August 25, 2019 | 77° F

'Legalize ranch': how a dressing became America's favorite flavor


You’ve argued with your friends about whether it should go on pizza. You definitely have your dipping sauce preference when it comes to buffalo wings. Comedian Eric Andre even dedicated a whole skit that developed into a satirical cult movement, also known as "Legalize Ranch." Toss it up or dress it down, America’s obsession with ranch is the latest unlikely food trend. Regardless if you choose to douse your salad, dip your chicken wings, drizzle it on a slice or even get creative and come up with your own recipe, this simple but savory buttermilk delicacy is a great unconventional condiment that many argue tastes great on any and every snack or meal. 

Ranch dressing, the most-used prepared salad dressing by Americans in 2017, was invented by Kenneth Henson in the early 1950s. At the time, Henson worked as a plumbing contractor in Alaska where he would cook for his coworkers and perfect the infamous buttermilk recipe. The combination of garlic, salt, onion, herbs and spices eventually would become the household name that Americans have grown to know and love: Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.  

Henson and his wife named their Hidden Valley Ranch brand after a dude ranch that they bought in Santa Barbara, Calif. The dressing became so much of a hit among the Henson's friends that the two decided to make a packaged dry mix so that it could shipped to friends farther away. 

With all the local buzz surrounding their signature flavor, the Henson's put Hidden Valley on store shelves and the product sold out instantly. Eventually, this prompted the two to continue with their business venture and make the dry packaged mix into a salad dressing, which would soon be used for more than just your greens. It wasn’t until the two sold the company to Clorox in the 1970s that the Hidden Valley Ranch dressing became a household name.

Once strictly used as a dressing, today ranch is rarely used on salads. It’s now a go-to condiment for classic American dishes such as burgers, hot dogs, wings, pizza and even mac ‘n’ cheese. So much so that on March 10 — which just so happens to be National Ranch Dressing Day — Hidden Valley created an online store that offers items such as a ranch fountain, a bejeweled ranch bottle, shirts and even a ranch koozie. Talk about making America ranch again.  

Aside from the Hidden Valley Ranch merchandise, ranch has become a staple in not only grocery stores but the food and restaurant industry as well. Trendy NYC pizza joint Emily introduced one  signature pie called The Emmy: drizzled with the owner’s rendition of her favorite dressing, the pie proves ranch really can belong on pizza. Chefs Christopher Kostow and Katianna Hong of Charter Oak restaurant in Napa Valley make their own rendition of the beloved dressing. Made with "raw vegetables" and "fermented soy dip," it's really just a fancy, ranch-inspired crudite. 

“It’s very different from ranch in the way it’s made,” Hong said to The New York Times. "But it’s creamy and tangy, and it has salt and umami, and it definitely reminds people of ranch.” The dip contains two kinds of Asian preserved soybeans, as well as crème fraîche and chive-infused oil.

Aside from getting creative and making imitation ranch, there are more common recipes that you can make in your home, such as chicken bacon ranch seven layer-dip, grilled ranch potatoes, ranch cauliflower bites, chicken ranch chili, chicken bacon ranch lettuce wrap and so many more delicious recipes that are just waiting to be indulged with the fresh, creamy flavor. Whether you chose to stick to a regular salad with dressing or dare to take it up a notch, there’s no denying that ranch is simply delicious and unapologetically American. 

Almier McCoy

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