Why are the young (and not so young) so crazy about ranch dressing? Does it make everything taste better? Does the white dressing make food look more appetizing? What did we do before ranch dressing? Oh, I yearn for the days of ketchup and mustard and Heinz 57.
There seems to be no bounds on what can be dipped or slathered with ranch, and the stuff seemed to be suddenly ubiquitous from the late 1980s onward. But after a little research, I learned that ranch dressing was invented in the 1950s—but it did not get super popular until the 1980s when the shelf-stable version came to market. I grew up mainly in Minnesota with a short stint in Maryland, and we had four basic dressing options: Green Goddess, Roquefort, Italian, and French. These were the staples and were reserved solely for salads and the like. I have a nephew that eats ranch dressing on everything; I am pretty sure that he won’t eat anything without it. I have seen him dip French fries, chicken fingers, cooked vegetables, raw vegetables, potato chips, pizzas, hamburgers, baked potatoes, steak, and Doritos in the stuff.
Is ranch dressing a culinary cop-out or an ingenious, albeit fatty, way to get kids to eat their vegetables? I think it is a little bit of both. I am not sure it is so wrong for parents to dress up a vegetable as long as their kids eat them. But at some point, the kids have to grow out of the ranch stage and move onto food not slathered in sauce, right? A few of my twenty-something friends have the ranch habit, and it amazes me. They will eat food as it should be, but when no one is looking, out comes the bottle and a ramekin, and virtually everything edible is fair game.
So, the chronology of its popularity makes sense, but what happened during the era in which everything suddenly needed dipping, and why ranch? Honestly, I think my mother would have flipped out if I started dipping my dinner in some sort of sauce. She made food that was meant to be eaten as she made it. Early on, I was coaxed to eat vegetables with the choo-choo train trick, and later on, I was merely told I did not get to leave the table until my plate was cleaned . . . vegetables and all. As a chef entering fatherhood, I stand on my soapbox now and say my kid will not be hooked on ranch . . . or will she?