12 Alternative Uses For Instant Mashed Potatoes

Reaching for a box of instant mashed potatoes can be a lifesaver for whipping up quick dinner solutions. The pantry staple is a convenient time-saving option for easy side dishes and shelf-stable emergency meals. Dried potato flakes are widely accessible, easily stored, and generally quite affordable, often with many styles and flavors to explore. From bulk to family size or even individual portions, it is easy to find a variety that works well for just about everyone.

While the humble potato is beloved for its versatility, instant mashed potatoes share the adaptability of a whole potato with the added bonuses of longevity and convenience. Instant mashed potatoes are less time-consuming than regular potatoes and require little effort to prepare. This incredibly versatile ingredient can be used for so much more than an instant side dish. With just a dish of water and heat, the dried potato flakes can become a smooth, fluffy topping for casseroles, crispy potato pancakes, or substituted into most other dishes that would use leftover mashed potatoes. Thanks to some unique properties, this common pantry staple has a wide variety of applications in the kitchen, including these alternative uses for instant mashed potatoes.

Thicken soups and gravies

While flour or cornstarch are often go-to ingredients for creating a roux or slurry to thicken soups, stews, or gravies, instant potato flakes are a convenient hack for speeding up the process. Thickening agents increase the viscosity of a liquid mixture by boosting its body and stability. Starches, including the starch present in potatoes, gelatinize when exposed to water and heat resulting in a thicker liquid due to the swelling of starchy grains or granules as they absorb the liquid. While there are many options of thickening agents to choose from, potatoes are one of the few that are also naturally gluten-free.

Not just a helpful hack for home cooks, even professional chefs such as the legendary Jacques Pépin have praised the convenience and effectiveness of this technique. In an episode of his cooking show "More Fast Food My Way," the culinary icon uses instant mashed potatoes to thicken a luxurious leek and mushroom soup while adding another layer of flavor. The pantry staple also allows cooks to skip the step of dissolving other thickeners in water to make a slurry. A sprinkle of instant mashed potatoes can be added directly to the pot when thickening soups, stews, or gravies. Add a little bit at a time, giving the flakes a few minutes to absorb some of the liquid, until reaching the desired consistency. 

Create a base for creamy dips, spreads, and sauces

Leaning into their remarkable thickening properties, instant mashed potatoes make an excellent base for a variety of creamy dips, spreads, and sauces. While many dips and sauces rely on rich, fatty dairy products such as heavy whipping cream or cream cheese to thicken the mixture, dried potato flakes offer a lighter alternative to create similarly smooth spreads. Although replacing elements of a recipe entirely with instant potatoes may change the structure too much for some people's taste, swapping in some potato flakes can be a helpful trick for lightening up a dish while maintaining a silky consistency.

Looking at potato recipes from around the globe offers plenty of inspiration for using up a box of instant mashed potatoes since they can be swapped into most foods that incorporate regular mashed potatoes. Potatoes are found in a wide range of iconic international dishes, including the garlicky Greek potato-based dip, skordalia. A centuries-old staple of Mediterranean cuisine, modern skordalia is made from potatoes, lemon, olive oil, and lots of garlic that is pureed until smooth, then sometimes topped with crushed nuts. Try a quick version of skordalia using instant mashed potatoes to add to a Greek-inspired mezze platter or as part of a light, seafood dinner.

Bind meatballs or meatloaf

With their mild, neutral flavor, potato flakes can be incorporated into a variety of foods to take advantage of various useful properties such as thickening, binding, and filling. Many recipes for meatballs or meatloaf suggest breadcrumbs or eggs as a binder, however, dried potato flakes provide an allergy-friendly alternative to these traditional components. Functionally equivalent to wheat flour, instant mashed potatoes retain moisture and improve the texture of ground meat dishes such as meatloaf, meatballs, or meat patties. Including some potato flakes with the meat and other ingredients helps extend the mixture while also holding it together and saving it from drying out.

In addition to savory dishes, Potatoes USA suggests considering potato flakes as a binder for some desserts. Instant mashed potatoes hold moisture and create a smooth and creamy texture similar to eggs, dairy, or wheat flour. Swapping in potato flakes for some of the cream or eggs, especially in dairy-based desserts like custards, can help bind the dish while stretching more expensive ingredients. 

Extend savory fillings

Deviled eggs are a beloved appetizer for holiday meals, sports events, potlucks, and more, but somehow there never seems to be enough yolky filling to go around. Especially those who adore generously topped deviled eggs will appreciate this instant mashed potato hack. Adding instant mashed potatoes to the egg yolk mixture extends the amount of filling giving it extra heft and richness along with a smooth, creamy texture. It's less likely to contain clumps than if using real mashed potatoes, and the mixture remains silky and easy to pipe onto each egg white. Whether you prefer traditional or more elaborate spins on the eggy appetizer, the mild potato flavor complements practically any ingredients you choose to customize and upgrade your deviled eggs.

The ability of instant mashed potatoes to simultaneously thicken, bind, and extend sets this humble ingredient apart from many other staple pantry ingredients. Its mild flavor makes it a versatile addition to all kinds of savory fillings. This trick can be used to bulk up a range of fillings from savory pies and quiches to samosas and ravioli. Both tasty and effective, this technique is especially useful for filling out mixtures with mushrooms or sauteéd greens such as spinach that tend to shrink when cooked.

Build a better breakfast hash

The bulking and binding properties of the endlessly versatile instant mashed potatoes make it easy to upgrade an average breakfast hash to something outstanding. Sometimes considered an afterthought of a dish or an easy way to use up leftovers, a typical breakfast hash can be as simple as throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pan and heating through. However, with some dried potato flakes, a standard breakfast hash gets leveled up to a delicious, cohesive dish rather than an uninspiring mealy or mushy side. The inclusion of a binding element such as instant potato flakes holds the hash together, allowing the ingredients to meld and crisp into a unified finished product. 

Enjoy an upgraded breakfast hash along with some eggs, as the base of a morning bowl, or wrapped inside a hearty breakfast burrito. Instant mashed potatoes can also be used to make other potato-based breakfast dishes such as potato pancakes, breakfast casseroles, savory waffles, and even baked goods.

Fix watery potato salad

For professionals and home cooks alike, kitchen mistakes now and then are pretty much inevitable. Perhaps from distraction or grogginess, there is too much liquid oozing into the potato salad or you have overdone it on the dairy in the mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes can also get too watery and thin if the potatoes are not properly drained after being boiled. Instant mashed potatoes are like a magic eraser when it comes to runny fillings or a mash that's too thin. Take advantage of the absorbent power of starchy potato flakes for a quick way to correct overly liquidy mishaps in the kitchen.

Deviled egg filling too mayo-heavy? Stir in some potato flakes to lighten the mixture. Potato salad too runny? Sprinkle in some instant mashed potatoes to soak up that extra liquid. Adding instant mashed potato flakes can also quickly firm up mashed potatoes, stews, chili, sauces, and just about anything else that could benefit from a little less liquid.

Replace potato flour in baking

There is a lot of talk about gluten when it comes to baking bread, but often neglected in the discussion is the crucial role of starch in creating soft, tender baked goods. King Arthur Baking explains that the ability of starch to absorb and retain liquid is an important element for making bread that is soft and moist with a long shelf life. While many potato bread recipes call for regular mashed potatoes, they can easily be swapped for dried potato products like potato flour or potato flakes to improve the structure of breads and biscuits.

Since they are made using nearly identical methods, potato flakes can be easily transformed into potato flour simply by blitzing potato flakes into a powder in a food processor or blender. However, for most recipes, you don't even need to bother with this step since the flakes will be incorporated into the dough in the same way that potato flour would be. The inclusion of potatoes in breads, rolls, and other baked goods lends a signature tender and moist, yet fluffy texture.

Feed sourdough starter

Stepping into the spotlight during the height of lockdowns at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, sourdough became an obsession for many, diligently tending to the bubbly starter that would later become a tart, yeasty loaf. Traditional sourdough or Amish friendship bread starters feed the yeast with wheat or milk and are a high-maintenance venture that requires daily attention. When tended properly, a starter can live indefinitely, growing and being passed on to friends and family or reserved for future loaves.

You can use potato flakes and sugar to feed a unique type of sourdough starter that is both gluten and dairy free. Potato flake starter will behave somewhat differently than a traditional sourdough starter and is well-suited for making soft white bread and rolls. When working with a potato flake starter, the mixture is well suited for preparing sandwich bread and rolls and will result in breads that are softer and sweeter than traditional sourdough. It also requires different care while fermenting as, as potato flake starters will be thinner and less bubbly than typical sourdough starters. It should be stored in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature and is not recommended for storage in the freezer. Like a traditional starter, potato flake sourdough starter can serve as the base of a variety of breads, including both sweet and savory recipes.

Keep tortillas tender

Fresh flour tortillas instantly upgrade tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, but after a day or two, homemade tortillas can often dry out and become brittle. The days-old tortillas quickly become hard, crunchy, and difficult to work with. Thanks to the same properties of potatoes that keep bread tender and moist, the inclusion of potato flakes when preparing tortillas can help extend the shelf life while keeping them soft and malleable.

The ability of the instant mashed potatoes to absorb and retain moisture in the dough keeps the finished product pliable longer, extending the shelf-life of your homemade tortillas. The mild potato flakes won't change the appearance or flavor of the tortillas but will improve the longevity and texture of the finished product. Use these flour tortillas with their secret potato ingredient any way you would traditional tortillas, for tacos, wraps, quesadillas, and more.

Make crispy breading

From chicken cutlets to onion rings, breadcrumbs are often the go-to ingredient for delivering that satisfying crunchy coating. While breadcrumbs may be the traditional choice for creating a crisp exterior bite, instant mashed potato flakes produce an almost impossibly airy and crunchy crust for chicken, pork, fish, tofu, and more. Instant mashed potatoes can be used in breaded dishes that are either baked or deep or pan fried.

This simple swap is incredibly easy to incorporate into a variety of breaded dishes. Using the classic breading technique of dredging in wet ingredients (often milk or egg wash) and coating in a dry mixture, blend the potato flakes with flour or, for a gluten-free option, go all in on the instant mashed potatoes for the coating. For an outrageously crackly crust, try mixing potato flakes with panko breadcrumbs. Season the dry mixture with salt, pepper, or any spices that you like. The potato flake crust results in a delectably crisp outside that keeps the inside tender and juicy.

Whip up light, airy gnocchi

Instant mashed potatoes are a shortcut to some of the world's greatest comfort foods. Of course, you could mix up a cozy bowl of mashed potatoes, but why not try transforming those dried potato flakes into soft, pillowy gnocchi? Homemade gnocchi can be time-consuming and even a bit fussy. Instead of spending hours waiting around for potatoes to bake and cool, you can simply mix up some instant mashed potatoes to become the base of a quick batch of fluffy gnocchi.

Using instant mashed potatoes to create the airy dumplings saves time and hassle while still resulting in a tasty and satisfying dish. The best traditional gnocchi requires getting the mashed potatoes as dry as possible to avoid making the dough too sticky or glutinous. Using potato flakes instead of regular potatoes provides more control over the wetness of the mixture, adding just a little water at a time until reaching the right consistency.

Transform into cakes and candies

In the same way that potatoes improve the moisture and texture of breads and rolls, instant mashed potatoes can elevate cakes and other baked treats. This unique ingredient can be found in numerous award-winning dessert recipes by home cooks and professional chefs such as Food Network's Nigella Lawson, who uses potato flakes to keep her old-fashioned chocolate cake moist and tender.

A traditional Appalachian candy also incorporates potatoes to create a special sweet treat. Gaining popularity in the Depression era, potato candy likely originated in Europe before making its way across the Atlantic along with Irish, German, French, and Russian immigrants in the late 1800s. However, the now-signature swirl of peanut butter is a purely American addition. Often enjoyed during the holiday season, potato candy consists of a mixture of mashed potatoes and powdered sugar spread out and covered with a layer of peanut butter, then rolled and sliced into iconic swirls. Although the original recipe uses homemade mashed potatoes, instant potato flakes make it quick and easy to prepare this surprisingly tasty treat.