Instant mashed potatoes are potatoes that have been processed and dehydrated to achieve a powdery or flaky consistency. Some can be made by reconstituting potato flour, however, these can be very lumpy and sticky. By creating a granule or flake from the dehydrated instant mashed potatoes, the dehydrated potatoes reconstitute in a creamier form that more closely resembles real mashed potatoes. Many manufacturers of the potatoes offer the starchy side dish in a variety of flavors, from plain and cheddar cheese to sour cream and chive varieties.
A Canadian is credited with creating the first successful form of instant mashed potatoes in 1962. Since then, the fluffy vegetable has been making appearances all around the world. Many varieties require both water and milk to be used when reconstituting the product, however, some brands use only water to turn the dry flakes into a more edible form. One key defining characteristic between real mashed potatoes and instant mashed potatoes is the absence of lumps.
In an effort to produce a product that is compatible with nearly any type of main course, some manufacturers have made flavored instant potatoes available. By combining a flavored powder with the dried potato flakes, several varieties of instant potatoes are available, including garlic, cheddar cheese and sour cream. Bacon, ranch dressing and even chicken-flavored mashed potatoes are as easy to make as adding hot water and stirring. There are also some types of instant potatoes that come complete with a beef or chicken gravy mix packaged in the same box as the flakes. The product is available in single-serving sizes, as well as large, institutional-size packages at most food stores.
Most brands of instant mashed potatoes offer nearly the same vitamins and minerals as the real mashed potato, however, the instant type of potato is commonly lower in vitamin C and much higher in sodium than the real potato. While many types of potato are used in the production of instant potatoes, the most common type of potato used is the Idaho potato due, in part, to its large amount of starch. Other types, such as Yukon gold or baby red potatoes, are commonly used to make special varieties of the instant, mashed staple.