The Department of Health and Human Services ("Servicing Humans since 1953") has issued a rather startling announcement. They have revoked the Standard of Identity for French dressing. If I may quote from the document:

"This action, in part, responds to a citizen petition submitted by the Association for Dressings and Sauces (ADS). We conclude that this standard no longer promotes honest and fair dealings in the interests of consumers."

What? Have I been spanking dishonest bottles all these years?

Here's the deal: The Standard of Identity is a "mandatory set of requirements" that apply to a product. Just as true champagne must come from the Champagne region of France and string cheese must come from String County in Wisconsin, French dressing must meet certain standards. They were established in 1950, and laid down the law for its composition.

The ADS wants more flexibility in the matter, so it can call something "French" that isn't technically French. But I know what you're thinking:

There's an Association for Dressings and Sauces?

Shouldn't surprise anyone, I suppose, but dressings are one thing, and sauces are another. I imagine the association's HQ, with a Dressing Wing, a Sauces Wing and a meeting hall in the middle where they struggle to find common ground. The guy in charge of French Dip promotion is looking at the Minister without Portfolio for Vinaigrettes, and plotting secession.

We are blessed with a humbling number of dressings in this great land, but this is a recent development. Think back 30 years. What did we have?

The strange and alluring "Green Goddess," which sounded like some sort of pagan sauce. There aren't too many viscous foodstuffs that lay claim to omnipotence.

"Thousand Island" was also exotic. Where were all these islands? Between Canada and the United States, I later learned. There actually are 1,864 islands. This means that not all of the islands participate in the dressing, and there might be room on the shelf for Eight-hundred and Sixty-Four Island Dressing, which tastes like Thousand Island, but 16% less so.

In Germany, by the way, it's called "American Dressing," maybe because they want to avoid things with "Thousand" in the name.

And, of course, there's "Ranch." It's an odd name. What do you want for a dressing, sir? "Large, livestock-based Farm liquid."

It was created by Gilbert Ranche, a chef at the Cafe du Palais in Paris for the 1907 Culinary Exposition, where it was an immediate sensation. And by sensation I mean "abdominal discomfort," because the mayo used in the dressing had gone bad. But it became popular nevertheless, and when you order it should be pronounce in Ronsh, as the French would. As in, "le poulet est mal; je me ronsh toute la nuit."

I made all that up, alas. The name comes from the Hidden Valley Ranch, which started selling the stuff in 1957. It is now owned by Clorox. Really. I hope there's never a Reese's-Peanut-Butter-Cup commercial moment in the hallways of Clorox labs: you got Liquid Plumr in my salad dressing! No, you got salad dressing in my Liquid Plumr!

It's the No. 1 salad dressing in the country, having beaten out Italian in 1992. Blue Cheese is third. Thousand Island is fourth, and my personal favorite — Caesar — is No. 5.

Fun fact about Caesar: It is not named after the populist Roman autocrat. As the story goes, it was invented in Mexico by an Italian named Caesar Cardini, who ran a restaurant in Tijuana. I say "as the story goes" because you can bet there's another version. They all have the same bushwa origin story that's a bit too cute to be true.

"While serving as a cook at the Hotel Ohtehl in Pocatello, Idaho, Odell (Othello) O'Dell accidentally poured some raw egg on a salad he was preparing for a group of men engaged in the gem trade. The response was so good that the men returned the next day, asking for 'that good salad' and told all their other friends in the gem business.

"As it turns out, most of the men were crooks, engaged in a variety of scams, particular rubies, so their preferred salad was known as the Ruby-Con Salad. Later, O'Dell changed it to 'Caesar,' because he did not want his creation to be associated with the crossing of the Rubicon, which violated all civil and political norms of the day."

I know: What of Western dressing? That was my father's favorite. I wondered if other parts of the world had Eastern or Northern dressing. It's basically French, but you couldn't say so, because of government regulations. Now the world is open for endless innovations.

Let a thousand island bloom, as they say.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks