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


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 05, 2019:

Dang it Eric, I haven't eaten yet and you're making me so hungry. Yes to dill, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and romaine. Sirloin would put it over the top. Skip the oregano. Homemade croutons absolutely! I'll be there in 6 hours.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 05, 2019:

Yup! Stress overload. I was working there when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1981. We were told, "damn the cost, just do what needs to be done and we'll sort it out later."

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 05, 2019:

Wow, I'm impressed, Linda! Was that your lifelong career before you retired?

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 05, 2019:

Hmm. I am diving into this vat today. I am going to go all heavy on Cilantro and Oregano and Cucumbers and Onions. I think I will turn it into a midsummer salad of it's own. Thinking Dill, cherry tomatoes. Dang it, I can't figure what to give it more "meat". Hearts of Romaine maybe. I do not want to go all fruity. How about some homemade croutons. -- Maybe just the ticket? Ham? Or even perhaps some fine chopped sirloin cooked in that (how can you be extra extra virgin). Can you go wrong with olive oil with a kicker of lemon?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 05, 2019:

Sha, I knew about Ina Garten's background. Guess what, I worked for the U.S. Govt too (the U.S. Geological Survey, Dept. Interior), and I was also a budget analyst.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 05, 2019:

I love the history of ranch dressing, Linda! I must have still been half asleep when I read it tho. I had a "duh!" moment when you revealed the name of the Henson's dude ranch. Seriously, I didn't see it coming!

Interesting bit about Ina Garten: she wasn't always a chef and restaurateur. While she was gong to college, she was a government aide at the White House. She climbed up the ladder to the Office of Management and Budget where she served under Presidents Ford and Carter as a budget analyst. As Ina would say, "how cool is that?".

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 01, 2019:

Oh, Mary, I hope that you do. It tastes so much better than the stuff in a bottle and is healthier too (no preservatives).

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 01, 2019:

I love the story behind one of the very popular dressings. The recipes are worthwhile. Now, I would love to make my own dressing.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 31, 2019:

Audrey, it must have been beautiful. Thanks for sharing that with us. Do you think you'll try to make your own now?

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on July 31, 2019:

At one time in my life, I lived near Hidden Valley Ranch and often drove through it because it is so lovely. I make my own Ranch dressing using the Hidden Valley Packet and it's so good. I like that it's low in calories too.

Thanks. Linda!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 31, 2019:

I didn't know that one could "overdo" dill. Wish that I could grow it here, but the deer love it as much as I do. The smell of fresh dill (and the tall stalks standing in the produce stands at this time of year) always make me think of my childhood. Every summer our kitchen smelled of fresh dill. My mom made the best pickles in the world.

Advice? Start small, taste, and then add if needed. Easier to put in than to take out.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 31, 2019:

Of course I can hit the low and high notes. A gift and not a talent.

This thing called dill? I even pick it in the nature. But darned if I do not over do or under do with it. What advice.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 31, 2019:

Good morning Ms. Dora; it's always nice to hear from you. Have a wonderful day.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 31, 2019:

Great story about the creator couple. Ranch tastes even better now. Thanks for sharing the video link.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 30, 2019:

Larry, for me, this is the fun part of writing. I'm a history nerd and I love discovering the background of the foods we eat. Thanks for stopping by.

Larry Slawson from North Carolina on July 30, 2019:

Never knew the history of Ranch Dressing before. Very interesting!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 30, 2019:

Ah Miz, you've made me a happy gal. Comments like yours are what keep me motivated.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on July 30, 2019:

Thank you, thank you, Linda, for this wonderful article. I intend to try all the recipes, including the vegan one because I'm thinking about going back on my non-dairy, no sugar diet for a few weeks (My doctor put me on it for the treatment of a systemic fungus, but I like to use it occasionally just to be sure.). The first time I tasted ranch dressing I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 30, 2019:

Mary you can replicate (almost) buttermilk by adding lemon juice or vinegar to milk, 1 teaspoon to 1 cup. Let it sit for a few minutes to curdle.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on July 30, 2019:

How interesting about the history of the dressing.

I have a question regarding making it, I haven't seen buttermilk here and the shipping of buttermilk powder is expensive. How can I make a usable substitute? Could I just put a little vinegar in some cream cheese? I use that as a substitute for sour cream.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 30, 2019:

Bill, aha I KNEW there had to be something you like and eureka, I've finally found it.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 30, 2019:

Eric, I can almost hear you singing. (Can you plumb the depths to catch those bass notes?).

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 30, 2019:

Pamela, it seems that ranch is everyone's favorite. Perhaps the other manufacturers should just give up and go home LOL.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 30, 2019:

Here's a shocker: I like Ranch dressing. It's the only dressing I do like, so nice choice.

Bev is gone for five days. I'm suddenly buried with dog duties. Gotta run! Have a great week.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 30, 2019:

Thank you for this and it is within my "expertise" (or lack thereof :-) to make it. What a cool as a cucumber story indeed.

Sorry but I could not stop singing this as I read it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3tAJS0wpRY

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 30, 2019:

This is my husband's favorite dressing. I think to make it would be so much healthier. The man that created this dressing was surly well compensated. Interesting article about ranch dressing. Thank you.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 29, 2019:

Lori, thats exactly why I wrote this article. If you can't pronounce it you probably don't want to eat it.

Lori Colbo from United States on July 29, 2019:

I like ranch but never buy it at the store because of all the crap that is in most salad dressings today but I would love to try to make some of my own. Thanks.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 29, 2019:

Denise, my younger daughter has been vegetarian since 2000, and for one year was vegan. I'm always on the lookout for veg-friendly recipes. I'm glad to help.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on July 29, 2019:

Oh, you are fabulous to add the Vegan recipe link. I knew that there had to be a vegan version somewhere. Great history lesson. I knew there had to be a story behind Ranch dressing. Thanks for sharing.



Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 29, 2019:

Thank you Flourish. I had fun researching this one. I could eat ranch dressing on just about anything.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 29, 2019:

What a neat backstory on something most of us love! I have tried many versions of ranch and have loved them all. Looking forward to making these for my family.

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