We all have an image in our mind's eye of what the perfect bowl of macaroni and cheese should look and taste like. For some it's a four-cheese mix in a casserole, maybe with some bacon mixed in and topped with a crumbly crust served by a favorite comfort food spot. For others it's oozy Velveeta shells and cheese. But for many of us, our first introduction to mac and cheese is the one that we remember, and it comes from a box containing elbow macaroni and a packet of powdered cheese. In order to settle the age-old question of which brand's boxed mac and cheese is best, we put eight to the test, and one came out on top.
The earliest modern recipe for macaroni and cheese appeared in Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 book The Experienced French Housekeeper. In it, she mixes béchamel sauce with Cheddar cheese, stirs in macaroni, sprinkles Parmesan on top, and bakes it. Most restaurants still prepare the dish this way, usually adding their own unique cheese blend to the base béchamel, which is essentially a roux combined with cream.
Click Here to see The Complete Results from The Macaroni and Cheese Taste Test This brand contains no artificial preservatives or flavors, which gave it a light coloring that most of our tasters equated with white cheddar. It wasn’t especially creamy or cheesy, and the cheese flavor wasn’t especially pronounced. The flavor that did come through, however subtle, did taste like real cheese, and the product overall was comforting. Serving Size: 2.5 ounces Fat: 8 grams Calories: 330 Sodium: 630 milligrams Price per box: $2.75/ 7.25 ounces Photo Credit: Jane Bruce
Wacky Mac is produced by New World Pasta, and what makes it ‘wacky’ is the fact that it comes in shapes including spirals, wagon wheels, shells, and tubes. While the finished product wasn’t especially saucy, the flavor that came through was well-liked. Our tasters weren’t big fans of the different pasta shapes, which were admittedly fun to eat (but probably more fun for kids). It was a little too salty, but the cheesy, cheddar-y flavor was surprisingly nuanced and led to an overall tasty product. And at $0.99 per box, it's also quite inexpensive. Serving Size: 2.5 ounces Fat: 14 grams Calories: 440 Sodium: 560 milligrams Price per box: $0.99/ 5.5 ounces Photo Credit: Jane Bruce
Click Here to see The Complete Results from The Macaroni and Cheese Taste Test The box claims that the formula used here is “new and improved,” and it generally went over well with our tasters. The flavor was mild and mellow (but more flavorful than Kraft), the texture was creamy, and it smelled great. Still, some tasters found it bland and unexciting, with several calling it ‘nothing special.’ Serving Size: 2.5 ounces Fat: 17 grams Calories: 380 Sodium: 490 milligrams Price per box: $1.49/ 7 ounces Photo Credit: Jane Bruce
America’s choice is the store brand sold by the A&P family of supermarkets, which includes PathMark, Food Emporium, and Waldbaum’s. Their offering fared surprisingly well, with most comparing it to the Kraft and Betty Crocker products. “It has the perfect level of cheesiness and creaminess,” said one taster, and while it wasn’t super-creamy, it had that classic mac and cheese flavor that all the tasters were looking for. Serving Size: 2.5 ounces Fat: 17 grams Calories: 380 Sodium: 570 milligrams Price per box: $1.75/ 7.25 ounces Photo Credit: Jane Bruce
Click Here to see The Complete Results from The Macaroni and Cheese Taste Test Annie’s uses organic pasta, cheese from cows not treated with hormones, and no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Even without the artificiality, their Shells and Real Aged Cheddar came out on top. Our tasters found that while the cheese was a bit clumpy in places, it was the most flavorful, wasn’t too salty, and had ‘the perfect balance of cheese flavor and creaminess.’ What really set Annie’s offering over the top was the flavor of real cheese, and it hit that comforting, homey spot that we were looking for. So congratulations, Annie’s, you’re #1! Serving Size: 2.5 ounces Fat: 13 grams Calories: 370 Sodium: 510 milligrams Price per box: $2.19/ 6 ounces Photo Credit: Jane Bruce
For our purposes, the macaroni and cheese was prepared just a little differently. We stuck with the brands that adhere to the powdered mix style Kraft first introduced in 1937, and went with the 'original' flavor. We prepared each box using the specified instructions, adding the required amounts of butter and milk. Interestingly, Kraft's offering, with 2 percent milk and half a stick of butter, called for more fat than just about any other brand tested. Perhaps a secret to its success?
Our panel of tasters tried each brand blind, and judged each on the following: appearance, smell, creaminess, saltiness, cheese flavor, and whether it hits that magical, comforting spot that only a hearty bowl of perfect macaroni and cheese can.
In the end, it was clear that no two brands of macaroni and cheese are exactly alike, and brands we thought would be clear winners didn't always come out on top. We also added in the price per box as well as nutrition info for one serving of the finished product.
-Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
More Content from The Daily Meal:
Follow The Daily Meal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thedailymeal