Salad Dressing

This One Ingredient Makes Ranch Dressing Waaay Better

July 23, 2018

Ranch dressing grew up in California, just outside Santa Barbara, on a green, mountainous, sprawling—ahem—ranch named Hidden Valley. This was the 1950s. Nebraska-native Steve Henson and his wife Gayle had just bought the property. They wanted to live the cowboy life. But one thing led to another and they became food entrepreneurs.

For years the Hensons were dinner-party famous for their buttermilk dressing. Soon enough, they were actually famous for it. A couple decades after they moved to Hidden Valley, they sold their recipe to Clorox for $8 million.

Today, ranch is one of the most iconic salad dressings in the United States. Which means, inevitably, there are a million and one versions. But there are some usual suspects: buttermilk, mayonnaise, herbs (especially dill, chives, and parsley), garlic, vinegar (often white distilled), and spices (from paprika and cayenne to black pepper and mustard). Sometimes sour cream joins in for extra tang and richness. Sometimes Worcestershire for umami oomph.

"I love you!" the Cobb salad says to the ranch dressing. Photo by Rocky Luten

This recipe uses something else.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I don't know how much I think it tastes like ranch, but it is an excellent creamy dressing. I just made this for a ranch-loving family member who was just placed on a severely fat-restricted diet. I used nonfat Greek yogurt, reduced-fat mayo, and skim milk+vinegar for the buttermilk, and red miso; even using dried herbs and garlic powder couldn't kill this recipe. I must have some nuclear-powered dijon mustard, because it was a little more mustardy than I prefer. It got rave reviews all around, though - enough so that I don't know if I'll even try to make it with the properly-fatted ingredients.”
— Maggie
Comment

Miso. This fermented soybean paste is a staple in Japanese cooking and is becoming more and more a regular in American cooking, too. It brings a salty funkiness that, like Worcestershire, you often can’t quiiite pinpoint, but would miss if it weren’t there.

I tried this recipe with two types of miso: 1) White. This mellower, sweeter variety has been fermented for a shorter period of time. 2) Red. This older variety has a bigger, bolder personality.

And, it goes without saying, the colors are different. The red miso turned the ranch dressing, well, red—sort of like a chipotle ranch. But it also distracted from the tangy-herbiness in a way I didn’t love. White miso added that something-something, but still let the ranch be ranch.

I love it for salad-tossing, veggie-dunking, even rice bowl–drizzling. But the whole point of ranch is you can put it on just about anything, right?


BEHOLD! ANOTHER AWESOME BUTTERMILK DRESSING

This article was originally published in June 2018. We're running it again because ranch dressing never goes out of style. What do you put ranch on? Tell us your favorite way to use it in the comments!

27 Comments

Chris B. June 9, 2018
Makes perfect sense for all the reasons you describe. Plus miso adds a concentrated hit of naturally formed glutemate (aka MSG), which is the ingredient in conventional Ranch that makes it so very compelling. I use miso a lot, deploying it as a PC form of MSG paste!
 
valerie J. June 9, 2018
Miso does not have to be made from soy. It can be made from barley, rice or from other grains. I have found that in most recipes you can substitute one kind of miso for another quite easily.<br />
 
DR June 8, 2018
Is white miso a powder or liquid?
 
Maggie June 8, 2018
Neither. Miso is a salty, fermented soybean (or sometimes chickpea) paste. It comes in a variety of colors depending on the fermentation time and the other grains, if any, used with the soybeans. Typically, the darker the color, the more intense the flavor. If, like me, you live rurally, you might have trouble finding it at a regular grocery store (usually in the "Asian foods" section if it is there). It's best found at an international foods market, or a Whole Foods, if you have one within 150 miles (sadly, I do not). It keeps in the fridge for about ten forevers because of the high salt content.
 
Maggie June 7, 2018
I don't know how much I think it tastes like ranch, but it is an excellent creamy dressing. I just made this for a ranch-loving family member who was just placed on a severely fat-restricted diet. I used nonfat Greek yogurt, reduced-fat mayo, and skim milk+vinegar for the buttermilk, and red miso; even using dried herbs and garlic powder couldn't kill this recipe. I must have some nuclear-powered dijon mustard, because it was a little more mustardy than I prefer. It got rave reviews all around, though - enough so that I don't know if I'll even try to make it with the properly-fatted ingredients.
 
Joycelyn June 7, 2018
Buttermilk although sounding as though it is loaded with fat is nothing of the sort. One cup of regular buttermilk contains 1.5% milk fat as buttermilk is made from the whey left from the butter making process. It's also much lower in fat than reduced-fat mayo, does not contain strange thickeners/gums and other nasty ingredients that are used to make no fat Greek or other no fat yogurts. Instead of using skim milk ( a product soon to be labeled as a milk tasting beverage where I am as it's been striped of proper nutrients ) + vinegar, you'd be far better off using regular buttermilk to make dressing for your ranch loving family member.
 
Maggie June 7, 2018
I am a very discriminate label reader; fear not, I am not using the lowest common denominator of any of the above products, and none of them contain any "science." If they did, I wouldn't feed them to my family. Buttermilk, in this instance, had the distinct disadvantage of not already appearing in my fridge at a time when I needed it! Thank you for your concern.
 
Jaye B. June 8, 2018
Joycelyn - Can you be more specific in your comment that skim milk has been stripped of proper nutrients? This is news to me. I use buttermilk when making ranch dressing but It's frustrating because where I live (large city out west), only low-fat is carried in stores and, worse, only in quart-size. Since moving here, I've never seen a pint-size and that means I end up with unused buttermilk aging in my fridge. I limit carbs so I do very little baking which is where that extra buttermilk would go.
 
Joycelyn June 9, 2018
http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2012/03/29/why-skim-milk-isn-t-necessarily-better.html<br /><br />https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/10/03/whole-milk-is-actually-3-5-milk-whats-up-with-that/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.adedb1f69624<br /><br />https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/why-skim-milk-will-make-you-fat-and/<br /><br />You can freeze your leftover buttermilk btw, either in the original carton ( sealed up well) or in ice cube trays. Once the ice cubed buttermilk is frozen, pack them into a freezer bag to store. One cube equals approx. 1 tablespoon buttermilk.
 
Jaye B. June 9, 2018
Joycelyn - thanks so much for the info to freeze buttermilk. Duh! I guess I never thought about it being in the same family as ice cream. I should have looked that up! :)
 
Jan S. June 7, 2018
French fries. Divine!<br />
 
Barb June 7, 2018
Yup!
 
pierino June 7, 2018
I actually met the Hensons quite by accident at an old school bar in Solvang. Very nice people. But Steve won't tell you the real secrets. Frankly I don't think he would approve of miso. At some point I will have to repost my own version. <br /> <br />
 
pnadon June 5, 2018
Looks wonderful. Despite an allergy to soy, we're going to try it. In the mean time, miso alternative?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 5, 2018
Hi, that's a tough one! It would be pretty different, but I bet tahini would be lovely here. Or minced anchovies. Or Worcestershire. Add all of those to taste, starting with a couple teaspoons.
 
juwu_eats June 5, 2018
Chickpea miso?<br />Seen it in some recipes, but never used it.<br />Found this example:<br />https://great-eastern-sun.com/shop/miso-master-miso/miso-master-chickpea-miso/
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 5, 2018
Great find, jwu! I love Miso Master! Actually used their mellow white miso for this recipe.
 
creamtea June 5, 2018
Try nutritional yeast in place of the miso.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 5, 2018
Mmmmmm to nutritional yeast! So cheesy.
 
Jennifer June 5, 2018
Looks great, eager to assemble for a quick dinner after work. Is the salad pictured available as a separate recipe on here? (A cursory search yielded no hits.) Thank you.<br />
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 5, 2018
The salad pictured is actually just a throw-together cobb! Not created from any specific recipe on the site. Pretty perfect for a weeknight dinner, especially if you make the dressing in advance and snag a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Here's a fun article with more ideas: https://food52.com/blog/19194-a-guide-to-making-cobb-salad-the-way-it-was-meant-to-be
 
KateisGreat June 7, 2018
Cobbled together, you might say.
 
Cheiranthus June 8, 2018
Dohhhhh . . . <br />;)
 
Kellie K. June 5, 2018
I put Ranch dressing on... nothing. I think its gross.
 
Jared June 5, 2018
Why are you here
 
Teela P. June 4, 2018
Ok you got you facts wrong. Ranch dressing was born in Alaska not California. Mr Hanson did develop the recipie while living and working in Alaska. With the money he made there he bought the property in California and started Hidden valley
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 4, 2018
Thanks for this note! We went with the information on Hidden Valley's site, which shares the Cali side of the story, and have adjusted that sentence to be more accurate.