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The History of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing

Steve (formerly Kenneth) Henson invented ranch dressing while working as a contract plumber for an Alaskan oil company. Part of his duties included cooking for the crew, and he found that it was difficult to serve them vegetables without hearing complaints. In an attempt to make the veggies more palatable, he used ingredients he had on hand — buttermilk, mayonnaise, and some spices and herbs – to make a salad dressing, and ranch dressing was born! It was an immediate hit among the crew. After Henson’s contract ended, he and his wife Gayle moved to Santa Barbara, California, and bought the Sweetwater Ranch in 1956, which they then renamed to Hidden Valley Ranch. They intended to make it a dude ranch or guest ranch, but their venture didn’t succeed. However, the guests that they did host loved the ranch dressing served at Hidden Valley Ranch. Seeing an opportunity, the Hensons created a mail-order business selling ranch seasoning packets to at-home consumers and restaurants. (The first restaurant to serve Hidden Valley Ranch dressing was Cold Spring Tavern in 1963.) In 1972, the Hensons sold the brand name to Clorox. While Henson’s mail-order model required Americans to do a little work for their ranch dressing (they had to add the buttermilk and mayonnaise themselves), by the early 1980s, Clorox had created a version that included shelf-stable buttermilk seasoning. This meant that Americans could easily mix up their own ranch dressing at home just by adding regular milk and mayonnaise. However, Hidden Valley Ranch didn’t become a true American phenomenon until 1983, when the company introduced the first shelf-stable bottled ranch dressing. Since 1992, ranch has been the most popular salad dressing in America. But it’s also become more than that. In 2012, the brand launched a new, thicker version of the product that was marketed as “the new ketchup.” And indeed, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing is no longer just for salads — it’s a condiment in its own right.

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