Fact Check: Digging Into Claims That Ranch Dressing Was Invented in Alaska

Facebook/Tim Hatfield
Facebook/Tim Hatfield


Ranch dressing was invented in Anchorage, Alaska.


Rating: True
Rating: True


The ranch dressing recipe was created by Steve and Gayle Henson when they lived in Alaska. The Hensons later moved to California and opened what became the Hidden Valley Ranch, then started a mail-order dressing business that eventually led to the product now sold in grocery stores.


With its smooth, dill-infused buttermilk decadence, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing has been at the heart of Snopes' fact checks throughout the years. In 2023, we determined whether there would be a limited edition candy-corn-flavored ranch dressing. Before that, we dug into claims that Kellogg's had released a "Ranch Pop-Tart."

This time around, we're examining whether the American favorite was invented by a plumber in Anchorage, Alaska, as some posts on social media, like the one below (archive), have claimed:

(Facebook/Tim Hatfield)

To get to the bottom of this rumor, Snopes consulted a historical expert and dug through decades of archived newspapers.

We found that the ranch dressing recipe was created by Steve and Gayle Henson, who lived in Anchorage, Alaska, for a time. Historical accounts corroborated that the couple created the recipe while living in the Last Frontier. The Hensons opened their ranch — later named Hidden Valley Ranch — in Santa Barbara, California, in 1954.

For these reasons, we have rated this claim as "True." 

Snopes first reached out directly to Hidden Valley Ranch, who referred our newsroom to the company's "About Us" page. It read: 


That's when Steve Henson and his wife, Gayle, purchased 120 acres of sprawling land nestled in the mountains outside of Santa Barbara, California, and started a dude ranch. Over the years, Steve had been perfecting his signature salad dressing, a tangy blend of buttermilk, savory herbs and spices. His ranch guests couldn't get enough of the stuff, and Hidden Valley Ranch dressing was invented.

It wasn't long before guests were hounding Steve for jars of his ranch dressing to bring home. Word spread quickly, and pretty soon Steve was sending little packets of his original ranch all over the country. Eventually, we purchased the mail-order business so we could bring that bold, tangy flavor to even more ranch-loving fans.

There was no mention there of the Alaska origination story, leaving us hungry for more knowledge. 

Through a Google News search, Snopes found an Oct. 4, 1987, Los Angeles Times article titled, "Back at the Ranch: Saga of a Dressing Continues." Its author, Colman Andrews, wrote that he had received a letter from "Alan Barker of Los Angeles, who lived and worked at the ranch from 1959 to 1963." 

Barker wrote that the dressing "was invented in the mid-'50s" by Steve Henson, "who opened Hidden Valley as a sort of country club, nightclub, dude ranch in the mountains." The letter continued:

[Henson] and his wife Gayle built it from a much smaller existing ranch with money they had made in Alaska in the plumbing business. The ranch was not received well and promptly went broke. During my stay, we lived on peanut butter sandwiches and leftovers from parties thrown there by UCSB fraternities and sororities.

The dressing, which was originally mixed with buttermilk and mayonnaise, had no name at first. We ate it on everything from steaks to, in a comical moment, ice cream. The guests at the ranch first began asking for jars of it to take home for themselves, and then wanted larger quantities for their friends. They took it in liquid form in mayonnaise jars. The impracticality of this led to packaging the mix as a powder.

Next, Snopes contacted Chris Ervin, an archivist with the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, who told us "the story of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing is our most asked question." Ervin sent our newsroom historical documents that confirmed the details on the Hidden Valley Ranch website and explained the dressing's Alaskan origins. For starters, a 1971 clipping from the Santa Barbara News-Press, titled "Salad Dressing– A Big Business," read: 

The creation of salad dressing 20 years ago as a hobby in Alaska has been continued and developed into an international business here that last year grossed over a million dollars for Kenneth B. (Steve) Henson. 

Henson, a native of Nebraska, was a plumbing contractor in Anchorage, Alaska for some time, during which the contract with his men required him to feed them. "I always enjoyed working with seasonings," he said, "and it was then that the liquid salad dressing came into being." 

The article describes the Hensons' move to California in 1952 with their two children. In preparing meals at what was then called the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch, the couple served salad with a dressing that became a well-known "item to take home." Henson later developed the liquid dressing into a dry mix and began to package it. He launched a sales campaign 1969 selling a "39-cent twin pack making two pints and a 75-cent twin pack making two quarts." 

At the time, the salad dressing mix was "tested and blended in great batches" near San Jose, California, before being trucked to Los Angeles for bagging and distribution. 

In 1991, a publication called The Independent also wrote about the dressing's Alaskan roots, reporting that guests at the Hensons' ranch were "particularly taken by the unique dressing that graced the salads" made of a recipe Steve Henson had invented "while trying to keep his work crews happy in Alaska." 

In 1972, The Clorox Co. bought the small mail-order dressing business, according to the company website, leading to the Hidden Valley Ranch now available at grocery stores

(Ranch Dressing packaging throughout the decades beginning in the 1960s (far left) and ending in the 2000s (far right). The Clorox Company)


"About Us | Hidden Valley® Ranch." Hidden Valley® Ranch | Ranch Salad Dressing, Products, Recipes & More, https://www.hiddenvalley.com/about-us/. Accessed 13 June 2024.

Andrews, Colman. "BACK AT THE RANCH: SAGA OF A DRESSING CONTINUES." Los Angeles Times, 4 Oct. 1987, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1987-10-04-ca-32735-story.html.

---. Cool Dude Ranch Dressing. Oct. 1991.

Churchill, Maria. Hidden Valley Ranch Dresses Cowboy Menu in Style. 16 Jan. 1992.

Emery, David. "Hidden Valley Ranch Unveils Candy Corn-Flavored Ranch Dressing?" Snopes, 19 Sept. 2023, https://www.snopes.com//fact-check/candy-corn-flavored-ranch-dressing/.

Evon, Dan. "Did Kellogg's Release Ranch-Flavored Pop-Tarts?" Snopes, 25 June 2019, https://www.snopes.com//fact-check/kelloggs-ranch-pop-tarts/.

Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/335261489351042/posts/408578732019317/. Accessed 13 June 2024.

Holcombe, Chet. "Salad Dressing– A Big Business." News-Press, 14 Mar. 1971.

Santa Barbara Historical Museum – Our Mission Is to Inspire Meaningful Connections to Santa Barbara History. https://www.sbhistorical.org/. Accessed 13 June 2024.

"This Day in Clorox History: We Buy Hidden Valley® Ranch." The Clorox Company, 29 Oct. 2017, https://www.thecloroxcompany.com/blog/this-day-in-clorox-history-we-buy-hidden-valley-ranch/.