Why is Ranch Dressing Called Ranch Dressing?

August 2, 2023

Bowl of ranch dressing

Ranch dressing is the most popular salad dressing in America, and it’s probably the most versatile. It’s used as a dip for veggies, chicken wings, and chips. It can go on top of burgers and sandwiches, or it can be used to bring down the spiciness of food. It’s even pretty good on a salad. But why is it called ranch?

The origin of the salad dressing known as ranch started with a man named Steve Henson. In 1949, Henson went from Nebraska to work in Alaska as a plumbing contractor and was accompanied by his wife, Gayle. While there, as part of his job, he had to cook for the others working with him, and he began to develop a recipe for buttermilk dressing.

Henson and his wife later moved to California, where they opened a 120-acre dude ranch near Santa Barbara called Hidden Valley Ranch. The dressing Henson had developed in Alaska became the house specialty. When guests would come to the ranch, they were served the ranch dressing, and it became so popular that the Hensons began selling it for guests to take home. They sold the finished ranch product and later a dry packaged mix when requests for the dressing continued to increase. As demand continued to grow, a mail-order company was started, which became Hidden Valley Ranch Food Products. Henson even trademarked the name Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing (it has since expired). The food eventually sold in supermarkets nationwide.

What would you do for some ranch dressing? Imgur

At the start of the 1970s, the Hidden Valley Ranch in Santa Barbara was sold, and the Hidden Valley Brand was sold in 1973 to Clorox (yes, the company known for their bleach) for $8 million. Clorox made a few changes that allowed the consumer to use regular milk with the dry mix instead of buttermilk, and they later introduced a non-refrigerated bottle version in 1983.

But there was a conflict in the world of ranch dressing. Others wanted in on the action, and they began to create “ranch style” products. Kraft Foods and General Foods, who had made “ranch style” dry seasoning packets, were at one time in the mid-1970s sued for their use of the “ranch style” label under trademark infringement. This particular case involved the Waples-Platter Companies out of Texas who made Ranch Style Beans. Hidden Valley was also suing General Foods, but it was in a separate case in California.

The judge ruled for Waples-Platter, and in a roundabout way, explained that the bean company didn’t have a dispute with Hidden Valley, but they did have the right to dispute the right of other manufacturers competing against Hidden Valley Ranch using the “ranch style” label.

Ranch dressing has been the best-selling salad dressing since 1992 when it beat out Italian dressing. Now many companies make ranch dressing, but when Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing says they are the original, they’re not just making it up.

Sources: Hidden Valley Ranch, Slate, CNN, Omaha.com, World Public Library, Google Scholar

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