America’s #1 bottled dressing, Hidden Valley Ranch, and  Kraft, a runner-up. Note that both are labeled both ranch and buttermilk.  The dressing is used to top tacos, pizzas, and casseroles like this one. Here’s the recipe from Kraft.
March 10th is National Ranch Dressing Day.
Based on sales of bottled dressing, Ranch is America’s favorite. It surpassed the previous favorite, Italian dressing, way back in 1992.
Ranch dressing is made of buttermilk, mayonnaise, seasonings (black pepper, garlic, ground mustard seed, lemon juice, paprika) and herbs (chives, parsley, and dill). Sour cream or yogurt are sometimes used for all or part of the buttermilk or mayonnaise.
Here’s some little-known food history:
You heard it here first: ranch and buttermilk are the same dressing. Buttermilk dressing, which has been made in the southern U.S. for centuries, has the same recipe.
Look closely at recipes and packaged dressings. Many have both “buttermilk” and “ranch” in the title or on the label.
By the late 1800s, the naturally-occurring sour milk, called buttermilk, was popular in baked goods, for marinating chicken, as a health food at spas and sanitariums, and other applications.
Printed recipes for buttermilk dressing go back more than 100 years in southern cookbooks.
The original was a boiled dressing made with eggs, vinegar, buttermilk, herbs and spices. (Famed restaurant critic Craig Claiborne, a Southern boy, hated it.)
With the advent of commercial mayonnaise in the 1930s, it became easier to make, and no boiling was required.
As modern refrigeration (in the form of the ice box) became commonplace in homes, the milk no longer soured. Commercial dairies began to culture it, and sold the buttermilk we know today beginning in the 1920s.
But before then, the dressing became popular among cowboys. With a wealth of cattle, buttermilk was more available on the High Plains* than vegetable oils. The chuck wagons dished out creamy buttermilk-based dressings for a long time [source].
Here’s a longer discussion of the evolution of buttermilk.
In the early 1950s, Steve Henson, a Nebraskan working in the Alaska bush, created a dressing for his crew from buttermilk, sour cream, mayonnaise and seasonings: garlic, herbs and spices, onions and salt.
In 1954, Steve and his wife Gayle opened Hidden Valley Ranch, a dude ranch in the Santa Ynez mountains, near Santa Barbara, California. They served the dressing to guests and called it ranch dressing.
It was very popular, and guests asked to buy it to take home. The Hensons sold it both as a finished product and as packets of dry mix to be combined with mayonnaise and buttermilk.
Demand for the dressing grew much more than demand for bookings at the ranch. The Hidden Valley Ranch Food Products was incorporated and a factory established.
The dressing was first distributed to supermarkets in the California and the Southwest, and eventually, nationwide. The brand was purchased by Clorox and the ranch sold.
And now you know how old-fashioned buttermilk dressing turned into the more intriguing-sounding ranch dressing.
HOW TO USE RANCH DRESSING
Ranch dressing is common in the U.S. as a salad dressing and a dip for crudités. It is also used:
*The High Plains comprise southeastern Wyoming, southwestern South Dakota, western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, western Kansas, eastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and south of the Texas Panhandle.
WHY YOU SHOULD MAKE YOUR OWN RANCH DRESSING
What the brand’s website says:
Our Original Ranch® recipes are made with wholesome ingredients and the perfect blend of herbs and spices. Enjoy the farm fresh taste of Hidden Valley® in our ranch dressing mixes, dips and salad toppings.
The actual ingredient list:
INGREDIENTS: Soybean oil, water, egg yolk, sugar, salt, cultured nonfat buttermilk, natural flavors (soy), spices, less than 1% of: dried garlic, dried onion, vinegar, phosphoric acid, xanthan gum, modified food starch, monosodium glutatmate, artificial flavors, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid and calcium disodium EDTA as preservatives, disodium inosinate, and disodium guanylate.
Not exactly wholesome or farm fresh!
So, time to really know how good ranch is, by making your own. We adapted this recipe from Simply Recipes.
Make your own buttermilk. You don’t have to buy a quart of buttermilk. You can make 1 cup of buttermilk by adding 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice or vinegar to a one-cup measure, plus enough milk to make 1 cup. Stir and let sit.
Turn buttermilk/ranch into blue cheese dressing. Just stir in 1/2 cup crumbled quality blue cheese at the end.
Ingredients For 1.5 Cups
There are many variations on the original ranch recipe. Anyone can adjust the seasonings in the recipe above to bring out the flavors you like. You can also switch them out; for example:
 Freshly made buttermilk/ranch dressing. Here’s the recipe from Little Broken.  A wedge salad with buttermilk/ranch dressing. Here’s the recipe from Creative Culinary.  Crudités with buttermilk/ranch dressing, from Good Cheap Eats.
1. WHISK together the buttermilk and mayonnaise in a medium bowl. When fully combined, blend in the other ingredients. That’s it!
2. COVER and refrigerate. It will keep a few weeks.