ranch dressing trend

Vegetable crudite with ranch dressing at Edmund's Oast on Thursday, March 23, 2017. Wade Spees/Staff

Meet ranch dressing

Let’s be honest: If you live in the U.S., you’ve probably already met ranch dressing, a tangy buttermilk-based condiment seasoned with garlic, salt, herbs and spices.

Learn the backstory

Ranch dressing was invented by an Alaskan plumber, Steve Henson, who persuaded his wife to put his signature salad topping on the menu when the couple bought a California dude ranch. Guests left Hidden Valley with souvenir bottles of the stuff, but the Hensons sensed there was greater demand for the dressing. In the 1960s, they started mass-producing dry seasoning packets.

Clorox purchased the brand in 1972, adjusting the recipe so home cooks could make ranch with regular milk. But ranch consumption became even more convenient a decade later, when Clorox figured out how to bottle pre-made dressing that didn’t require refrigeration. The amount of preservatives needed to keep the milky dressing from rotting on the shelf outraged food advocates such as Mark Bittman, who published a recipe for “real ranch dressing, not something bound with preservatives and corn syrup.”

For the vast majority of Americans, though, preservatives and corn syrup define the realness of ranch. Ranch has ruled as the nation’s favorite salad dressing since 1992, outselling its closest competitor, blue cheese, by a whopping 2-to-1 margin.

Fast-food chains were quick to jump on the flavor’s appeal, releasing sandwiches saturated with ranch dressing and coating chicken with it: By the 1990s, it had largely displaced mayonnaise as the country’s go-to spread.

And by 2016, ranch had gained a foothold in the ritziest restaurant kitchens. New York Magazine last fall cited the condiment’s prominent appearances at Superiority Burger, Emily and Blue Hill, where ranch is made from whey. It also showed up on fancy menus in Chicago and Los Angeles.

The reinvented ranch trend produced plenty of detractors, who longed for the days when Dallas’ Il Cane Rosso pizzeria could proudly charge $1,000 for a side of ranch dressing. The Washington Post in November published a rant blaming ranch for obesity (“Why would anyone use it on french fries? Because deep-fried food isn’t greasy and caloric enough?) and global warming (“Dairy produces more local and climate pollution than most plant-based foods.”) But those complaints couldn’t sway chefs taken with ranch’s texture and tang.

And order it here

Edmund’s Oast, 1081 Morrison Drive, 843-727-1145, edmundsoast.com (Vegetable crudité with ranch dressing, $12)

— Hanna Raskin

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

Food editor and chief critic

Eating all of the chicken livers just as fast as I can.