The Pizza Issue

Pizza and Ranch Dressing


The first time I heard that people dipped their pizza in ranch dressing I became immediately disillusioned with humankind, and began searching the sky for some apocalyptic meteor that might wipe the Earth clean and allow life to begin anew. I’m not even sure what else to say on the subject. What in the world are you people thinking? “Hmm. You know what this flat disc of bread slathered with tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni needs? A thick coating of hideous, buttermilk-based salad dressing.” Do I even need to point out that it’s called salad dressing, and that pizza is not a salad? That alone should both clear up the confusion here and make you ranch hounds feel like horrible humans indeed. I’m not here to judge, but somebody has to, and court is now in session.

The flavor profile of a pizza is one of saltiness with a hint of acidity from the tomato sauce. The bread levels off those heightened taste sensations. Veggie toppings give you different textures and pops of flavor, and meat is just all-around delicious and a fine source of protein (if you’re really reaching for some heathy aspect of meat lovers pizza). So that’s great, but then here comes ranch sauce, and suddenly you have this topping — this liquid with the consistency of Pepto-Bismol — and it just doesn’t belong.

The thing about ranch dressing is that, yes, it’s delicious, but it is almost as though someone saw a salad — the low calorie count, the healthy fibers, the vitamins and general nutrition — and said, “How can we undo all of that? How can we make a tomato less healthy than a Snickers bar?”

And everything else proceeded from there. Moreover, ranch is not a complement to any flavor on the planet; ranch is the flavor. Now, I’ll grant you, ranch is great on bar food because you are totally wasted and nothing tastes right anyway and, look, have you ever seen the kitchen in some bars? And ranch is great on buffalo wings because buffalo sauce is disgusting. (Save your hate mail. It is — otherwise, you wouldn’t soak those wings with ranch or blue cheese.)

Hidden Valley Ranch

So that’s the unkind take on this ranch business, but there is a flip side. The story of ranch dressing is quite the American success story. The dressing was invented by a plumber named Steve Henson while he was working in Alaska. For that reason alone, ranch has a warm place in my heart. (But not too warm, because when it goes bad, it goes bad.) When he got home, he and his wife opened a dude ranch in California that they named Hidden Valley Ranch. They served the dressing on food they prepared for customers, and it boomed in popularity. They were soon selling the dressing separately. It eventually became a Southwestern staple, and after nearly 20 years of making and marketing their dressing, they sold the brand to Clorox (yes, Clorox) for $8 million.

But the story gets more interesting because, as you’ve probably noticed, Hidden Valley Ranch isn’t the only ranch dressing in town. There are all sorts of ranch dressings out there, and, oh yes, there has been many a lawsuit over this fact. Ultimately, though, the ubiquity of “ranch-style” dressings led to ranch becoming a generic for any herb-buttermilk dressing, the way a French dressing of any brand is called French dressing and any brand of Thousand Island is called Thousand Island. (Fun fact: Thousand Island dressing is named for the Thousand Islands archipelago that sits in the Northeast between the U.S. and Canada. Some say it was invented by a woman who lived there named Sofia LaLonde.)

If ranch’s most famous achievement is hiding the horror that is buffalo sauce, its greatest achievement by far is being applied to a corn chip, giving birth to Cool Ranch Doritos in 1986, and I remember when they were new and…look, if you weren’t there, you will never know how dark and hopeless life was before Cool Ranch Doritos brightened grocery store shelves.

But about the pizza: I recognize that I am in the no-ranch-on-pizza minority. Food site The Greatist says there are only two kinds of people in this world: “dippers,” and those who have never dipped a pizza crust in ranch.

Fifty-seven percent of pizza eaters dip. But I have never been one to bow to the majority — especially when I’m so right.

Pizza crust is its own sort of goodness. One of the best parts of having a child is that they never eat the crusts — which means more for me. And you won’t see me using them to soak up salad dressing, either, no matter how beautifully American the ranch story is.