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The hunt for Berkeley's best mac and cheese

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JULY 29, 2014

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Whoever decided to put delicious carbs and cheesy goodness together in one magical dish is truly a genius. Ever since its invention, mac ‘n’ cheese has basically been rumored to be the eighth wonder of the world. And for those with inadequate funds or time for a nice dinner out to acquire cheesy goodness like the mac ‘n’ cheese at Homeroom, there is mac ‘n’ cheese available in a box for about $2. Though boxed mac ‘n’ cheese isn’t exactly gourmet and is bound to involve artificial-tasting cheese and fluorescent orange colors, it sure does get the job done. It’s such a popular product that there is now a crazy variety of boxed mac ‘n’ cheeses available – you’ve got shell-shaped pasta, fusilli pasta, white cheddar cheese powder, organic mac ‘n’ cheese, and tons of brands creating all of these options. So a truly legendairy question arises — which boxed mac ‘n’ cheese reigns supreme?

Because pretty much everyone likes boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, we at the Clog decided to sample seven different kinds of boxed mac ‘n’ cheese and report back to you. We followed the directions on the box when cooking each sample and acquired opinions from a range of people, in order to ensure that various palates were accounted for. The categories we used to compare were cost; health, which might seem ironic; taste; texture and aesthetic appeal. We now present to you the Clog’s assessment of boxed mac ‘n’ cheese available in Berkeley supermarkets.

Nice! macaroni and cheese dinner — made with real cheddar cheese

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Cost 99 cents at Walgreens
Health factor For the health factor, we decided to compare nutrition facts of the boxed macaroni and cheese meals as they came in the box – not prepared. Nice! has 750 calories per box with 30 fat calories. The fat breaks down into 3 total grams of fat, though that obviously increases if you add butter and anything else once you prepare it. There are also 1650 mg of sodium.
Taste The Nice! brand mac ‘n’ cheese really wasn’t very nice at all. It simply didn’t taste like cheese; if we had tried this mac ‘n’ cheese with a blindfold on, we probably would have just assumed it was plain cooked pasta with a little bit of a plasticky flavor.
Texture We had to pull this pot of macaroni off the stove a couple minutes before the recommended cook time had passed because it looked quite cooked. When everything was mixed together, it was just kind of a mushy mess.
Aesthetic appeal This brand of macaroni and cheese was aggressively orange, which was quite deceiving because it didn’t taste like cheese at all. While the cheese sauce mixed through really nicely and perfectly coated all the pasta, the taste, unfortunately, wasn’t as impressive.

 

Trader Joe’s Wisconsin cheddar macaroni and cheese

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Cost 89 cents at Trader Joe’s
Health factor A box of Trader Joe’s Wisconsin cheddar has 810 calories with 105 calories from fat. There are 12 grams of fat, with half of those grams coming from saturated fat. One box contains 500 mg of sodium.
Taste The cheese taste of Trader Joe’s Wisconsin cheddar actually tastes like it was once legitimately Wisconsin cheddar. In other words, although it’s pretty artificial tasting, it’s the least artificial tasting of the kinds we sampled. Overall, the taste was good, but it had an odd tang or aftertaste to it that we couldn’t exactly identify.
Texture The pasta had a great texture, though the cheese powder didn’t mix completely in. This made it slightly lumpy in parts with high concentrations of cheese powder and very slimy in other bites.
Aesthetic appeal As mentioned previously, the cheese powder doesn’t mix completely, which really puts a damper on the aesthetic appeal of this macaroni and cheese. Although the cheese taste was the most authentic of the boxes we sampled, the color of the cheese sauce was overwhelmingly bright and artificial looking.

 

Trader Joe’s organic shells and white cheddar macaroni and cheese

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Cost $1.99 at Trader Joe’s
Health factor As it comes in the box, Trader Joe’s white cheddar shells pack the punch of 650 total calories with 90 calories from fat (about 14 percent fat). In total, there are 8.75 grams of fat with 5 of those grams being saturated fat. This mac ‘n’ cheese also features organic pasta, which is a definite plus.
Taste The taste of Trader Joe’s white cheddar shell mac ‘n’ cheese is fantastic. It definitely tastes more cheese-like than any of the other mac ‘n’ cheeses we tried, and it had the perfect amount of salt. It was as close to your classic white cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese as you could get with a boxed mac ‘n’ cheese.
Texture The shell-style pasta in boxed mac ‘n’ cheese definitely has an upper hand on classic macaroni-shaped pastas. Shells have a great bite to them, and their cup shape, along with the ridges on the outside of the pasta, helps accumulate cheese sauce super deliciously.
Aesthetic appeal Despite the liquids accumulated at the bottom, which almost made it look like mac ‘n’ cheese soup, the aesthetic was pretty nice.

 

Annie’s shells & real aged cheddar

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Cost $2.49 at Walgreens
Health factor All of Annie’s mac ‘n’ cheeses are made with organic pasta and without artificial colorings. This brand comes with 675 calories and 100 calories of fat. 11.25 grams of fat total are included, with 6.25 of those grams being saturated fat.
Taste Annie’s cheddar macaroni and cheese is very rich and flavorful — the cheese taste is super authentic and delicious, but it’s also slightly too salty.  Though it’s truly delectable, we definitely needed a glass of water to rinse the salty taste from our mouths after eating Annie’s traditional mac.
Texture Same positive comments about shell-shaped pasta made in the above commentary apply to Annie’s cheddar shell mac ‘n’ cheese. The consistency of this mac ‘n’ cheese was also very creamy and delicious.
Aesthetic appeal The cheese powder doesn’t mix entirely on this one either, but overall, it looks pretty delicious.

 

Annie’s shells & white Cheddar

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Cost $2.49 at Walgreens
Health factor This version of Annie’s shells also contains 675 calories and 100 fat calories. Similarly, it also contains 11.25 total grams of fat with 6.25 grams of saturated fat. Like all Annie’s products, this box of mac ‘n’ cheese is also organic.
Taste Although Annie’s traditional cheddar macaroni and cheese with shells was delicious with just a little too much salt taste, the white cheddar version is simply way too salty. The salt completely overpowers any potential cheese taste — if the traditional cheddar Annie’s macaroni and cheese is a small saltwater bath, the white cheddar version is an ocean.
Texture Same positive comments regarding the above two mac ‘n’ cheeses’ shell-shaped pastas apply here.
Aesthetic appeal The white cheddar shell looks fantastic — even if the cheese powder didn’t fully mix in, we couldn’t tell, because everything in the mixture is white!

 

Annie’s classic mild cheddar macaroni & cheese

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Cost $2.49 at Walgreens
Health factor Again, Annie’s pulls out a great organic pasta with 675 calories, 100 fat calories, 11.25 grams of fat and 6.25 grams of saturated fat.
Taste This version of Annie’s mac ‘n’ cheese wasn’t too salty, unlike the other two Annie’s macs that we sampled, but it also just didn’t taste that great. The flavor was cheesy but tasted more like it used an an extremely sharp cheddar cheese was condensed into a powder, rather than a mild cheese that is usually used in mac ‘n’ cheese recipes. It was very rich and flavorful but not really in a good way.
Texture The pasta is slightly rubbery and definitely inferior to Annie’s shell pasta. If you’re going to go with Annie’s brand mac ‘n’ cheese, definitely stick with their shell style pasta.
Aesthetic appeal The orange color was slightly less abrasive than other mac ‘n’ cheese colors, though the cheese wouldn’t mix in entirely like many of the mac ‘n’ cheeses that we sampled.

 

Kraft macaroni & cheese

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Cost $2.29 at Walgreens
Health factor Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese comes with 780 calories in each box with 75 calories from fat. There are 9 grams of fat and 4.5 grams of saturated fat.
Taste We thought we were saving the classic, best tasting, mac ‘n’ cheese for last by sampling Kraft as our finale, but boy were we wrong. This mac ‘n’ cheese was completely overwhelming in flavor — it had a very strong taste that tasted nothing like mac ‘n’ cheese. Eating this mac ‘n’ cheese in comparison to other boxes provided a very bizarre experience, because we all came to realize that Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese doesn’t taste like mac ‘n’ cheese at all — it actually tastes like bad sweet and sour sauce. Basically, our childhoods were lies.
Texture Though the taste wasn’t as delicious as we hoped it would be, the texture of Kraft is fantastic — the noodles mixed with the cheese sauce perfectly.
Aesthetic appeal Kraft is definitely the best looking mac ‘n’ cheese out there. This just goes to show you that when your elementary school teachers told you to not judge a book by its cover they were right!

Conclusions:

The cheapest mac ‘n’ cheese was Trader Joe’s Wisconsin cheddar macaroni and cheese. At just 89 cents, it gave you the most bang for your buck.

The healthiest mac ‘n’ cheese was Trader Joe’s white cheddar. It is organic, contains the least calories and has one of the lower fat-calorie ratios out of the bunch.

The best tasting mac ‘n’ cheese really depends on your preference — do you want creamy goodness, a real cheesy taste, or a milder flavor? The most neutral of the bunch was, again, the Trader Joe’s white cheddar. But if you want something distinctively cheesy, go for Annie’s aged cheddar shells.

Overall, Trader Joe’s white cheddar shells win in our book. It’s organic, is the least unhealthy for you to consume, tastes delicious and costs the least out of all the organic pastas!

Image sources: Claralyse Palmer, Trader Joe’s White Cheddar

Contact Claralyse Palmer at 

LAST UPDATED

JULY 28, 2014


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