Challenge: Real mashed potatoes vs. Instant

I can understand the lure of instant mashed potatoes. You want comfort, you want it now. According to Wisegeek.com, a Canadian scientist developed instant mashed back in 1962. Nutritionally speaking, instant mashed potatoes offer roughly the same vitamins and minerals as the real mashed potatoes with the exception of Vitamin C. To please palates, they tend to be higher in sodium, significantly higher than the amount of salt home cooks would add when making them at home from scratch. Like most brands, the instant mashed potatoes I used were based on Idaho potatoes. Here’s how the real thing stacked up to the packaged variety in our challenge. 

Homemade mashed potatoes

At $3.99 for a five pound bag of Yukon Gold potatoes and 65 cents in butter and milk, homemade wins in the cost department. The standard serving size for mashed potatoes used by caterers is about 2/3 cup mashed potatoes per person. But packages for instant mashed potato list 1/2 cup as a serving, so I  used that as a standard although my brothers would look at me as if I was shorting them payment if I served up only half a cup.  

A pound of potatoes yields about two cups mashed or four servings. So, five pounds of potatoes yields 20 servings. Although they are not challenging, homemade mashed potatoes do take time. There’s peeling and mashing, plus you need a large pot, a strainer and at least a fork. 

Process: Peel the potatoes, boil, mash with butter, milk, salt and pepper. (See the full CookFearless recipe – with a video – on perfect mashed potatoes.) 
Active time:  18 minutes (peeling, mashing)
Total time:  38 minutes
Cost per serving: 23 cents
Ingredients: POTATOES, BUTTER, MILK, SALT, PEPPER

Instant Mashed Potatoes 

In the bag you get four ounces of powdered mashed potatoes and the other stuff listed below. The Idahoan package reads “with Buttery Homestyle flavored mashed potatoes, you’ll enjoy the superior taste of Idaho potatoes blended perfectly with real butter. They’re satisfyingly rich. They’re delightfully creamy. And the genuine buttery flavor is 100% irresistible.”

However, there is no actual butter listed in the ingredients, only a “butter powder” that includes sweet cream, salt and annatto coloring. But since butter is made from cream originally, this may be viewed as splitting hairs. An issue here is about the reliability of the serving size quoted. In the supermarket, I asked a woman buying this product how many servings a packet usually yields and she said two. “My husband and I usually split one.” She was buying six packets for Thanksgiving to feed seven guests. Each 1/2 cup serving contained a hearty 19% of daily sodium intake.

Process: Add pouch contents to boiling water. Remove from heat, let stand one minute. Fluff with fork. 
Active time:  2 minutes
Total time:  4 minutes  
Total Cost: $1.39 per packet                 
Cost per serving:  35 cents
Ingredients: IDAHO® POTATO SLICES (PRESERVED WITH SODIUM BISULFITE), PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OIL* (CONTAINS ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING: SOYBEAN, COTTONSEED, SUNFLOWER), CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, SALT, MALTODEXTRIN, COCONUT OIL, NONFAT DRY MILK, SUGAR, WHEY POWDER, SODIUM CASEINATE, BUTTER POWDER (BUTTER: SWEET CREAM, SALT ANNATTO COLOR), NONFAT MILK SOLIDS, SODIUM CASEINATE AND DISODIUM PHOSPHATE,  MONO & DIGLYCERIDES, CALCIUM STREARoYL LACTYLATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, SPICE, SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE (TO MAINTAIN FRESHNESS), SODIUM BISULFITE (TO MAINTAIN FRESHNESS), DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, LECITHIN, ARTIFICIAL COLOR, CITRIC ACID (TO MAINTAIN FRESHNESS), MIXED TOCOPHEROLS (VITAMIN E) (TO MAINTAIN FRESHNESS) AND LESS THAN 2% SILICON DIOXIDE ADDED AS AN ANTI-CAKING AGENT.

The Result 

Homemade mashed potatoes: 7
Instant mashed potatoes: 0 

All seven firefighters not only favored the real mashed potatoes over the packaged variety, they picked them out right away. Among their comments:

  • “The real mashed have a butter flavor. The instant ones taste like the butter salt on popcorn.” 
  • “The instant ones tasted like the kind that come in a TV dinner.”
  • “The [instant potatoes] are really white, like they’ve been bleached.”
  • “Compared to the real potatoes, [the instant ones] taste sort of flat and salty.” 
  • “I have to admint, I’m used to [the instant potatoes] since I eat a lot of frozen dinners.”
  • “The homemade potatoes have a rich, smooth texture. I could eat a ton of these.” 

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About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry" and "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School." Her third book, "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good" will be published in April 2014. All are published by Viking/Penguin.

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