Is Hamburger Helper an Acceptable Alternative to the Real Thing?By Todd • Aug 22nd, 2011 • Category: Burger Blog
Boy, that box with its smiling glove mascot brings back memories for lots of us. It’s a pantry staple for poor college students (“I’m too wasted to drive to BK!“), struggling newlyweds (“Yes, mom, we cook!”), and uninspired parents of young children (“If I make this, will you actually eat it?”) everywhere. But if you happen to fall outside of those demographics, there’s a good chance you haven’t cracked open a box of “Helper’ in a while.
Of course, if you have a pound of ground beef just hanging out in the fridge and a sudden hankering for a burger, you could just make burgers. But what if that beef is already browned and crumbled? Or you don’t have any buns in the house? Or have a simultaneous craving for pasta? Or are a blogger whose family isn’t interested in eating cheeseburgers yet again just because you have a deadline to meet? Can a box from Betty Crocker be a legit stand-in for the real thing?
Maybe, but first, I had a decision to make at the grocery store. According to the Betty Crocker website, there are no fewer than six Hamburger Helper flavors with the word “burger” in the name: Cheeseburger Macaroni, Bacon Cheeseburger, Double Cheeseburger Mac, Cheesy Ranch Burger, Whole Grain Cheeseburger Macaroni, and the one I eventually snagged.
(I’m a sucker, I know. Slap the word “Ultimate” on it, and I can’t reach my wallet fast enough.) But what makes it “Ultimate Cheeseburger Macaroni?” A quick scan of the ingredients panel revealed a trio of surprises: ricotta cheese, blue cheese, and cheddar. Three cheeses on my burger? Yes, waitress, that sounds delightfully ultimate.
But, um, yeah. They all happen to be in powder form, and mixed with other tasty “toppings” like silicon dioxide, autolyzed yeast, and modified whey protein concentrate. Toss it all in a skillet along with milk, water, butter, and the dried noodles, and it doesn’t improve significantly.
I’m guessing those bright orange non-dissolving clumps make up the cheddar contingent, the equivalent of the slice that refuses to melt atop your burg. Give it 12 minutes of simmering and occasional stirring, though, and it becomes at least more incorporated, if not fully so.
So how does it taste? Exactly like you remember from a) your college days, b) the month after your honeymoon, or c) any random weeknight with a 4-year-old. It’s not terrible per se, but I didn’t put down my fork, pound the table, and exclaim, “Now that is a tasty burger!” It is what it purports to be and nothing more: a quick convenience dinner that goes from box to table in under 30 minutes. Not a genuine burger alternative in my book, but perhaps a way to inject burgeresque flavoring into an otherwise boring meal of mac and cheese.
Of course, I’d just as soon pile that mac and cheese on top of a real burger. Hey, wait a minute. What if I used Ultimate Cheeseburger Macaroni as a burger topping??? Now THAT would be a Hamburger Helper I could get truly excited about.