14 Ways To Upgrade Instant Mashed Potatoes

Instant mashed potatoes aren't nearly as good as the homemade version, and everyone knows it. Still, considering how simple they are to make, sometimes they're the perfect addition to a quick meal. They just need a little help. Fortunately, all it takes is a few ingredient additions and substitutions, and instant mashed potatoes are easily transformed into a flavorful, delicious dish. From infusing them with compound butter or cheese to switching up the ingredients you use for reconstituting the potato flakes, instant mashed potatoes have a lot of potential when you stray from the recipe on the box.

I'm a self-proclaimed potato fanatic and I have a weak spot for instant mashed potatoes, so I've tried many of these upgrades myself. I also searched through online recipes, food blogs, and more to create a list of the best potential flavor and texture enhancers for instant mashed potatoes. Whether you rarely make them or are a frequent purchaser, you're going to want to try a few of the things I learned.

There are several iconic styles of mashed potatoes, but instant mashed potatoes are not among them. However, the following 14 upgrades may just change how you see the shortcut dish moving forward. At the very least, they'll transform how yours tastes.

1. Don't skip the butter — double it

There are a few instant mashed potato brand recipes that claim butter is optional. While this is technically true, don't listen. If you leave the butter out, you still wind up with mashed potatoes, but they won't even come close to tasting homemade. Skipping the butter seriously detracts from the overall flavor of the reconstituted potatoes. After all, the buttery taste is one of the best things about mashed potatoes, right?

Instead of considering butter an optional ingredient for instant mashed potatoes, I recommend doubling what the recipe calls for. Most people add extra butter on top of their mashed spuds anyway, so why not give them a head start? The additional butter will not only improve flavor but help create a smoother, creamier texture as well. I double the butter almost every time I make instant mashed potatoes. It is by far the easiest way to elevate the simple dish because you don't need any extra ingredients, and the results are significant. With enough butter and a few shakes of herbs and spices, sometimes I don't even need gravy.

2. Swap out the water for vegetable stock

Most instant mashed potato mixes use boiling water to reconstitute the potato flakes. Some also call for milk, but more on that later. Either way, swapping out the water for vegetable stock infuses the dish with drool-worthy flavor throughout. The salty, complex flavors found in veggie broth are the perfect complement to lackluster instant mashed potatoes. It adds a not-so-subtle taste to every bite.

Some would go so far as to say that skipping the water is how you achieve the most flavorful instant mashed potatoes. I tried this technique once before and was really impressed with how my potatoes turned out. I used about 1 teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon Seasoned Vegetable Base with one 4-ounce package of instant mashed potatoes and it was a huge hit.

In addition to plant-based broth, chicken and other meat-based broths can be substituted for water in instant mashed potatoes. Like vegetable stock, they'll add a ton of flavor to otherwise bland potatoes. Depending on what kind of gravy you plan on serving with them, it may be best to choose the same type of stock. For example, if you are making turkey gravy, use turkey stock. This isn't 100% necessary, but it adds similar flavors from the ground up, leading to super tasty instant mashed potatoes all around.

3. Substitute milk for buttermilk, half and half, or heavy cream

A simple way to improve the texture of instant mashed potatoes is to switch out milk for a fattier alternative, like buttermilk, half and half, or heavy whipping cream. Using one of these denser, fattier milk products gives potatoes a smoother, creamier texture that won't go unnoticed.

I have not tried this instant mashed potato upgrade with buttermilk, but I have experimented with heavy cream as well as half and half. In fact, I typically use heavy cream to make homemade mashed potatoes, so this isn't much of a stretch. Every time I've opted to use something other than milk, I couldn't have been more pleased. It added a touch of rich flavor and created a smoother consistency than normal.

Not all instant mashed potato recipes include milk, many just use water, but adding milk is a great choice regardless. If your specific instant mashed potato package only uses water, you can still employ this upgrade. Just substitute half of the water for milk or, better yet, one of the other fattier dairy products discussed.

4. Stir in some shredded or grated cheese

There are endless ways to incorporate cheese into your cooking, and pairing it with potatoes just so happens to be one of the most delicious (at least in my opinion). With this in mind, instant mashed potatoes and cheese make the best of friends.

Thanks to the simple flavor of potatoes alone, they go phenomenally well with just about any kind of cheese you can think of. From parmesan to cheddar to Swiss to blue cheese, they all make for mouth-watering mashed potatoes. In addition to tasting fantastic, cheese also lends a serious helping hand to the texture of instant mashed potatoes, so it's a win-win. Just be careful adding too much salt if you choose to mix in cheese. Many cheeses have a salty flavor already so you don't want to overdo it.

Stirring grated or shredded cheese into instant mashed potatoes is my favorite way to combine the two. You could sprinkle cheese on top as a garnish, but I like it to get melty and gooey inside. My top picks for instant mashed potato cheese are Brie, Gouda, and Monterey jack. They don't change the color, at least not by much, and they pack a big punch flavor-wise. A smokey Gouda or Brie has an elevated taste that completely changes instant mashed potatoes for the better. Monterey jack is more subtle but still delicious.

5. Season generously with herbs and spices

Just like with any dish you cook, adding herbs and spices is the key to flavorful food. Without any added spice, most cuisine falls flat, and this includes instant mashed potatoes. Of course, the mixes already come with seasonings in the package, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't add more. Everyone's taste preferences vary, and pre-packaged food often benefits from a bit of extra flavor. Even instant mashed potatoes that are roasted garlic flavored get better with more garlic.

For the brightest burst of flavor, add fresh herbs to your potatoes. They give reconstituted potato flakes a fresh, aromatic element that they typically lack. Plus, fresh herbs have way more flavor than their dried counterparts. Even so, dried herbs and spices also make a great choice when it comes to upgrading instant mashed potatoes, so don't worry if that's all you have.

The most obvious seasonings to add to instant mashed potatoes are salt and pepper. However, a world of other herbs and spices leads to tastier results than you get straight out of the box or bag. Some of my favorite additions include red chili flakes, roasted garlic, and truffle oil. If I have fresh herbs on hand, rosemary and sage are my go-to picks for mashed potatoes. I also know a chef who likes mixing grated horseradish into mashed potatoes, so I'm sure it would be great in the instant stuff as well.

6. Add canned potatoes to the mix

To achieve potatoes that are more like the real thing, combine instant mashed potatoes with canned potatoes. Mixing in canned potatoes is much faster than washing, peeling, and cooking raw potatoes, and it gives instant mashers just what they need to taste more homemade. One of the dead giveaways of instant potatoes is their smooth, yet clumpy consistency. Adding canned potatoes gives them a real potato texture. If you prefer a chunkier mash, this upgrade is for you.

Canned potatoes come whole or sliced and both work in instant mashed potatoes. Simply grab your hand blender and mix until you achieve your preferred texture. Due to the extra ingredients, you may want to increase the amount of butter and milk you use as well — just add them slowly until the consistency is smooth and creamy. This is also a fantastic way to bulk up your dish and add volume. For example, if you have more people to serve than you think your package allows for, increasing the amount of potatoes solves your problem.

7. Mix in a can of creamed soup

Whether instant or homemade, creamed soup is the canned ingredient you need for ultra-savory mashed potatoes. As you may have guessed, the addition of creamed soup makes mashed potatoes super creamy. Yum! It also infuses the mix with potent, savory flavors. If you're only making a couple of servings of instant mashed potatoes, you won't need an entire can of creamy soup. Start with a couple of heaping tablespoons and see how it turns out. If it isn't as creamy or flavorful as you'd like, stir in a couple more spoonfuls until the ratio is just right.

One of the best things about this upgrade is that it provides you with an abundance of flavor options. One of the most obvious choices is cream of potato soup, but it won't add as much unique flavor as other options. It'll help a lot in the creamy department, but that's about it. If you want to try something more creative, cream of mushroom, celery, broccoli, and onion make outstanding choices.

8. Thicken with sour cream or cream cheese

Similar to cheese, sour cream and cream cheese make welcome additions to instant mashed potatoes. Both have the ability to thicken a runnier mix while also contributing an ultra-creamy element that improves texture quite a bit. They also bring a slightly tangy flavor that brightens the taste of the rather dull potatoes with ease. Thanks to the versatile taste of both sour cream and cream cheese, they also go great with many of the other ingredient upgrades on this list. So, you don't have to stick to this recommendation alone.

Cream cheese is relatively thick. While this is wonderful when it comes to improving the texture of instant mashed potatoes, it could go a bit too far and make them dense and heavy. If this happens, just add a bit more milk to the mix and they'll be better than ever. Sour cream isn't as solid as cream cheese, so you might not need to increase the other liquids if you add it — just use your best judgment.

9. Incorporate small or chopped veggies

If you're like me, you can't resist stirring the corn or peas on your plate into your mashed potatoes. Something about putting these veggies on the same plate makes me want to mix them all together. Not only do they add a great flavor to mashed potatoes, but they also add lots of bite to a primarily smooth dish. So, why not skip the middleman (i.e. the plate) and serve them that way from the start? Instant mashed potatoes in particular benefit from this simple upgrade because they often lack in flavor and texture, but a few finely chopped or small veggies are ready to turn that around for you.

You don't have to stop with peas and corn; caramelized onions, carrots, mushrooms, and spicy peppers like jalapeños or hatch green chilis make wonderful additions to instant mashed potatoes as well. Crispy fried onions and chopped green onions also taste great sprinkled over the top of instant mashed potatoes. Depending on the veggie you choose, it may add a fun pop of color that will make your otherwise monochrome dish stand out next to the others.

10. Stir in a dollop of pumpkin puree

Autumn flavors of pumpkin and spice don't have to be reserved for the fall season alone. In fact, a spoonful or two of pumpkin puree easily transforms bland instant mashed potatoes into something spectacular by giving the potatoes a hint of sweetness, a dash of color, and a smooth, somewhat creamy texture that'll make you swoon.

A little bit of canned pumpkin puree goes a long way. Even if you're one of those people who craves potent pumpkin-flavored dishes and laments that they are only popular in the autumn months, you'll want to start slow with this addition. The sweetness of the puree can quickly turn your mashed potatoes into a dessert-like dish. While this is fine if that's what you want, most people expect mashed potatoes to be more on the savory side. Start with a small spoonful, stir, and see how it tastes. After testing the flavor, you can add more as needed. If you add too much, the only way to remedy the mix is to dilute the pumpkin taste by adding more ingredients, like canned potatoes or cream cheese.

11. Trade regular butter for compound or browned butter

Compound butter is a secret weapon everyone should have in their cooking arsenal. It instantly infuses dishes with fat and flavor, two things instant mashed potatoes need. You can easily make compound butter at home and incorporate any herbs, spices, and flavors you like. You can often buy compound butter from the grocery store as well, but it's really simple to make. For mashed potatoes, compound butter with herbs and spices like rosemary, sage, garlic, basil, and more are perfect.

Browned butter is a simpler option than compound butter, but it still has the power to enhance flavor and improve texture in instant mashed potatoes. Browning butter gives the dish a unique nutty taste with lots of rich complexity, though it doesn't alter the flavor so much that you have to design the rest of the meal around it. When you substitute browned butter for regular butter, you get all the same benefits regarding consistency with a more nuanced taste. Turning regular butter into a browned butter sauce only takes a few minutes in a frying pan, too, so it's a fairly quick and easy ingredient swap.

12. Top with bacon

Bacon is a classic topping for baked potatoes, and it only makes sense that it would taste fantastic with all kinds of potatoes. Putting bacon in your finished potatoes enhances texture by contributing a pleasing crunch. It also adds an appetizing smokey flavor throughout the mix. You can sprinkle a handful on top of each serving, but stirring it in results in more even seasoning and smokiness in each bite. The choice is yours. Of course, if you are cooking for someone who follows a plant-based diet, topping individual servings enables both meat-eaters and vegetarians to get exactly what they want.

If you give this upgrade a shot, be aware of how much grease is on the bacon. Even if you pat your diced bacon with a paper towel to remove excess grease, it'll still add a considerable amount to your mashed potatoes. If you accidentally add too much, your mashed potatoes will become oily. Bacon grease is delicious and all, you just don't want too much or it can weigh down your potatoes and eliminate the mix's chances of fluffing up.

13. Add a spoonful of pesto

A small amount of pesto is all you need to liven up boring instant mashed potatoes. Pesto is packed with bold flavors and a bit of oil, so it easily smoothes out the texture while simultaneously improving taste tenfold.

When you hear the term pesto, you probably think of basic basil pesto, but it's actually much more than that. A pesto sauce can be created with all kinds of ingredients, and many of them complement instant mashed potatoes. Still, basil pesto is my favorite kind for mashed potatoes. It pairs perfectly with Mediterranean cuisine and lots of veggies. Sun-dried tomato pesto is also yummy mixed into instant mashed potatoes, but the color isn't quite as appetizing as the fresh green look you get with basil.

When adding pesto, you don't need much to achieve drool-worthy results. Similar to how you use pesto with pasta, a small amount goes quite a long way. As a result, you'll want to add it sparingly. You're unlikely to take the flavor too far, but if you add too much, the oil used to make pesto could lead to a heavier mash and a greasier texture than preferred.

14. Transform flavor with ranch seasoning or French onion dip

Last but not least on our list of instant mashed potato upgrades are two uniquely flavored seasoning combinations: French onion dip and ranch seasoning. Both add a rich layer of flavor that elevates the dish and turns it into a side worthy of any table.

The creamy dill flavor of ranch seasoning is beyond delicious when stirred into instant mashed potatoes. Its bright taste pairs excellently with chicken, steak, and veggies. I mean, really, ranch goes with all kinds of stuff, so adding the seasoning fits into a world of meal plans. Ranch seasoning won't make the potatoes creamier, but it does add a distinct creamy taste, so it's the perfect cheat to use along with extra butter and a fatty dairy product, like heavy cream.

French onion dip is a stellar shortcut for creamy, savory mashed potatoes, whether they are instant or homemade. It has all the elements you need to turn dry, bland potatoes around. French onion dip is decadently creamy and overflowing with bold flavors that only make instant mashed potatoes shine. Stir a couple of spoonfuls into your next batch and marvel at the difference it makes.