Ranch dressing is America's most beloved condiment. It has positioned itself as being so iconically American that Cool Ranch Doritos are called "Cool American" overseas. There's even an all-ranch restaurant in St. Louis, and a ranch fountain available for party rentals!
Ranch has become so much more than a simple salad dressing - it's a dipping sauce galore. From pizza to wings, French fries or chicken fingers, you name it and America wants a side of ranch to go along with it. It's creamy, it's tangy, it's herbaceous. If there isn't a dish out there that is complemented by ranch, especially homemade ranch dressing, I haven't found it yet.
So where did this obsession come from, and why do we love ranch dressing so much?
Hidden Valley Ranch Was a Real Place
The guy who created ranch dressing was a plumber-turned-cowboy. In 1949, Steve Henson was working as a plumber in Alaska. He perfected his homemade buttermilk ranch dressing recipe as a way to get his grouchy co-workers to eat their vegetables (it worked).
Years later, he moved to California with his wife and they bought a dude ranch. The ranch was renamed Hidden Valley Ranch and they started selling their famous dressing. In 1972, Clorox bought the name (and the secret recipe) for over $8 million.
In the beginning, the recipe was just buttermilk, mayonnaise, fresh herbs, and spices. It was delicious, but highly perishable, including items like garlic powder, and onion powder. In 1983, Clorox (and its competitors) transformed the dressing into a shelf stable product. Now, it's filled with soybean and canola oils, MSG, and some other ingredients we can't pronounce (like disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate, and calcium disodium EDTA). A good reason to make the stuff at home!
Today, Hidden Valley Ranch focuses all of its marketing attempts in the US. While it's fairly unknown overseas, ranch is the most consumed dressing in the US. Hidden Valley Ranch alone sells $440 million each year according to the Wall Street Journal.
What Makes It So Amazing?
Ranchers in Texas have been making buttermilk-based dressings as far back as 1937. Buttermilk was more readily accessible than vegetable-based fats, so cowboys have been using buttermilk to make their dressings for a long time. But it's important to remember - buttermilk works as a dressing because it is a fat-based ingredient.
The fat in the buttermilk is part of what makes ranch taste so good (along with all those savory spices like fresh dill, black pepper, and fresh chives). If you're eating a salad because you're on a diet, skip the ranch salad dressing, and probably the blue cheese dressing, too. Bottled ranch adds 380 calories and 33 grams of fat to your meal!
It's the fatty goodness of ranch that makes it so popular, though. If you don't like the flavor of vegetables, the ranch will be sure to cover it up. And even though greasy pizza and deep fried foods don't need any flavors to be covered, the ranch compliments these foods and makes them taste even better (who knew that was possible?).
Ranch is also perfect for making spicy foods easier to eat. I've been known to ask for a second (and maybe third) side of ranch when eating a particularly spicy batch of hot wings.
Our Favorite Ranch Recipes
Life just wouldn't be complete without ranch, so we compiled our favorite ranch recipes. Make it from scratch using this recipe if you really want to make it your own to store in a mason jar, or buy a bottle of your favorite brand. Always remember that a dash of lemon juice can cut through the fatty dressing if you want some brightness, for both homemade or store-bought ranch.
The packets sold at the store make for easy addition in mashed potatoes and other creamy recipes, though a basic buttermilk dressing recipe makes a great foundation for other ranch flavors. If you make your own, considering swapping in Greek yogurt for a healthier base, or adding small additions, like fresh garlic, fresh parsley, and dried chives. Worcestershire sauce was never a bad choice, either.
1. Bacon Ranch Chicken Bake
Whether it's a pizza, lettuce wrap, taco, or a casserole, these three items combined create a magical response!
This chicken recipe, in particular, is a great recipe for busy weeknights and the leftovers even keep well enough to sneak into lunches for that back to school time of year. And there's nothing to hate about a 4-ingredient recipe!
2. Buffalo Ranch Burgers
Buffalo sauce and ranch go hand-in-hand when it comes to hot wings, so why not transform it into a burger? This recipe for savory grass-fed beef holds up to ranch's strong flavor, creating a burger that you won't be able to put down.
3. Ranch Meatloaf
Using a ranch dressing seasoning mix, you can really boost the flavors of meatloaf and still keep it around five ingredients (or six, if you're wrapping it in bacon!). This recipe makes an amazing next-day sandwich, too.
4. Texas King Ranch Chicken Flautas
Can I say yum a few times? Especially in this recipe's fun twist on the classic.
5. Garlic Ranch Mashed Potatoes
This recipe uses both ranch and sour cream to make the tangiest, most herbaceous, creamy mashed potatoes you've ever had!
Make your mashers like normal, but add some zip to the flavors by adding a packet of ranch seasoning mix.
6. Bacon Wrapped Ranch Stuffed Jalapeno Peppers
Cream cheese stuffed jalapeños (wrapped in bacon, of course) are classic. Kick it up a notch with this recipe by adding ranch dressing to your cream cheese stuffing. It'll make those pepper extra savory, your guests won't know what hit them.
7. Loaded Ranch Potato Salad
It's always nice to have a quick-and-easy side dish in your pocket. Make ranch the center of your pasta or potato salad dressing and you'll be amazed at how much this boosts their flavor.
This recipe makes loaded potato salad, which sounds like the perfect recipe for my next potluck!
8. Spaghetti Carbonara with a Ranch Twist
Yup, you heard me right. When swirled into perfectly cooked, al dente pasta, this recipe turns ranch into a carbonara-like sauce. Add a little cream cheese if you want to boost its body.
9. Creamy Ranch Coleslaw
Coleslaw made with ranch dressing instead of mayonnaise will be a sure hit at your next backyard barbecue. You only need two ingredients to make this recipe!
Serve it as a stand-alone side, or plop it on top of your BBQ pork sandwiches.
10. Cheesy Bacon Ranch Potato Soup
We know that ranch goes well with bacon and potatoes, so why not transform it into soup? Make this Cheesy Bacon Ranch Soup recipe by tossing in a packet of the ranch seasoning mix and adding a burst of flavor to your potato soups.