did we live without it for so long? What I would have done to have had it around when I was a young girl. Italian, French, Green Goddess, Bleu Cheese, or Russian are all fine and good, but they just can’t compete.
First of all, it’s creamy without being heavy and a little bit goes a long way. Consisting of buttermilk, mayo, thyme, dill, parsley, black pepper, onion and garlic, it’s actually quite simple and easy to make. I for one will only buy Hidden Valley Ranch, but any and all are satisfying.
The New York Times reports that as good as it is, its ingredients are not unique in the culinary world. It cites aioli, Caesar dressing, French Onion dip, toum, and even Alfredo pasta sauce as all having similar ingredients and who doesn’t love all of those?!
And if you’re looking for organic and/or gluten-free, Hidden Valley Ranch is there for you. According to their website, most Hidden Valley products are gluten free and the company has a program where all products undergo scheduled and rigorous testing. In addition, all products are manufactured in facilities with stringent allergen control programs to prevent cross-contamination. Finally, Hidden Valley Organic Ranch is made with USDA-certified organic and National Organic Program compliant ingredients.
But what about those little packets of Ranch Dressing mix? I’ve always been a bit confused what the difference is between the “salad dressing mix” and the “dip mix.” Are they interchangeable? The answer is yes depending on the texture you’re after. If you prefer a thicker dressing, use the dip mix. If you’re looking for a more pourable dressing, use the dressing mix for a smoother texture. Either way, mix either of those into sour cream, on chicken, or just about anything and you have yourself an easy appetizer and flavorful meal. Put it in spinach dip, mashed potatoes, and meatloaf or just dip a few Ruffles potato chips in it…my favorite!
As with anything, Ranch Dressing has also taken over the internet. Google “Ranch Dressing” and a slew of recipes will pop up…both for homemade versions and recipes incorporating the dressing or dressing mix. Countless videos and You Tube tutorials are also available, as are any number of Pinterest boards.
There is also a slew of Hidden Valley products, ranging from seasonings to single serve cups to a host of flavors. I can’t help but wonder what cowboy Steve would think of his growing empire if he could see it now. And to think it all started with an American dream and a simple recipe. How it should be, right?