In our Taste Test series, BA editors conduct blind comparisons to discover the best supermarket staples (like vanilla ice cream or frozen pizza). Today, which boxed mac and cheese should be your comfort food go-to?
Macaroni and cheese has gone through generations of iterations. References to combining pasta and cheese date back to 160 BCE, while dishes more closely resembling what we now call mac and cheese are as old as the 14th century. After the dish took hold in Europe in the 18th century, an enslaved James Hemings was one of the first cooks to bring it stateside when he served it to Thomas Jefferson and his guests. From there it became ensconced in the hall of fame that is the soul food cannon. In the early 1900s Kraft introduced the first boxed macaroni and cheese with Kraft Dinner. It was a cheap way to feed a family, became massively popular, and mac and cheese has been a comfort food staple ever since.
On the record, I will always recommend you make your own stovetop macaroni and cheese because a béchamel and some gooey cheese (i.e. a mornay sauce, for you sticklers) is a combination that’s hard to beat. Off the record, between us girls, I understand that life sometimes gets in the way. Maybe it’s raining out, or you don’t have all the ingredients. Maybe you’re too tired after work to spend more than ten minutes on dinner. Maybe it’s just a Tuesday. Whatever the incentive, boxed mac and cheese is a craving all its own, separate from its homemade counterpart—but finding the best, coziest, simplest boxed mac and cheese is important.
To make sure your mac and cheese plans turn out as creamy and cheesy as possible, we put eight brands of boxed mac and cheese through a blind taste test. Our editors judged on the consistency and flavor of the sauce, the bite and shape of the noodle, and how visually appealing each bowl was. We cooked each according to package instructions, adding butter if suggested on the packaging. Most importantly we let the bowls cool for a few minutes before digging in, just like we would at home in order to avoid any scalded tongues.
Our tasters had high hopes for their childhood favorites (the Kraft vs. Annie’s battle rages on), and we introduced a few newcomers, hoping to discover a star on the rise. Did we? Read on to find out.
The Waxy Letdown: Original Velveeta Shells and Cheese
What’s inside: While every other boxed mac and cheese asked us to mix a cheese powder with other ingredients (usually milk and butter) Velveeta provided a packet of sauce. This contains a few unique thickeners and preservatives, like sodium alginate and sorbic acid, to keep it squeezable.