Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Did you know? Ranch dressing

Tonight, after a spectacularly long nap, my brain cells kicked in: I realized I didn't know what was exactly in the ranch dip I was smothering my carrots and celery in. I mean, I could always realize with my tongue what ranch flavor was and then deduce key facts:

  • the red speckles in the dip are probably carrots (or orange M&Ms)
  • there's probably some onion in it, since it tastes like garden vegetable cream cheese and because ranch-flavored popcorn and Lay's chips had green herb-like dots on their ranch powder
  • it's probably mayonnaise-based because of its opaque white non-shade
But really, that was all I could think of. Which brought me to wiki, and then to two little gems that made my day:
  • I was right on all three conjectures - even though they weren't that hard. The taste of ranch that I couldn't place comes from a heavy dose of buttermilk, though.
  • This 2005 Slate article, which provided me with the fact that there is such a thing as the Association for Dressing and Sauces that monitors flavor trends for dips, dressings and sauces. Since I am, after all, a proud nerd, I call dibs on the analysis on the flavor trends' longitudinal data. Also, the association had it right, Greek was totally a trend this year...
While we're on this flavor trends business, I have never been able to understand why ranch became the chosen dressing. Today at the salad bar, nearly everyone smothered their salad in ranch (that is, there was more ranch than lettuce on their plate), regardless of any demographic differences. Also, using deep-fried foods (e.g. chicken fingers or fries) as a carrier for ranch dressing seems kind of weird in theory, because you're adding fat to fat. It's like drinking milk with pizza: something that should be avoided until there's nothing left in your fridge.

In that little thought experiment, I began comparing ranch to other dips: Thousand Island (the chili sauce equivalent to ranch -- no way on my fries), ketchup (the sourness provides a contrast to my beloved onion strings), and honey mustard (slightly hot on the tongue, but not enough to alarm most Americans' spicy range). Then I realized that besides the mayonnaise and the fat, that the buttermilk gives a tang to the dressing, and that maybe ranch on chicken fingers did make a little sense.

But ketchup and French dressing, still for the win.

P.S. In the same inquisitive spirit that led me to wonder about ranch, I just looked up French dressing. Apparently it's not just the tomato based, sweetened version of a vinagrette, but it's supposed to be a generic name for all vinagrettes. That said, the wiki article also acknowledges the presence of nationalistic French dressings:
"Those from outside the U.S. may best picture its appearance and consistency as a very high quality interior house paint the color of terra cotta."


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