Who invented Ranch Dressing? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Ranch dressing is the perfect buttermilk dressing. It is a delicious mixture of buttermilk, onions, garlic, salt, mustard, spices, and herbs. Some people use mayo, sour cream, or yogurt as their sauce base. We use it in almost every hearty meal and snack. Burgers, pizza, salads, and chicken wings will not be complete without ranch dressing. It is hard to imagine a time when ranch dressing does not exist. However, ranch dressing is not a very ancient condiment. In fact, it has only been part of our food industry for around 60 years.

Nobody could argue when ranch dressing was declared America’s favorite dressing. But have you ever wondered who made the recipe for ranch dressing? Why is it called ranch? Who made it famous? This article will tackle the history and development of ranch dressing.

Who invented ranch dressing?

Steve Henson, a plumbing contractor, is the person behind the invention of the best-selling salad dressing worldwide.

The Ranch dressing’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Steve Henson (the Plumbing Contractor)
    The Original Recipe

    In 1949, Steve Henson worked as a plumbing contractor in Alaska. He wanted to make something lovely to keep his workers happy, so he came up with a new salad dressing. His wife and crew loved it.

  • Steve Henson (the Ranch owner)
    Ranch Kitchen

    After retiring from the plumbing industry, Steve Henson moved to California and purchased a ranch called Hidden Valley Ranch. So, Steve and his wife created a menu for their new farm. He remembered how much his crew in Alaska loved his salad dressing, so he included that in their kitchen menu.

  • Audrey Ovington
    First Customer

    Audrey Ovington was a good friend of Steve Henson. She heard about Steve’s salad dressing and ordered a batch. She served the salad dressing in her tavern (Cold Spring Tavern). Audrey’s purchase became a stepping stone in Henson’s ranch dressing business.

  • Hidden Valley Ranch Food Products, Inc
    It Kept Growing

    At first, Steve Henson used their home as a headquarter for his ranch dressing business. However, he eventually closed the guest ranch and made it his headquarters. Steve then moved the thriving production of ranch dressing to bigger factories. First, he moved to San Jose, then to Los Angeles, then to Colorado, and finally to Sparks, Nevada.

  • Clorox
    Transfer of Throne

    At the end of 1972, Henson sold the Hidden Valley Ranch to Clorox. He went to retirement with $8 million. As the throne was transferred to Clorox, innovations were introduced to the ranch dressing. They made it more convenient for consumers, changed some ingredients, and upgraded the packaging.

When was ranch dressing invented?

Steve Henson invented the recipe for ranch dressing while working as a plumbing contractor in Alaska in 1949.

A brief history of ranch dressing

Ranch dressing has been a crowd’s favorite. Americans love to put it in salads, burgers, pizzas, chips, chicken wings, and other foods. A survey conducted in 2017 shows that almost half of Americans named ranch their go-to dressing. So it’s hard to imagine the food industry without ranch dressing, but it has a humble beginning.

The story of its success begins with a plumbing contractor named Steve Henson. In 1949, Henson and his wife lived in Alaska, where he worked as a plumbing contractor. Henson was an endearing man. He wanted to show appreciation to his crew to make them happy and motivated. He thought of many things but ended up making them food, specifically salad. Steve wanted to make the food extra special, so he invented a delicious salad dressing. This is the first documented creation of ranch dressing. And it also explains why ranch dressing tastes so good: it’s made out of love.

After working in Alaska, Steve retired and settled in Santa Barbara, California. After resting for a while, he started to look for a productive way to spend his time. He purchased a ranch in 1956 and named it Hidden Valley Ranch. Steve and his wife started working on the kitchen menu for their ranch kitchen. This was when Steve remembered the salad dressing he made for his crew back in Alaska. So, he made a batch and started serving it to their ranch guests. And you guessed it right; they loved it!

Words about this special ranch dressing reached Audrey Ovington. Audrey, a good friend of Steve, was the owner of Cold Spring Tavern. So, Audrey ordered a batch of the unique salad dressing and served it in her tavern. This transaction boosted Steve’s confidence in entering the food industry.

In 1957, Steve started taking orders from their neighbors. He prepared packages and delivered them by mail for 75 cents each. The customers loved the ranch dressing. He eventually closed the guest ranch and used it as a headquarters and factory for his business. In the early 1970s, Steve was distributing and manufacturing thousands of ranch dressings. They are now supplying stores and supermarkets. So, he decided to move production to larger factories. He moved to San Jose, Los Angeles, Colorado, and finally settled in Sparks, Nevada.

In 1972, Clorox bought the Hidden Valley Ranch for 8 million dollars. The company did a great job in making ranch dressing more appealing to the consumers. They introduced buttermilk as an alternative for regular milk, developed a non-refrigerated version, and produced ranch packets.

In the 1980s, the ranch became a food flavor for chips and snacks. These innovations increased its mass appeal and popularity.

The ranch dressing timeline

  1. 1949
    For the Crew

    Steve Henson, a plumbing contractor, made the original ranch dressing as a salad dressing to make his crew members happy. His family and crew loved his recipe.

  2. 1956
    A Little Pastime

    After his retirement, Steve looked for a way to earn more money and occupy his time. So he bought a ranch and started to serve his original salad dressing to the guests.

  3. 1957
    The Stepping Stone

    Many people heard about this special dressing that Henson served on his ranch. So, his friend, Audrey Ovington, purchased a batch and served it in her tavern. This purchase made Henson realize that his salad dressing can be a huge business.

  4. The 1960s
    Mail Orders

    Henson started selling a packaged mix of ranch dressing to nearby homes. He used his home as headquarters but realized it was too small to accommodate the growing orders. He then closed his guest ranch and used the place as his corporate headquarter.

  5. The 1970s
    Growing Business

    In the early 1970s, the ranch dressing business thrived, so Henson opened bigger factories in Los Angeles, Colorado, and Nevada.

  6. 1972
    New Ownership

    In 1972, Clorox purchased Henson’s Hidden Valley Ranch. The company made several innovations and upgrades that made ranch dressing more popular.

Where was ranch dressing invented?

Steve Henson made the original ranch dressing in Alaska, where he worked as a plumbing contractor.

The importance of ranch dressing

  • Culinary Uses

    Ranch dressing is a very versatile condiment. Primarily, people use it as a salad dressing. However, people loved it so much that they became creative. They used it as a dipping sauce for chips, fries, and vegetables. Ranch sauce is also delicious on baked potatoes, pizza, tacos, burgers, and sandwiches.

  • Health Benefits

    The fresh ingredients used in ranch dressing, such as garlic, onion, and herbs, provide multiple health benefits.

  • Strong Bones

    Ranch dressing is rich in Vitamin K. A regular bottle containing around 40 mg of Vitamin K. Vitamin K is essential for strengthening your bones and helps reduce the risk for osteoporosis.

  • For Picky Eaters

    Eating healthy can be difficult for finicky eaters. Adding yummy ranch flavor can make eating vegetables easier. It is the best hack for encouraging people to eat nutritious food.

Ranch Dressing by the numbers

  • 3A store-bought ranch dressing has a shelf life of one to three months.
  • 2Home-made ranch dressing has shorter shelf life than commercial dressings. So, if you decide to make your own, refrigerate it, and you must consume it within two weeks or 14 days.
  • 40More than 40% of Americans love ranch dressing. They consider it their go-to salad dressing and favorite dip.
  • 75Steve Henson sold the first ranch dressing mix for 75 cents per pack.

Five facts about ranch dressing

  • 15 over 38

    An average American uses salad dressing 38 times a year. They use ranch dressing 15 times, making it the most popular salad dressing in the US. Italian, which came second in the list, is used six times only.

  • Weird Soda

    Soda lovers! This one is for you guys. Lester’s Fixins Soda released their ranch-flavored soda, which is basically sugar soda with a repulsive smell.

  • Ranch Lovers

    Celebrities like Courteney Cox and Melissa McCarthy declared their love for ranch dressings. Many celebrities posted about it on their social media accounts.

  • Steve Henson was not the First!

    In Texas, there were several attempts to make salad dressing from the buttermilk. In 1937, years before Henson’s formal invention of ranch dressing, cowboys were already using buttermilk as the base for their creamy salad dressings.

  • Twisted Ranch

    A restaurant in St Louis included ranch in every meal on their menu. Yes, even in desserts! 

FAQs about ranch dressing

  • What is ranch sauce made of?

    Ranch dressing tastes creamy from sour cream, mayo, and buttermilk. It also has onion, garlic, spices, and herbs like parsley, dill, and thyme. Salt and pepper are also added for extra taste.

  • What can I put ranch dressing on?

    Of course, you can experiment with ranch dressing (nobody will judge you!). People usually partner it with chicken wings, pizza, tacos, burgers, tater tots, and salad.

  • Which is better, ranch or Italian dressing?

    Ranch dressing is creamier, more versatile, and more flavorful than Italian. However, if you are health conscious, you must choose Italian dressing because it has lower fat and calories.

  • Why is it called ranch?

    The term came from an actual ranch owned by Steve Henson, who invented the salad dressing.

  • Is it okay to heat ranch dressing?

    If you warm it over the pan or microwave, it’s okay. But leaving it unsealed under the sun’s heat or in a hot room will spoil it.

Leave a Comment