Everyone Loves Ranch — But What Is It?

When it comes to all-American foods to which people are hopelessly devoted, ranch dressing is usually near the top of the list. There's a good reason the ranch dressing industry reached a $1 billion value. And it's probably no accident that 40% of people who took a 2017 survey by the Association for Dressings and Sauces picked ranch as their favorite condiment (via Money). Some folks love the stuff so much, they've invested in ranch fountains at their weddings. It has become so widespread that several innovations might cause even the most devout ranch enthusiasts to scratch their heads — soda, ice cream, breath mints, and dental floss.

Ranch's herbaceous, punchy flavor and smooth, viscous character add an entirely new dimension to any dish it touches, no matter how unorthodox. The beloved ivory-hued food-topper is a medley of elements that, when combined, form a true icon. And as it turns out, it doesn't take much magic to create a batch. A traditional ranch dressing recipe features a handful of simple ingredients, including buttermilk, mayonnaise, salt, vinegar, fragrant green herbs such as dill and parsley, piquant spices such as pepper and paprika, and the allium all-stars garlic, chives, and onion. These ingredients come together to form a stable, creamy emulsion, thanks to the use of mayo. And its origin story is as humble as it gets.

Ranch is a savory sensation with West Coast origins

Ranch has the unique power to kick things up a notch while simultaneously adding a cooling effect, whether it's used for dampening the intensity of spicy wings, adding zest to an otherwise bland salad, or amplifying the flavor of a baked potato. So, who is the mind behind the legendary dairy product that has garnered staunch loyalty?

It all started in 1954 when a plumber named Steve Henson moved from Alaska to Santa Barbara, California, where he whipped up a humble salad dressing that, little did he know, would one day be appointed as a cult classic — perhaps to a point beyond his wildest dreams. Henson owned and lived on a farm called Sweetwater Ranch, which became the birthplace of the Hidden Valley brand. His buttermilk-forward recipe became so popular, visitors from far and wide would stop by the dude ranch to stock up on ranch spice packets to take home. Over the years, countless others have followed in Henson's footsteps, developing their own lip-smacking formulas. When the '90s rolled around, ranch was embedded into snack foods, appetizers, and entrées galore.

The dressing-meets-dip has proven itself to be a darling of the culinary world. In fact, nearly a decade ago, it was estimated that the average American indulged in the stuff 15 times a year. Ranch forever, y'all.