I tried 6 kinds of store-bought mashed potatoes and Idahoan’s practically tasted homemade

Instant mashed potatoes
I tried three different instant mashed-potato brands in a variety of flavors. Erin McDowell/Insider
  • I tried instant mashed potatoes from Big Y, Bell’s, and Idahoan in a variety of flavors.
  • Bell’s instant potatoes were a little thick for my liking.
  • Idahoan nailed it with buttery, flavorful mashed potatoes that were perfectly light and creamy.

Despite usually swearing by homemade mashed potatoes, I decided to try out a variety of instant mashed-potato brands and flavors to determine the best option at the grocery store.
Instant mashed potatoes packets on a wooden table
The instant mashed potato brands. Erin McDowell/Insider
The brands included Big Y, Bell’s, and Idahoan with flavors ranging from classic butter to sour cream and chive.

Almost every kind of instant mashed potatoes I tried required only a microwave and water, and I was surprised to find that instant mashed potatoes were a pretty good alternative to the homemade kind.

Bell’s sour cream-and-chive mashed potatoes were the same price as the classic, which I also tried.
Bells sour cream mashed potatoes packet
Bell’s sour cream-and-chive mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
The package cost $US1.79 ($AU2) for a 4-ounce (113.40g) bag. 
My first impression of these potatoes was that they were a little thick.
Bells sour cream and chive mashed potatoes in a white bowl
Bell’s sour cream-and-chive mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
My arm got a little bit of a workout stirring the mix with the boiling water.
Just as I anticipated, the texture was a little starchy.
Bells sour cream and chive mashed potatoes in a white bowl with fork
Bell’s sour cream-and-chive mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
The sour cream-and-chive flavor didn’t fully come through, either. Perhaps these potatoes would have been better with milk added, like the classic version.

However, if you’re looking for a super-filling instant mashed-potato mix, this is the one for you. I could barely eat a few bites before feeling completely full.

Idahoan’s classic mashed potatoes and other flavors made slightly more servings than the other brands.
Idahoan classic mashed potatoes packet
Idahoan classic mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
A 4-ounce (113.40g) bag of Idahoan instant mashed potatoes costs $US1.49 ($AU2) and makes four and a half servings. Like the Big Y brand mashed potatoes, Idahoan instant potatoes require only a microwave and two cups of water.

I really appreciated the easiness and not having to take up precious stove space, and imagine I would appreciate that even more if I was actually cooking these for Thanksgiving.

The potatoes had a good, fluffy consistency.
Idahoan classic mashed potatoes in a white bowl
Idahoan classic mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
Despite being made from a powder, they weren’t grainy or thick. 
The classic version of Idahoan instant mashed potatoes looked and tasted like homemade mashed potatoes.
Idahoan classic mashed potatoes in a white bowl with fork
Idahoan classic mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
If someone had told me they had come from a packet, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. The butter flavor was perfectly prominent. My only criticism of the Idahoan classic mashed potatoes was that they were slightly salty for my liking.
Big Y’s butter mashed potatoes were the cheapest of the brands I tried.
Big y classic mashed potatoes packet
Big Y butter mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
The store-brand instant mashed potatoes cost $US1.29 ($AU2) for a 4-ounce (113.40g) bag, which serves four people.
The Big Y butter mashed potatoes were super light and fluffy.
Big y mashed potatoes in a white bowl
Big Y butter mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
Giving the bowl a stir, they did have a similar consistency to “real” mashed potatoes.
The flavor was satisfying overall.
Big y mashed potatoes in a white bowl with fork
Big Y butter mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
The butter flavor was slightly stronger than the Idahoan brand’s, and they also tasted distinctly creamier. Big Y really came out on top, however, with its consistency – the potatoes were so light, they practically melted in your mouth.

However, I wondered how such a light mashed potato would hold up against thick gravy on top. You probably couldn’t make mashed-potato volcanoes with this one.

I also tried Idahoan’s sour cream-and-chive flavor.
Idahoan sour cream mashed potatoes packet
Idahoan sour cream-and-chive mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
A 4-ounce (113.40g) bag cost me $US1.49 ($AU2) and contained four-and-a-half servings.
Idahoan’s sour cream-and-chive mashed potatoes fared far better than the Bell’s brand.
Idahoan sour cream and chive mashed potatoes in a white bowl
Idahoan sour cream-and-chive mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
The texture, just like the classic flavor, was light and fluffy. I could also spot specks of chives mixed into the potatoes which gave them an authentic appearance.
The sour cream-and-chive flavor really came through.
Idahoan sour cream and chive mashed potatoes in a white bowl with fork
Idahoan sour cream-and-chive mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
I was again impressed by both the texture and flavor of Idahoan’s mashed potatoes. Unlike the classic flavor, I didn’t find this flavor too salty at all. Rather, they were creamy and seasoned perfectly.
Bell’s classic mashed potatoes were the most complicated to make.
Bells classic mashed potatoes packet
Bell’s classic mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
This brand of mashed potatoes required using a stove and other ingredients. To make them, you need 1 tablespoon of butter, 3/4 cup of milk, one and a half cups of water, and a teaspoon of salt.

They were also slightly more expensive than the other brands — a 4-ounce (113.40g) package cost me $US1.79 ($AU2).

Making these instant potatoes felt a little bit more involved, but I thought they came out great.
Bells mashed potatoes in a white bowl
Bell’s classic mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
The texture was a nice balance between fluffy and thick, and the milk added a wonderful creaminess I didn’t get from the other brands.
These were my favorite classic mashed potatoes.
Bells mashed potatoes in a white bowl with fork
Bell’s classic mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
I liked knowing how much real butter was put in, and I thought these would be a good base for people looking to spice up their instant potatoes. 

However, despite tasting better than the other two classic butter instant potato brands, they did create a little bit more of a mess. Part of the draw of instant mashed potatoes is saving precious stove space, which is where this brand falters slightly.

My favorite flavor of instant mashed potatoes was the Idahoan roasted-garlic mashed potatoes.
Idahoan roasted garlic mashed potatoes packet
Idahoan roasted-garlic mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
Just like the brand’s other flavors, a 4-ounce (113.40g) bag cost me $US1.49 ($AU2) and contained four-and-a-half servings.
Right away after mixing, I could smell the garlic — I even saw flecks of it in the mashed potatoes.
Idahoan roasted garlic mashed potatoes in a white bowl
Idahoan roasted-garlic mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
The potatoes also had a light, fluffy texture while still holding their shape.
These mashed potatoes were buttery and extremely flavorful.
Idahoan roasted garlic mashed potatoes in a white bowl with fork
Idahoan roasted-garlic mashed potatoes. Erin McDowell/Insider
Even for someone who can be a little sensitive to garlic, the garlic flavor was strong but not overpowering. I thought this kind would pair well with gravy and other Thanksgiving foods.

Think garlic bread meets mashed potatoes — what more could you want on the holidays?