I freely admit that I like cheap boxed macaroni and cheese. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (known as Kraft Dinner in Canada) is the most famous example of the genre, but the generic and store-brand versions are just as good if not better. Part of the secret to the goodness is because I prepare the mix with real butter and whole milk, which bumps up the overall quality compared to the prep methods listed on the box. Also, I put ketchup on it (one of the very, very few foods I use ketchup on.)
So, given that I’m already predisposed to liking cheap-ass mac and cheese, I figured I’d give Hamburger Helper Microwave Singles Cheeseburger Macaroni a try. They were three for a dollar on sale, and that means three lunches for a dollar – a pretty much unbeatable price. So I dug some change out from under the cushions on the couch and bought a couple.
There's not much to look at inside the cup. The directions say to stir in some hot water until the orange powder mix is blended in, then microwave the lot for 4 minutes until the macaroni is tender, then allow it to stand for another few minutes while the sauce thickens. Pretty straightforward. When I looked at the product boiling in the microwave, I understood why Betty Crocker put such a small-looking serving in the cup. When the stuff comes up to a boil, it rises in demonic orange rage and reaches perilously close to the rim of the cooking cup. It settles down again when the microwave shuts off, though, and by the time it’s ready to eat it looks like fairly standard macaroni and cheese, but with little bits of what appear to be meat distributed throughout.
What is that meat-like stuff, anyway? The label says “Made with Real Beef” and every forkful is studded with little nuggety bits of what appears to be crumbled ground beef. The ingredients list “freeze dried cooked seasoned ground beef (beef, salt, natural flavor)” but shortly after that one also finds “textured vegetable protein” on the list, so I’m pretty sure that ground beef has been adulterated. Not that it matters all that much – I swear there isn’t all that much a difference between the two in flavor or texture after all the processing they go through on their way to your mouth.
The cheese sauce’s flavor is predominately “tangy salt,” and it has modified food starch, xanthan gum, soybean oil, and coconut oil in it to help thicken and give it body. No big deal, really, but something about the texture seem weird to me; it’s got a slippery and artificial mouthfeel to it that I find vaguely unpleasant. Luckily, a liberal dressing with ketchup improved both the taste and the texture, and the final product wasn’t unbearable.
Overall, it was okay for what it was: a 35-cent lunch. But it was also totally underwhelming, not all that satisfying, and I don’t foresee myself ever buying it again.