Are You Eating Fake Mashed Potatoes?

A friend recently related a story how she was utterly shocked when, at age 19, for the first time in her life, she realized that mashed potatoes don’t come from a box.  On the converse, we admitted to have never eaten the fake stuff (unless that’s what they serve on airplane meals).

So out of curiosity, we decided to check out one of these industrial powders, and found a box of Pillsbury’s Hungry Jack Mashed Potato (plain) to pick on.

What you need to know:

Here’s the ingredient list, containing 9 elements:

Potato Flakes, Sodium Bisulfite, BHA and Citric Acid (Added to Protect Color and Flavor), Contains 2% or Less of Each of the Following: Monoglycerides, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Natural Flavor, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Butteroil.

Potato flakes do come from potatoes. Potatoes are basically dried and then ground into flakes. There is almost no loss of nutrients in this process, except for vitamin C.

Sodium Bisulfite is a chemical preservative most commonly used in wines to prevent the wine from going bad. In salad bars it is sometimes used as well to keep the raw vegetables from browning.

BHA is another preservative. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers BHA to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Despite this, the FDA still considers it safe. Citric acid is a safe, natural preservative found in citrus fruit. However, for industrial food uses it is much cheaper to manufacture it off of a mold called Aspergillus niger.

Monoglycerides are an emulsifier keeping oily and watery ingredients mixed together.

Partially Hydrogenated cottonseed oil means that this product contains trans fat, despite the fact that the nutrition label says 0.

Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate is another preservative to keep the potato flakes from browning.

butteroil is just the fat in the butter.

Usage directions require adding water, butter and salt.

Compare the above 9 ingredients to homemade mashed potatoes with just one – potatoes. Five of the nine are chemical preservatives.

What to do at the supermarket:

Buy potatoes, not boxes full of chemicals.

Here is a simple recipe for mashed potatoes.

you’ll need 1 lb potatoes, olive oil / canola oil / butter to taste, and salt to taste

Instructions: Wash, then peel potatoes (not a must). Wash again. Dice into golfball or smaller cubes (not a must, just quickens the cooking process). Boil in water until soft. How will you know – insert a fork into one of the chunks – if it goes in effortlessly – bingo. Strain the potatoes and let cool for a few minutes. Now the fun begins. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher, a fork, or a blender. Mix in some salt and oil. Mash some more. Taste and adjust. Bon apetit.

Yes, it takes longer to make, but aren’t your children worth it?

  • Cassie


  • Dr. Susan Rubin

    When you see partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil on a label, think beyond trans fat! This super cheap oil is one of the most toxic ingredients in processed food today, let me count a few ways:

    #1 cotton is not a food crop! these cottonseeds are a left over by product of producing cotton fiber. common sense will tell you, it’s not a food, we probably shouldn’t be eating it.

    #2 cotton is one of the most highly sprayed crops. therefore cottonseed oil has an extremely high level of pesticide residue. pesticides that are not approved for food are sprayed on cotton crops, because once again, cotton is not a food (see #1)

    #3 cottonseed oil is extremely high in pro-inflammatory omega 6 oil. The ratio of omega 6:omega 3 in cottonseed oil is around 259:1. if you are supplementing with fish oil or flax oil to increase your anti-inflammatory omega 3 levels, and you ingest even a little bit of cottonseed oil, you’re gonna need gallons of omega 3 to balance that out!

    All in all, when I see cottonseed oil as an ingredient on a packaged food product such as these “mashed potatoes”, I quickly come to the conclusion that this edible foodlike substance is hazardous to my and my family’s health.

    PS it is so easy to make mashed potatoes from scratch, even my youngest daughter can do it!

    • Antonio Bonfiglio

      Great Comment!

  • Jonathan Stanley

    It never ceases to amaze me how utterly divorced from real food, American/Western food culture is… am glad I grew up in Hong Kong where my mother would take me to the wet markets to get fresh vegetables, meat (fowl & fish would be slaughtered+gutted on the spot), etc…

    Anyway, the key to awesome mashed potatoes every time is the usage of a potato ricer:

    Oh… and personally, I use crème fraiche, or at a push sour cream. The taste of olive oil (whilst lovely) would be too over powering in mash. :P Add some jalapeños with the potatoes when ricing for extra zing! ;)

  • Ricky

    How much did that box cost? Maybe it was serving for serving cheaper than making mashed potatoes from scratch but I can’t imagine by much. Right? Potatoes are so cheap and what is better than mashed potatoes. Sometimes I add a sweet potato in for some flavor “mash up”. I agree though, use a potato ricer or a food mill for the most amazing consisency. Skip the blender! But either way, don’t buy the box.

  • Flotch

    What a brilliant post. It just frightening thinking the amount of nonsense people are eating on a daily basis with mashed potatoes being such a popular side for weekday meals. Never tried the stuff and would never touch it even for investigative purposes.

  • Heidi Kelly

    I agree with Jonathan about the potato ricer, that is all I use.

    I would suggest to someone who is weaning off of boxed mashed potatoes, to use a potato ricer as it produces a similar smooth texture and you don’t risk turning your potatoes to “glue” if you over-whip the potatoes with a mixer.

  • Debbie at Living a Greener Life

    Great post. I recently went to a party and the hosts asked me to bring scalloped potatoes. When I said I hadn’t made them before and wasn’t sure how they’d turn out I was told “most people just make them from a box.” I never had boxed mashed potatoes growing up and can’t stand them now. I’ve haven’t heard of a potato ricer before, I’ll have to check that out.

  • kc

    We are allergic to corn so I would never in my wildest dreams consider using mashed potatoes from a box. That being said, sometimes making them from scratch is no easy task if you want to avoid harmful GMOs. I buy loose organic potatoes (not in the bags) and have still have a reaction from time to time. Most potatoes in the produce section are gassed with ethylene gas which is made from GMO corn. They are gassed to prevent them sprouting so they will last longer and there is no way to find out which ones are gassed because the produce manager is clueless.

    Potatoes are climbing to the top of my list of foods that will no longer be an option for my family for this very reason. Unless I can grow my own or find a good source from the farmers market in season (most farmers don’t have storage for potatoes in winter around here), I will be forced to eliminate potatoes from my family’s diet. You might be interested to know some of the other grocery store produce that is on that list: bananas, tomatoes, avocados, mushrooms, squash, peppers, rutabagas, beets, cucumbers, apples, citrus fruits, papayas, pineapples, almost all fruit. All of these are on the list either because they are gassed, coated with, or grown in a GMO corn derivative or maybe even GMO themselves (papaya, squash, beets). Even organic produce can use these GMO corn substances, so buying only organic is no guarantee. Also, frozen and canned produce (in general) is contaminated even more (citric acid=corn and frozen produce is often coated with cornstarch to prevent clumping and cornstarch=GMO corn).

    Our corn allergy is like a GMO detector and it has certainly opened my eyes to the amount of contamination that exists in our food supply. I don’t buy packaged foods (there are so very few without corn additives), but it is increasingly difficult to find staples that are corn-free. When you are out buying bread, cookies and crackers, I am searching high and low for a flour that is unenriched because the enrichment is done with GMO corn. When you are out buying organic meat from the meat department, I am searching for a grassfed beef farmer that has his beef processed without GMO corn sprays. (Many of the grassfed beef sold online uses these GMO corn sprays during processing and all the organic brands in my store still contain GMO corn). When you are buying organic ultrapasteurized milk, I am out searching for raw milk (in a state that doesn’t allow it to be sold legally) because all of the pasteurized milk on the market contains corn via the “vitamin D enrichment”. As you can see, it isn’t easy to avoid GMOs in this country even if you mostly cook from scratch these days. My problems may seem extreme but they are partly your troubles too if you don’t want your children involved in the biggest genetic experiment of all time. This will be more difficult for you simply because you will have to navigate without my built-in detector.

  • Eraldo

    Sorry for my English, I’m italian and I like very much your useful blog.
    I suggest to wash the potatoes and to boil them without peeling.
    After they are cooked let them to cool a bit then peel them.
    Mash the potatoes directly in a pot, add some milk, a little of butter and salt. Cook all together stirring and adding more milk to obtain a smooth cream.
    At the end stir from bottom up to incorporate air in the mashed potatoes.
    Add a little of nutmeg and enjoy.

    After you taste this you will hate the boxed one…

  • Robert Baker

    While not a big fan of mashed potatoes, for the life of me I can’t imagine why anyone would use “instant” mashed potatoes when real ones (made by boiling actual spuds then having at them with a masher) are almost as quick and easy, and far tastier and more nourishing — especially if one doesn’t bother to peel them (lots more taste, fibre and nutrients that way).

  • Tony R.

    Why would one eat mashed potatoes with preservatives? Simple — it may be a matter of survival. I just finished a partial package of “Mr Spud” instant Idaho potatoes that had been opened over 10 years ago and purchased something like 20 years ago. The taste wasn’t great, but it tasted exactly like it did when it was new. I also recently sampled some old Paradise Valley Farms All Natural Mashed Potatoes that I purchased just prior to the Y2K (Year 2000) panic in late 1999, containing no preservatives, and although still edible, they taste OLD. I wouldn’t offer them to a bum on the street. You be the judge: Put something with preservatives in your emergency food stores that will sustain life 10 to 20 years from now, or something that is “all natural” but will go rancid and possibly be harmful when you need it just after an earthquake, flood, or other natural or man-made disaster.

  • Richard Rarere

    I peel potatoes. Wash. Cut mine into 30mm squares (about)takes about 20 to 30 mins. Boil in water until soft. How will you know when ready– insert a fork into one of the chunks – if it goes in effortlessly – bingo. Strain the potatoes and let as much of the water that’s soaked into potatoes steam off. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher until fluffy add butter mash again Mix in some salt pepper and milk. Mash some more. Taste and adjust

    Best to do mashed potatoes with red skin one’s. Less waxy.

    Oops this is old