If you follow me on Instagram, you know how often I talk about Mac and Cheese. I eat it even more than I talk about it– which is probably already too much. Even recent studies didn’t do anything to deter me from my cheesy pasta. Morning, noon, or night, I’m eating the stuff. I definitely have my go-to brands, but I got thinking… which brand is actually the best?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the question we are here to answer today. I picked 5 boxes of mac and cheese from Whole Foods and taste tested them– just for you. Who are we kidding? I wanted to eat 5 boxes of mac and cheese, and this was a prime excuse.
The basic rules I adhered to when picking and making the mac and cheese are as follows: a) must be cheddar or cheddar flavored and b) must be cooked to the minimum time specified on the box.
Let’s get to the eating part, shall we?
Daiya, deliciously dairy-free, deluxe cheddar style, Cheezy Mac was the first box. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, lactose-free and soy-free if you have any allergies and need to know that kind of stuff. It has 5 grams of protein per serving and plenty of calcium (and sodium, too). All of the packaging is recyclable, so a big plus there.
The noodles: classic-with-a-twist pasta shape cooked to the minimum time of 7 minutes, they were pleasantly chewy, though they did get a little more gummy toward the end of the bowl.
The cheese: out of all the mac and cheeses I tried for this test, this one was the only one that came with already-liquid cheese sauce. Normally, this would be a negative for me, but the cheese sauce covered all the noodles evenly, and there was plenty of it to go around. Aside from being a little salty, the cheese was delicious, as the box promised! If you had a hybrid of nacho cheese and sharp cheddar, this was what it would taste like.
Alrighty guys, now comes Road’s End Organic, Dairy-Free, Shells and Chreese…. yes. Chreese. That’s not a typo. Normally I try not to *ahem* shit on things that I don’t like. There’s enough mean people on the Internet, and I don’t need to add to the furious masses. Ordinarily, if something sucks, I would just not write about it at all. However, this is a showdown of mac and cheese, and I must express my extreme confusion and rage at this product. I ate about 5 bites trying to give Road’s End a chance, but I came to the end of my rope.
The noodles: I cooked them to the minimum time of 6 minutes and they were already like hot, soggy, cereal. If you try this mac and cheese, don’t even think about cooking the shells for the full 10 minutes. The box also says to “strain and thoroughly rinse pasta with cold water.” Noooooooooooooooooooooooo! I would add more “o”s to that “No” but I would honestly run out of space. Don’t! Rinse! Your! Pasta!!! That’s like rule #1 of cooking pasta. Nonononono. I don’t know who wrote this recipe, but they have certainly never watched an episode of Chopped.
The cheese: frankly, this cannot be called cheddar style. It’s more like the factory consists only of a giant machine just built to crush Parmesan flavored Goldfish crackers into powder, which is then mixed 50/50 with garlic powder, and put into packets. I guess there are people who might like that flavor, but in no way is it remotely cheddar flavored.
I do appreciate that this product is vegan, organic, soy-free, nut-free, lactose-free, egg-free, and cholesterol free. I really do. But why does the packaging need to tell me it’s Candida Albicans-free? In case you are too lazy to click on the link I put there, Candida Albicans is a type of bacteria found in the human intestinal system and mouth. Since this is a food post, I won’t describe what happens when this bacteria becomes pathogenic. But really, should a food company have to tell me that a particular kind of bacteria is not present in my food? Shouldn’t it just be a given that there’s no potentially infectious pathogens in my food? I digress.
Heading off the dairy mac and cheeses is 365 Everyday Value Organic Macaroni and Cheese, aka Whole Foods generic brand. This one is the closest you’ll get to classic Mac and Cheese out of all the ones I tried. Tastes just like the stuff that my mom used to make me, but it’s certified organic and vegetarian, and has 9 grams of protein per serving. Score!
The noodles: another case of classic macaroni shape, this pasta tastes just unhealthy enough to make it a comfort food, but like I said, it sneaks in some protein to my carb-craving mouth. I’m not going to say this is the healthiest dinner choice you could make, but it’s better than just eating Krispy Kremes and Vienna Sausages.
The cheese: two words– more, please! Seriously, it has a nice sharp cheddar flavor. Probably my favorite cheese of all the powdered kinds, except there wasn’t enough for all the noodles and it was kinda clumpy 😦
Now we’ve arrived at Banza, Chickpea Pasta, Classic Cheddar, Shells and Cheese. Overall, this one is a winner in the healthy-but-still-tasty department. Its gluten-free, rBST-free, lower-carb, high in protein (18 grams!), and high in fiber(8 grams!).
The noodles: chickpea pasta cooks quickly and even after only 3 minutes of boiling, it was already a little bit more soft than I usually prefer. It also definitely tastes different from regular pasta, so if that’s an important factor to you… sorry. I still prefer regular pasta, but chickpea pasta is so high in protein in fiber, it’s worth it.
The cheese: uhhhhh, average. It tastes nearly as good as the 365 brand cheese. It helps you forget for a minute that you aren’t eating real, carb-heavy, pasta– sorry, I’m still stuck on the fact it’s not normal pasta! It’s good, but it’s different.
Finally, let’s talk about Annie’s Homegrown, Organic, Bernie’s Farm Fun Pasta Shapes with Yummy Cheddar, Macaroni and Cheese. That is a really long name, but it’s really important. Did you read the “Fun Pasta Shapes” part? and the “Yummy Cheddar” part??? I may be in my twenties, but pasta shaped like bunnies and cows is still much more appealing to me than normal shaped pasta. I purposefully ate this one last because otherwise I would have gotten hung up on the shapes and automatically declared this one the winner. Aside from these obvious benefits, there are no artificial flavors, preservatives, or synthetic colors. It has 10 grams of protein– not as much as Banza, but not bad for a carb-centered meal. It’s USDA certified organic, and made without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, or pesticides. The box is also made of 100% recycled cardboard. Kudos to Annie’s for the environmentally friendly effort!
The noodles: did I mention the fun pasta shapes already? Aside from this, they came out nicely al dente when cooked to the minimum time of 10 minutes. One downside is that your boyfriend will definitely make fun of you for enjoying kid’s food… at least that happened to me.
The cheese: the cheese certainly is not as potently-flavored and prominent as previous cheeses, but it is easily the creamiest powdered cheese out of the bunch. Again, I definitely would want more cheesiness– it is mac and cheese, after all– however, it evenly coated all the noodles. In all honesty, I was so excited to eat the “yummy cheese” and “fun pasta shapes” that I forgot to take a picture first…… whoops. Self-control level: -1
Time for the Whole Foods Mac and Cheese Showdown awards ceremony.
Award for the Leftovers Most Likely to Sit in My Fridge and Never Get Eaten goes to Road’s End Organic Shells and Chreese! Congrats!
Award for Most Balanced Mac and Cheese goes to Banza Chickpea Shells and Cheese for being both good and good for you!
The Award for Most Environmentally Conscious Mac and Cheese goes to Annie’s Homegrown for caring about the environment and the people (and animals) who live in it.
Most Classic Mac and Cheese Award goes to 365 Organic Macaroni and Cheese! This one will transport you back to your childhood with strong nostalgic elements.
And the highest award in this showdown– Best Overall Mac and Cheese— goes to Daiya Cheezy Mac. Excellently creamy, generous cheese, and classic noodles won this dinner the grand prize.
Thank you all for attending the Whole Foods Mac and Cheese Showdown! Stay tuned for more carbs and booze– coming soon!