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Exploring Ranch Dressing

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


Was Ranch Dressing Invented by a Cowboy?

Ranch salad dressing—the name makes you think cowboys, cattle farms, horses, and the TV show Bonanza, doesn’t it? But in reality, its origin was not on a ranch at all.

The Origins of Ranch Dressing

Ranch dressing was created by a plumber in Alaska. Kenneth Steve Henson had aspirations to earn some quick cash, move west, and improve his lot in life. And he did just that. In 1949 he and his wife Gayle moved from the sleepy little town of Thayer, Nebraska, to Alaska where he signed onto a three-year stint as a plumbing contractor. One of his “other duties as assigned” was to cook for his fellow employees, and his specialty was an herby-savory buttermilk salad dressing. When the three-year contract came to an end, Steve (his preferred name) and Gayle were able to fulfill their dream. With the money earned in Alaska, they purchased a 120-acre dude ranch near Santa Barbara, California. You might have heard of it—Hidden Valley.

Steve and Gayle hosted guests from near and far, guests who loved that buttermilk dressing which was unlike anything else they had ever tasted. It was so popular that the couple was asked to bottle it, which they did.

When finances became tight, Steve sold off 54 acres of the ranch, and he sold more salad dressing—a lot of salad dressing. He and Gayle developed a dry packaged mix that could be stirred into sour cream or buttermilk to recreate the original. The beauty of this invention was that it could easily be packaged, shipped, and marketed throughout the United States.

Hidden Valley Ranch was sold in the early 1970s, but that wasn't the end of the salad dressing empire. In October 1973 Steve sold the brand and recipe to the Clorox Corporation for a "cool as a cucumber" $8 million.

We all know that, of course, you can purchase buttermilk ranch dressing at the grocery store, but fresh and homemade are always better. And you probably already have most of the ingredients needed to make this. So check your spice rack before you go shopping. If your family likes the taste of Hidden Valley ranch, they will love (with a capital L) this dressing made by you.

Holly's Homemade Dry Ranch Seasoning Mix

Holly at Spend With Pennies has somehow channeled the spirit of Steve Henson and has developed the perfect blend of herbs and spices and (even) dried buttermilk so that you can easily whip up a batch of dressing (or dip), as little or as much as you need, anytime you want it. Here's the link to Holly's dry mix recipe.

Ina Garten's Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Ina Garten is an American author and host of the Food Network program Barefoot Contessa. Her culinary career began with her gourmet food store, Barefoot Contessa; Garten expanded her activities to several best-selling cookbooks, magazine columns, self-branded convenience products, and the television show.

Ina has elevated the perfect ranch dressing and made it even more perfect. Food Network shares her recipe which includes Greek yogurt, fresh garlic, basil, and a fun video to watch as well.

Vegan Ranch Dressing

If you are trying to eliminate animal products in your diet, or need to avoid dairy and/or eggs, you can still have a "ranch-like" salad dressing. Sylvia uses silken tofu in her to replicate the creaminess of sour cream or buttermilk. It's gluten-free, nut-free and has zero cholesterol. Vegan ranch dressing is also guilt-free.

How to Use Ranch Dressing

Serve as a dip with:

  • Breadsticks
  • Chicken strips

Drizzle on top of:

  • Buffalo chicken
  • Burgers
  • Burritos
  • Chili con carne
  • Corn on the cob
  • Grilled potatoes
  • Kebabs
  • Pizza
  • Salmon
  • Tacos

Stir into:


© 2019 Linda Lum