I Tried 7 Store-Bought Instant Mashed Potatoes — One Stood Out as the Closest to Homemade

updated Oct 24, 2023
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instant mashed potato in bowls on white
Credit: Photo: Andrew Bui; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

There are plenty of things in my life that I’m happy to make time for: catching up with my sisters on the phone, going on long walks through Brooklyn where food is always the final destination, watching many episodes of Bob’s Burgers in a row. On the other hand, I’m not so fond of time spent prepping potatoes. That means washing, scrubbing, peeling, cutting, boiling, draining, mashing, etc. Are you now also overwhelmed?

Allow me to direct you to the solution to your potato fatigue, and one of my most beloved pantry staples: instant mashed potatoes. Instant mashed potatoes are cheap, pantry-friendly, and a surprisingly delicious alternative to traditional mashed potatoes. Made from potatoes and endlessly riffable, they’re the perfect solution to 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 did the arduous work of trying out as many varieties as I could find in order to provide you with the most comprehensive guide I could manage. Read on to see what happened during this epic spud showdown.

Quick Overview

The Best Instant Mashed Potatoes

Credit: Laura Manzano

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 nostalgia might make my taste buds a bit biased, but side by side, compared to all of the others, Idahoan still stood out. 

In spite of the fact that six out of seven samples had nearly identical ingredients (one brand contained 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’s preparation instructions yielded a bowl full of soft, nicely hydrated potatoes (unlike some brands, whose instructions left me with stiff lumps). Bonus points for the fact that it’s on par with, or even cheaper than, its competitors. And considering the fact that I’ve seen it sold in gas stations, you should have no trouble tracking down a box.

Buy: Idahoan Original Mashed Potatoes, $2.99 for 13.75 ounces at Instacart

Credit: Laura Manzano

Runner Up: Bob’s Red Mill Potato Flakes

The flavor of Bob’s mashed potatoes was also great — ever so slightly sweet and almost creamy. Perhaps because Bob’s one 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 bit more water than the others, making them smooth, but almost too thin. I think with a slightly different ratio of flakes to water they’d be much better. They’re also a bit more expensive than the rest of the competition, and might be a little harder to find — only one of the five grocery stores I shopped at carried this brand. 

Buy: Bob’s Red Mill Potato Flakes, $5.99 for 16 ounces at Instacart

Credit: Laura Manzano

Honorable Mention: Mashed Potatoes by Lidl 

My poor, sweet boyfriend, John, a tasting participant, was delighted by Lildl’s spuds. They were a pale yellow, compared to the cream-colored competition. He remarked that Lidl’s potatoes tasted the most buttery, until I informed him that the amount of butter used was the same (proportionally) across the board.

Lidl sneakily uses a bit of turmeric for color — and perhaps to trick you into thinking that the potatoes are buttery. I will say that I thought the turmeric did add a nice bit of extra flavor, and the consistency was smoother than most others.

Find it in stores: Mashed Potatoes by Lidl, $2.19 for 17.6 ounces at Lidl

How I Tested the Instant Mashed Potatoes

There are a few familiar brands you can find everywhere, and I knew this test would not be complete without them. I also got my hands on some private-label brands from some larger grocery stores, plus a handful of what one might consider more upscale options. In the name of fairness, I tested seven plain/original varieties, saving flavors like garlic and herb for my own personal indulgence.

I resisted my cheffy urge to cook all of these by eye, as I usually do, starting with an unmeasured amount of water and milk, a hunk of butter, and sprinkling enough potato flakes until it reaches the consistency I like. Instead, I obeyed the instructions on the box exactly, cooking two portions of each test.

If You’re Making Instant Mashed Potatoes, a Few Tips

  • Embrace your inner rule-breaker: Box instructions are not necessarily the most reliable for ensuring the best outcome. Make adjustments that suit your taste and preferences for a smoother or thicker mashed potatoes.
  • Get ready to riff: Leftover mashed potatoes are great for making homemade gnocchi, Peruvian causa, fried potato cakes, sculptures of your idols — or all of the above.

Do you have a favorite brand of instant mashed potatoes? Tell us below in the comments!