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What Is 'Ranch' Flavor?


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Channel: BrainStuff - HowStuffWorks
Categories: Cooking   |   Fine Arts   |   Chemistry   |   Science  
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A plumber in Alaska invented a bizarre condiment that launched a multimillion dollar industry, and today ranch is the most popular salad dressing in the US. But what exactly is this stuff?

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If you’ve spent time in the US or Canada, then you’ve heard of ranch dressing. It was invented by a guy named Steve Henson in the late 40s to early 50s, when he worked as a plumbing contractor in Alaska.

In the 50s he and his wife moved near Santa Barbara, where they opened the Hidden Valley Dude ranch.

Visiting guests liked the ranch itself, but they LOVED Steve’s salad dressing. Eventually the Hensons just started selling that, and the rest is history. Since 1992, Ranch salad dressing has been the most popular dressing the US.

But “Ranch” isn’t a flavor, right? So what the hell is this stuff?

OK, people outside the US and Canada. Thanks for bearing with me through the history lesson. You may have tasted ranch flavoring before, under a different name. In the Netherlands, for instance, Cool Ranch Doritos are called Cool American Doritos. That weird “American” flavor you see advertised in the grocery store? That’s ranch. And the main taste in ranch is … buttermilk.

I know, I know. But it’s not quite that simple. Otherwise, people would just pour buttermilk on stuff, right? The original Ranch recipe also includes mayonnaise, parsley, pepper, salt, a little thyme, garlic and onion powder, and MSG.

It’s a dairy-heavy recipe, which means the original version doesn’t keep very well. Which means, in turn, the famous Ranch dressing flying off shelves today isn’t the same stuff Steve was whipping up for his guests.

Instead, it’s the result of some heady, complicated work by the eggheads – should I say ranch heads? Whatever – at Clorox - yes, that Clorox, who bought Hidden Valley in 1972.

They had a huge problem: you can’t just plop bottles of buttermilk and mayo on an unrefrigerated shelf and hope for the best. So they started tinkering with the recipe, practicing the arcane art of FOOD SCIENCE.

They needed something that still pretty much tasted like Steve’s recipe, but was shelf stable, meaning it could sit around on a truck or in a grocery store long enough for customers to find and buy it.

By 1983, they’d cooked up a version of ranch that could stay on shelves for up to 150 days.

The first four ingredients of modern ranch dressing are vegetable oil, water, egg yolk, and sugar. You’ll also see disodium phosphate, xanthan gum, and the ever popular calcium disodium. Mm-mm good, am I right?

And, if you ask food reviewers like J Kenji Lopez-Alt, most shelf-stable recipes end up sacrificing flavor at the benefit of convenience.

But you’ve probably also noticed that numerous companies make different ranch dressings. There’s the Ken’s Steakhouse stuff, that Paul Newman guy – the list goes on. And, given ranch’s popularity, more competitors will enter the fray.

It’s inspiring, when you think about it. A multimillion dollar industry sprang up because a guy in Alaska apparently decided he was tired of eating mayo and buttermilk separately.


REDDIT THREAD – interesting read for leads/opinions on ranch dressing. NOT AUTHORITATIVE:

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