06/13/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

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 prepare, but aren't your children worth it?

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