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Taste Test: Instant Mashed Potatoes
Betty Crocker Yukon Gold
What exactly are instant mashed potatoes? For starters, they are made from real potatoes (not Cream of Wheat, Play-Doh, or any other such non-potato substance). But they are potatoes that have been cooked, mashed, and dehydrated to produce a potato-in-a-box product. Now, the second question. Should you eat them? We tried nine different brands to find out.
- Edward and Sons (edwardandsons.com)
- Idaho Spuds (idahospuds.com)
- Whole Foods 365 (wholefoodsmarket.com)
- Betty Crocker Yukon Gold (bettycrocker.com/products/yukongold)
- Betty Crocker Homestyle (bettycrocker.com/homestyle)
- Trader Joe's (traderjoes.com)
- Pillsbury (pillsbury.com)
- Hungry Jack (hungryjackpotatoes.com)
- Idahoan (idahoan.com)
In this blind tasting we were looking for potatoes that tasted real and weren't too overwhelmed by salt and fake butter flavors.
When potatoes start as itty-bitty flakes or granules they won't have the same chunky, lump-filled real texture that just-smashed potatoes do. But maybe you like your potatoes more whipped and teeth-not-required smooth. Most of the brands we tried were on the smoother side, but suffered from being gritty or watery.
We followed the back-of-the-box instructions for all of them; some called for butter and milk, some just for water (see categories below). The just-water ones, not surprisingly, scored the lowest.
Instant mashed potatoes don't have to be eaten in their obvious mashed format; you can use them in potato bread dough, as a meatball filler, to thicken cream soups, or just add some of fresh potatoes to dilute the artificial ick factor.
Category 1: Flakes; Add Milk and Butter
Overall people weren't impressed, nor were they too offended by the potatoes. Most complaints were along the lines of "bland," "needs more butter," and "pasty texture," all three of which can be fixed by adding more butter, cream, and salt than the back of the box calls for. Try replacing all of the water with real milk cut with some heavy cream to quickly improve the flavor of your spuds.
Betty Crocker Yukon Gold (6.1/10)
Tasters liked the texture more than most other brands, and it's the only brand that uses a mix of both starchy Idaho spuds and smooth, creamy Yukon Golds, which may explain its superior texture. Some tasters noted a slight fake butteriness to it, but others found the butter flavor to be pretty natural, which makes sense, given that real butter is the first ingredient amongst its flavorings. This brand beat out its competitors by over a full point.
365 Whole Foods (4.8/10)
There's absolutely nothing in here besides dehydrated potatoes, and when we made them according to the back of the box instructions, tasters felt they tasted "natural," but "bland" and "gluey." These would be a good candidate if you're the type who likes to forgo the instructions and just add your own proportion of butter and cream (I.E. a lot more than they recommend).
Idaho Spuds (4.6/10)
Very similar to the Whole Foods' brand in terms of ingredients, this brand has nothing but dehydrated potatoes and some preservatives. No off-putting flavors, slightly grainy, and bland, they reminded some of "TV-dinner mashed potatoes." Another good candidate for doctoring up with extra butter, buttermilk, cream, and herbs.
Hungry Jack (4.4/10)
Hungry Jack lost points for its overly grainy texture. "Most gloopy looking," said one taster, while others mostly complained of its blandness. "Some sort of fake buttery flavor? Doesn't taste like much."
Pillsbury Idaho (3.7/10)
Besides coming in a box that looks like it hasn't been redesigned since 1965, Pillsbury is the only brand that uses fine potato granules instead of flakes, giving the final product an eerily smooth, cement-like texture. There are no other ingredients other than some preservatives in here, so we can only attribute the strange, funky off-flavors to the process of making these sand-like granules. "What I imagine instant mashed potatoes to taste like," said one taster. Overall, very middle-school cafeteria.
Category 2: Flavored Potatoes
Neither brand of flavored potatoes even broke the halfway point to ten. If you absolutely must buy pre-herbed potatoes, they'll do in a pinch, but our advice is to just get some herbs and add 'em yourself.
Edward and Sons (4.44/10)
Tasters agreed that there was a fakey herbiness and an odd sweetness in this organic brand. But if you blended it with just-boiled and mashed potatoes, you might be duped into thinking these were un-instant.
Trader Joe's (4.33/10)
It's "garlic and herb" flavored, and we definitely picked up on those powdery garlic and herb flavors. "Reminds me of sour cream and onion chips in mashed potato form," said one taster. If you like your potatoes thicker and lumpier, you'll appreciate the almost natural-seeming lumps mixed in.
Category 3: Just Add Water
These are potato granules in which you just add water, which means they're packed with dried milk, fake butter, and other ingredients. Neither brand we tasted—Idahoan Buttery Homestyle or Betty Crocker Homestyle Creamy Butter—were worth the cost of the packaging they came in, scoring a 2.2 and a 1.8 respectively. Do yourselves a favor and just use real milk and butter!
Decent texture but about as artificial as potatoes could ever taste.
Betty Crocker Homestyle (1.78/10)
"Baby food-like" and "eerily smooth." Not a whole lot of flavor either. (Eek, 1.78 is not a hot score.)
These Don't Come From a Box
- Ultra-Crispy Roast Potatoes
- Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
- Healthy & Delicious: Herb-Scalloped Potatoes
- Ultra-Fluffy Mashed Potatoes
- Rich And Creamy Mashed Potatoes
- Cheddar Potato Casserole
- Chorizo-Crisped Potatoes with Pearl Onions and Whole Garlic
- Chorizo Mashed Potatoes
- Alton Brown's Mashers
- Baked Potatoes With Broccoli And Cheddar