15 Ingredients That Will Make Your Instant Mashed Potatoes Taste Way Better

A bowl of mashed potatoes is one of the world's greatest comforts. When you have a craving for the creamy, fluffy spuds, there's nothing else that will quite satisfy. But making mashed potatoes from scratch takes a lot of time and effort, and there are decisions and potential pitfalls at every turn. To peel or not to peel? You don't want to undercook or over-boil them into mush. Watery mashed potatoes are no good, but neither are bone-dry ones. Do you mash them into rustic chunks, or whip them into a silken purée?

Enter instant mashed potatoes. This pantry staple can be a lifesaver when you need your mashed potato fix but don't have the desire or energy to make the real thing. These dehydrated potato flakes just need moisture and heat, and like magic, they turn into a warm, comforting bowl of velvety spuds in mere moments. And with an extra ingredient or two, you can take this boxed starch from basic to gourmet. Here are some of the best texture and flavor-boosting additions.

1. Cheese

Cheese and potatoes are a gangbusters combination, no matter what kind of potatoes you've got. When added to instant mashed potatoes, cheese brings in extra richness and fat along with more flavor. Depending on the style of cheese you choose, your potatoes will take on different characteristics, and you can play around with various cheeses alone or in combination to see what you enjoy the most.

Cheddar is always a solid choice with potatoes. Its melted texture is on the gooey side, so keep that in mind, but its flavor is undeniably delicious, whether it's mild or extra sharp. Oozy, rich cheeses with soft textures, like Brie, are other good choices if you're looking for that thickness. A cheese spread such as Boursin mixes in beautifully and adds a pop of fresh, tangy flavor. Alpine cheeses like Gruyere are nice and nutty. Or you could go for the robust intensity of a blue cheese like Roquefort or Gorgonzola. There are no bad choices when it comes to cheese and potatoes — even a simple slice of American melted over the top can be a good way to get your fromage fix.

2. Bacon

There are few foods in the world that bacon doesn't make better with its combination of salt, smoke, and fat. While you're more likely to see it gracing the top of a baked potato, it's just as delicious an addition when combined with mashed potatoes. Bacon can be sliced, crumbled, or chopped into whatever size and consistency you like and sprinkled on top as a garnish, or mixed into the whole batch. The pieces add pops of crispy texture to the otherwise soft and creamy dish.

If you want to bump the bacon flavor up even more, save some of the fat rendered out of the meat during the cooking process, then mix it into your instant mashed potatoes. You can use it in addition to butter or margarine, or as a complete replacement. The rich, flavorful fat infuses every bite of potato with savory intensity, adding such decadent taste and aroma that you'll completely forget they're instant spuds. 

3. Chicken or vegetable stock

For the most basic preparation of instant mashed potatoes, all you need are the potato flakes and water. Of course, these won't have much to offer in the way of flavor. The easiest way to remedy that is to replace the water with something that's got more going on in the taste department, like broth or stock. Making this simple ingredient swap takes bland instant mash and elevates it to a new level with no extra effort.

Vegetable stock is a great choice, particularly if you're vegetarian or vegan, but even if you're an omnivore it will add plenty of flavor. Chicken stock works incredibly well, bringing a rich meaty flavor to the dish. Beef stock may be a little overpowering, but can work if that's what you're going for, especially if you're serving these potatoes with something hearty like a stew or a steak. Homemade stock is always nice to have around, but store-bought is great too, and keeps things quick and convenient.

4. Sour cream

Sour cream is certainly no stranger to potatoes. A baked spud wouldn't be the same without it, it's perfect on a potato skin, and a dollop on top of hash browns is a must. It doesn't show up with mashed potatoes as often as other styles, but that's a pattern that should change. Swirling some sour cream into a batch of instant mashed potatoes adds creaminess as well as a bright, tangy flavor.

It's best to stir the sour cream in while the potatoes are still hot, as you don't want it to cool them down too much. Sour cream's silky texture gives instant mashed potatoes a smooth elegance that you won't get from other kinds of dairy. Crème fraîche, sour cream's sophisticated French cousin, works in the same way. It's typically higher in fat than sour cream and slightly less acidic, so it'll give your potatoes a richer texture and softer flavor.

5. Brown butter

Adding butter to instant mashed potatoes — real butter, not butter substitutes — is a no-brainer. Real butter's fresh dairy flavor and satisfying richness can't be replicated by anything else. But one way you can take that butter and make it even better is by turning it into brown butter. It takes an extra pan and a little bit of time, but the results are so worth it, you won't mind the bit of effort.

To make brown butter, you simply heat butter gently on the stovetop until it melts, then keep going, stirring to make sure it doesn't burn. It will start to darken, turning gold and then amber, and the aroma will become rich, sweet, and nutty. This liquid gold can be stirred into instant mashed potatoes in place of regular butter, or it can be poured on top of the dish as a truly gourmet finishing touch.

6. Half-and-half or heavy cream

Many instant mashed potato mixes recommend adding milk to the mixture to make a richer dish. You can take that one step further by upgrading basic milk with something even better. Compared to milk, whether it's skim, low-fat, or whole, both half-and-half and heavy cream contain more fat. Heavy cream is the richest option, with around 40% milk fat. Half-and-half gives you some of the richness of cream, but it's cut with milk to make it lighter.

Both options will greatly increase the creaminess of instant mashed potatoes. Combining liquids together to find your ideal level of richness, texture, and flavor can take some practice. If you are going for ultimate comfort food, using all heavy cream will give you the thickest, most satisfying potatoes. If that consistency is a little too rich, try half-and-half instead. Start by stirring it in slowly in small amounts so that you can stop when you reach the texture you're looking for.

7. Fresh herbs

Instant mashed potatoes aren't exactly the freshest food, but there's a simple way to change that. Get your hands on some fresh herbs, chop them up, and your boxed potatoes will be brighter and more flavorful in no time, and with very little effort. A touch of green makes every dish look more appetizing, and the vibrant aromas from freshly-chopped herbs add a ton of appeal to what can otherwise be a fairly one-note dish.

Woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage go particularly well with rich and comforting potato dishes. They take to cooking well, which helps soften their texture, so you can add them at any point in the cooking process to unlock their fullest flavors. Softer, more delicate herbs like basil, parsley, and dill are also wonderful with mashed potatoes, but should not be added until the end of cooking, as too much heat will rob them of their bright flavors and aromas. If you don't have fresh herbs on hand, dried herbs work well, too.

8. Roasted garlic

Utilizing roasted garlic in your instant mashed potatoes takes some extra planning, so it kind of defeats the "instant" part of the dish. But you'll be well rewarded for the effort. When you roast garlic, its harsher edges become smoothed out and it turns into a sweet, nutty, intensely concentrated substance that can turn even the most humble dish into a savory masterpiece.

Roasting garlic takes time, so likely if you're making instant mashed potatoes, that's a luxury you don't have. Luckily, garlic can be roasted well in advance of when you need it and kept on hand for just such occasions. Once the head is roasted, you can extract the cloves by peeling or squeezing them out of the skin. Mashing or puréeing them into a paste gives them the perfect consistency to add to instant potatoes. Roasted garlic will keep pretty well for a few weeks in the fridge, and much longer in the freezer. You can then stir the garlic paste into your mash for an intensely aromatic, flavorful boost.

9. Greens

You can turn a batch of instant mashed potatoes into more of a complete meal by making a simple addition — leafy greens. Whether you prefer kale, spinach, arugula, bok choy, cabbage, or something else from this category, mixing greens into this dish improves not just its taste and appearance, but its nutritional value, too. These vegetables are packed with vitamins and nutrients, and many are considered superfoods. They'll make your instant mash into a much more healthy and satisfying dish. And they're pretty tasty, too.

Most leafy greens don't require much in the way of cooking, and in fact, can be enjoyed raw, so you don't need to do much prep to make them part of your mash. If you like them cooked down, you can sauté them ahead of time. But if you don't mind them having a bit of crispness and crunch, you can chop them up and simply stir them into the dish fresh at any time during the cooking process. You can chop the leaves very fine if you want them to mix in as well as possible, or leave them larger to add more texture.

10. Ranch mix

Just a little bit of seasoning can take instant mashed potatoes up a notch. To make it easy on yourself, you can opt for a pre-mixed herb and spice blend instead of trying to create the perfect balance yourself. There are a lot of great mixes out there that are tasty with mashed potatoes — Old Bay, herbes de Provence, seasoning salt — but one of the best potato-friendly blends is good old American ranch. Before it's mixed with creamy ingredients to become a salad dressing, ranch is just a mix of seasonings. This powdered ranch combines beautifully with dairy and brings just the right zip to mellow starch.

Store-bought ranch dressing mix typically includes dried garlic and onion, as well as dill, parsley, and chives which give it its distinctive herbaceous flavor. Powdered buttermilk adds tang and creaminess, and you can add a little real buttermilk too if you want to punch up that flavor. One thing to be aware of is the salt content in the mix — make sure to taste the potatoes after you add the ranch as you may not need to add any further seasoning.

11. Fried onions

Fried onions are perhaps best known as the classic topping for green bean casserole, but there's no reason they should be limited to one dish. Crispy, salty, and savory with a touch of sweetness, these golden brown morsels make a great addition to any dish, including instant mashed potatoes. Their crunchy texture brings another dimension to a bowl of creamy spuds, whether they're mixed in with the whole batch or simply scattered on top as a garnish.

Store-bought crispy fried onions are delicious and convenient, and easy to keep in your pantry so you always have some when you need them. You can make your own, too, by coating onion slices in flour and frying them, either in oil or in an air fryer. You can add your own spices to the flour to put your own flavorful twist on the onions. Try a little chili powder to amp up the spice, or smoked paprika to add warm, savory intensity.

12. Pesto

Green, vibrant, and packed with flavor, pesto can be stirred into instant mashed potatoes for a big punch of flavor, color, and texture. Classic Genovese pesto is made with a few ingredients, all of which should be the highest quality, starting with basil. The herb is traditionally pounded using a mortar and pestle with garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil until it comes together into a thick sauce consistency.

There's nothing quite like fresh homemade pesto, but for convenience's sake, there are lots of pre-made pestos on the market. A spoonful or two mixed into instant mashed potatoes transforms them in so many ways. Basil brings a fresh, peppery pop of flavor, olive oil, and cheese enhance the potatoes' richness and creaminess, garlic gives its signature pungent, bright taste, and pine nuts add texture. There are lots of other styles of pesto besides the classic Genovese that are also delicious with instant mash, like Pesto alla Trapanese that's made with sun-dried tomatoes and almonds. You can't do much better than pesto when it comes to using one ingredient to completely upgrade mashed potatoes.

13. Chile peppers

One way to make sure your instant mashed potatoes are anything but bland is to add some firepower. Chilies, whether fresh, from a jar, or a can will always do the trick, and there are so many different varieties that whether you love to feel the burn or consider yourself chile-shy, you'll be able to find one that's at your level.

For a mild yet flavorful pepper experience, pepperoncinis are a good choice to chop and stir into mashed potatoes. They're usually sold pickled in jars, and you can add a little bit of the tangy brine to bump up your potatoes' flavor even more. Roasted peppers will give your potatoes a deeper, richer heat. And for another flavor profile, you can add a smoked pepper, like chipotle — if you have the canned version that comes in adobo, add some of the sauce, too. The mild creaminess of mashed potatoes makes for a great contrast with hot and spicy chilies of all kinds.

14. Potato chips

What better ingredient to add to mashed potatoes than more potatoes? A quick way to boost potato flavor while also adding texture is as easy as grabbing a bag of chips from the snack aisle. Potato chips are well seasoned, have a satisfying crunch, and when added to instant mash, will give you all the potato flavor you can handle. Ridges or no ridges, kettle-cooked or baked, it's up to you — or mix a few styles together to get the best of all worlds.

Plain potato chips seasoned only with salt are a great choice if you want to preserve the pure potato flavor. If you want an extra palate punch, flavored chips are fun to experiment with. Cheese flavors are always complementary with mashed potatoes, and a classic sour cream and onion is never a bad addition. Salt and vinegar chips will make your potatoes bright and zippy. And spicy chips are a simple way to add heat. Whatever texture you want from the chips is your call — they can be pulverized so they mix in more fully with the mash, or crumbled into more substantial pieces for better crunch.

15. Canned potatoes

It may seem counterintuitive to add actual potatoes to instant mashed potatoes, but we're here to tell you it's a game-changer. If you like your mash with a chunkier texture than you'll get from boxed flakes, you'll especially love this hack. Canned potatoes give you that real potato texture and taste, but you don't have to go through all the prep work. Using both boxed and canned varieties together gives you the silky creaminess of instant mash, along with the satisfying toothsome quality of rustic hand-mashed potatoes.

Canned potatoes still need a little preparation, as they're typically sold only partially cooked and unseasoned. They need to be drained, rinsed and dried, and then cooked following the directions on the can. Once they're ready to go, they can be mashed to the desired consistency and mixed into the instant mash, and you'll have a dish that looks and tastes like it's made from scratch, full of crave-worthy potato goodness.