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There are plenty of things in my life that I like to make time for: catching up with my sisters on the phone, taking long walks through Brooklyn where food is always the final destination, many episodes of Bob’s Burgers in line.
On the other hand, I’m not too fond of the time I spend preparing potatoes. That means washing, scrubbing, peeling, slicing, cooking, draining, pureeing, etc. Are you overwhelmed too?
If, for whatever reason, you haven’t followed my writing on the internet very closely, allow me to refer you to the solution to your potato fatigue and one of my most beloved pantry staples: instant mashed potatoes. Instant mashed potatoes are inexpensive, pantry-friendly, and surprisingly delicious. Made from potatoes and endlessly gritty, they’re just as welcome on a weeknight when you need a quick side, as they are on the Thanksgiving table.
Not all instant mashed potatoes are created equal, though, so I’ve done the hard work of trying as many varieties as possible to bring you the most comprehensive guide I could manage. Read on to see what happened during this epic showdown.
How I tested the instant mashed potatoes
There are a few well-known brands that you can find everywhere, and I knew this test wouldn’t be complete without them. I’ve also gotten my hands on some house brands from some of the larger supermarkets, plus a handful of what might be considered more upscale options. In fairness, I tested seven regular/original varieties, saving flavors like garlic and herbs for my own personal indulgence.
I resisted my cheffy urge to cook all these by eye, as I usually do, starting with an unmeasured amount of water and milk, a pat of butter, and enough potato flakes sprinkled on until it’s the consistency I like. Instead, I followed the instructions on the box exactly and cooked two servings of each test.
The Best Instant Mashed Potatoes: Idahoan Original Mashed Potatoes
Idahoan was a go-to for my mom when my four siblings and I were kids; it was a quick and cheap way to get dinner on the table. I was worried that nostalgia would make my taste buds a little biased, but side by side, compared to everyone else, Idahoan still stood out.
Despite the fact that six of the seven samples contained nearly identical ingredients (one brand contains onion powder, salt and pepper in addition to the typical dehydrated potatoes and mono/diglycerides), Idahoan had the earthiest, most natural-tasting potato flavor.
Following the box cooking instructions yielded a bowl full of tender, nicely hydrated potatoes (unlike some brands, whose instructions left me with stiff lumps). Bonus points for being comparable to, or even cheaper than, its competitors. And given that I’ve seen it sold in gas stations, tracking down a box shouldn’t be a problem.
Runner Up: Bob’s Red Mill Potato Flakes
The taste of Bob’s mashed potatoes was great too – ever so slightly sweet and almost creamy. Perhaps because Bob’s only ingredient is potatoes (no mono/diglycerides here!), the end result was super smooth and had a nice, velvety texture.
Bob’s instructions call for a little more water than the others, making them smooth, but almost too thin. I think with a slightly different ratio of flakes to water they would be much better. They’re also a bit more expensive than the rest of the competition, and perhaps a little harder to find – only one of the five supermarkets I shopped at had this brand.
Honorable Mention: Lidl . Mashed Potatoes
My poor dear friend, John, a trial participant, was delighted with Lildl’s puds. They were pale yellow compared to the cream-colored competition. He noted that Lidl’s potatoes tasted the most buttery, until I told him that the amount of butter used was the same across the board (proportionately).
Lidl secretly uses a bit of turmeric for color — and maybe to trick you into thinking the potatoes are buttery. I will say that I thought the turmeric added a nice bit of extra flavor, and the consistency was smoother than most.
Do you have a favorite brand of instant mashed potatoes? Tell us below in the comments!