History of Ranch Dressing

Have you been curious about the history of ranch dressing? I was thinking about that this week. The origins of ranch dressing stretch back to the early 1950s. A genius developed this amazing salad dressing that has taken the culinary world by storm.

Who Was The Genius Behind Ranch?

Steve Henson created ranch dressing while working as a contractor in Alaska. He was a plumber turned cowboy who had a passion for this house dressing. In 1954 he opened a ranch with his wife, Gayle. The ranch opened in Santa Barbara County California. Steve and Gayle made sure to serve the ranch dressing to their customers. It quickly became popular enough to where they sold it in the bottle, ready to go, and as a seasoning to mix in with buttermilk and mayonnaise. 

The history of ranch dressing continued as they moved into retail. The first store in Santa Barbara to sell the mix was Kelley’s Korner. It was selling so fast that the owner of the shop thought employees were stealing it. Demand continued to grow. So they decided to incorporate and start producing large quantities of stuff. They named the business after their ranch, Hidden Valley Ranch Food Products, Inc. 

Clorox, Yes Clorox, Purchases The Recipe

Originally ranch was distributed only in the Southwest United States. They gradually rolled it out nationwide. In 1972, Clorox purchased the Hidden Valley Ranch Brand for a cool $8 million. This is the equivalent of $45.6 million today.

General Foods and Craft Foods quickly realized the popularity of ranch and rushed to put their own similar products on the market. During that time Clorox reformulated their seasoning packet to include buttermilk. This meant that the average consumer could mix regular milk with the mayo and still have a great result. They also developed other ranch flavors, which I will talk about in a minute. 

When Did The History of Ranch Dressing Really Gain Traction?

Ranch really took off in the early 1980s when they developed a shelf stable version. That allowed for much easier distribution. From there, demand exploded. 

During the mid to late 80s, ranch became a common flavor in snack food. It made its debut most famously with Cool Ranch Doritos in 1986. Ranch dip also became a thing in the late 80s. People brilliantly discovered that broccoli and carrots tasted better if they were literally dripping with the cool ranch goodness. For me, that is what initially got me to eat my veggies. I needed a little broccoli with my ranch. After all, it wasn’t socially acceptable to just chug ranch by itself. You had to hide it with the ruse of eating veggies.

Interesting Ranch Facts:

  • Speaking of chugging ranch, celebrities Melissa McCarthy and Courteney Cox have both been known to chug large quantities of ranch.
  • The average American will consume salad dressing 38 times a year. 15 of the 38 salad dressing moments contain ranch. Italian is a distant second at 6 out of 38 times.
  • Ranch soda exists. It is a thing and it sounds gross. Granted it comes from Lester’s Fixins Soda and they have a lot of weird flavors that they sell. But if you want a bottle it will only set you back $3.99. Any takers?
  • Ranch today doesn’t resemble Steve’s first crack at it. That is what a bunch of chemicals and lab engineering will get you. I like to think of this fact as the difference between ranch you might get at a restaurant vs. the bottle of hidden valley. They taste very different. 
  • Since Hidden Valley Ranch launched, they have created over 70 different flavors of ranch. 
  • Hidden Valley Ranch sold $440 million in ranch last year. That means that Steve’s humble ranch dressing has sparked a billion dollar empire!
  • Ranch has been dubbed “the new ketchup” because Americans are dipping everything from veggies to fries to pizza in this glorious sauce. If you go into the grocery store, you can see quickly that ranch sells. It is always front and center and easily accessible. 

Ranch Taste Test:

The Chicago Tribune did a taste test of 14 different brands of Ranch dressing. In third place was Tuscan Garden Ranch Dressing. This dressing is the brand from Aldi. Second place went to Kraft. However, consumers didn’t give it high marks. They just said it was generic and inoffensive. First place was Hidden Valley Ranch. The tasters loved the creamy texture, strong zip and peppery bite. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

Interesting Flavors Today:

Today Hidden Valley has many different dips, powders and sauces. They just launched a line of Secret Sauce flavors. It looks like they are a burger and fry sauce type condiment. You can get those in Original Ranch, Smokehouse and Spicy varieties. 

They also have a new line of Blasted Dipping Sauce. These are thicker and creamier than standalone ranch. You can get them in Bold Buffalo, Ranch-Dipped Pizza Flavor and Zestier Ranch.

Standard ranch dressing also has many different flavors and varieties to choose from. You can find Cheddar & Bacon Flavored Ranch, Peppercorn, Avocado Ranch, Cucumber Ranch, Cilantro Lime Ranch, Sweet Chili Ranch and many more. From looking at all the different flavors and varieties, there is sure to be something for everyone. 

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History of Ranch Dressing – America’s Other Ketchup

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