Macaroni and Cheese

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A childhood staple, from disappointing to delectable

“This,” said one of the tasters, “is going to be so easy. It was the only thing my mother could cook.” Along with hot dogs and peanut butter, macaroni and cheese from a box is a childhood favorite and a staple in many households. Often, it’s the first thing a kid learns to make. To do it, you have to cook macaroni in boiling water, drain it, and mix it with packets of dehydrated cheese sauce, low-fat milk, and butter or margarine.

After we assembled six brands, the tasters went to work. One was clearly enjoying herself as she licked her spoon between entries. (On one of the packages, there is a kid doing the same thing.) Most of the tasters were raised on this and happy to tuck into the cheesy spoonfuls. But as for finding a creamy texture, that was hard to come by. “Ew, this is clumping,” said one. Flavors ranged from “none” to “pungent” to “metallic” and finally “delectable.” Colors went from “crazy white,” to a blush of orange to a neon glow – possibly due to food dye Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 (Shaw’s and Kraft, respectively).

Shaw’s Macaroni & Cheese Dinner was the winner. The group liked its texture, described as creamy, and taste, which earned the “delectable” compliment. It ties with Kraft in calories – on the high side at 410 for a 1 cup serving (other brands suggest serving sizes ranging from 1/3 to 2/3 cup).

Annie’s Totally Natural Macaroni & Cheese in a blue and yellow box is evidently different than the macaroni and cheese in her purple box – and these tasters knew it because they grew up on the purple. “Maybe she wants it to look like Kraft and more people will buy it,” one decided. It garnered no best votes and two least favorites.
Everyone had an opinion about then and now. When one woman was asked about what brand she favored, she replied: “Oh I don’t eat this stuff anymore. I’m a vegan.” – DEBRA SAMUELS

Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese Classic mild cheese taste
100 percent real cheese and organic pasta
$1.79 for 6 ounces

The brand with “no artificial anything” and among the most expensive, it left the tasters cold and wondering why Annie would add this to her mac and cheese repertoire. “It’s pretty bland; there could be a lot more flavor.” “Macaroni tastes like rubber, with a cheesy aftertaste.” Another also mentioned, “kinda weird aftertaste.” “Pretty good, but I wish there was more cheese.” “Orange! Dry. Taste’s like Shaw’s brand or something” (a dis?). “Tasted a bit dry. Cheese sauce wasn’t as creamy as others.” “Not bad but it’s not very cheesy. Would have been better with more salt and flavor. 23 percent sodium per serving isn’t enough?”

Back to Nature Macaroni & Cheese Dinner
Made with real natural cheddar cheese No artificial preservatives or flavor
$1.99 for 6.5 ounces

The package says “Total Taste Promise: Love it or your money back.” The line is forming – someone scrunched up her nose when she took a whiff. Several noted the color or lack thereof: “Not orange! Amazing. White cheddar or something? I don’t like white cheddar. Tastes old and bad.” “It’s a different color, weird taste. After eating enough of it, I started to like it, but the first taste was like, `ugh.”‘ Several liked the creamy texture but the taste was another matter: “I don’t like the taste of this one, even though it is creamy. It seems to be a different kind of cheese, because it is more white than yellow.” “Creamy! But cheese had a pungent aftertaste.” One likened the taste to “moss, soil, and plastic.”

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner
The Cheesiest Original Flavor
$1.19 for 7.25 ounces

The granddaddy of boxed mac and cheese; it is the brand that many of another generation grew up on. It is on the high end of the spectrum with 410 calories and 30 percent sodium per 1 cup serving. People liked its texture: “This tastes almost homemade to me. The cheese was nice and creamy.” “Good flavor as well as consistency. It did not look appetizing though.” Another says “It looks like it’s going to have a lot of flavor but really lacks. Better visually; kind of tastes like paper and butter.” Creamy? To some it was “so soggy you can almost drink it.”

Shaw’s Macaroni & Cheese Dinner
$.75 for 7.25 ounces

The hands-down winner, this brand got accolades for being creamier than others with the perfect balance of cheesy flavor: “Mmm … this was creamy and cheesy. Just like I like it.” “Very good, has a lot more flavor. You are tasting more than just pasta and butter. Cheesiness is at a good level.” “The sauce was extra creamy. In the words of my best friend, it was quite delectable.” Another noted the “noodles were shorter than others. Not dry, the most al dente macaroni. Probably Kraft brand.” Close, very close. “Good consistency … I want more.”

Trader Joe’s Macaroni & Cheese Wisconsin Cheddar
$.89 for 7 ounces

This brand has butter and buttermilk already in the cheese packet so all that is added is the low-fat milk, which partially accounts for the low calorie count, 270 calories per serving. The other part: One serving is 2/3 of a cup. But lackluster characterizes the comments: “Lacking in color and flavor. It looks unappetizing and is unappetizing. This brand should just be called “mac” because it tastes like there’s no cheese at all.” “This is bland and boring. It tastes like just noodles and no cheese.” Is there an echo in here? Poor appearance came up in several comments. As for texture: “Looks dry! Tastes dry. Orange-ish. No milk or butter?” And finally on taste: “Metallic, I couldn’t finish it.”

Whole Foods Market 365 Macaroni & Cheese
Traditional Cheddar 100 percent Real Cheese
$.89 for 7.25 ounces

The calorie count is 265, sodium 16 percent – looks good, doesn’t it? Look again – serving size is 1/3 of a cup. The tasters detected some seasoning in this and it wasn’t one they liked. “This is kind of strange. It’s basically like chewing garlic. It does have a flavor, though what I can’t say.” “There is a taste of some kind of liquid metal. Oh so bad! Can’t finish my plate.” “I don’t like how the cheese tastes, like there might be other seasoning added.” “Cheese had funky aftertaste.” “Tastes like McDonald’s cheeseburger.” “The cheese tastes like nacho cheese, it has some sort of other flavor, more processed.” Well, there is something that says “natural flavors” on the ingredient list. How curious.

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