The History of Kraft Dinner + a KD showdown
Kraft Dinner has always been there for me. When I was little, my father would add real cheese to boxes of Kraft Dinner in a (probably vain) attempt at making the addictive blue-boxed delight healthier for my sister and me. It spawned the creation of ‘cheese noodles’ where he would mix up butter, milk and cheddar together with macaroni in another attempt at getting us to eat something a little less… processed. We’ve been devouring them regularly, and believe me when I say cheese noodles are not Kraft Dinner nor are they stove top mac n’ cheese. Just ask my girlfriends — after years of doling out drunken bowl-fulls, the girls still message me from all over the world asking me to make it for them.
But boxed Kraft Dinner was there for me after school when I was 13 and decided I liked my pasta ‘al dente’ and crunched my way through hundreds of boxes, ruining one family supper at a time. Even now, Kraft Dinner is there for me on lazy nights when Adam and I just can’t bare to cook, albeit now they’re amped up with gruyere and cracked pepper. Needless to say KD is a staple for us, and many other Canadians, since we learned how to boil a pot of water, which is about all the skill it takes to make it. But I digress, on to the history of the neon-yellow nourishment.
The History of Kraft Dinner
Macaroni and cheese has been around for awhile; it actually originates from 14th century Italy, making it’s way through France and into England to be committed to popular food memory by Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper. Raffald’s recipe is similar to the ooey-gooey goodness we enjoy today, calling for macaroni smothered in béchamel, topped with breadcrumbs and parmesan. It was actually Thomas Jefferson who popularized the dish in America after tasting it in England (I can’t blame him, who can resist a good bowl?).
In the 20th century, the desire for convenience and frugality made Kraft Dinner what we know and devour today. Ontario-born J.L. Kraft sliced a cheesy path to the processed products that became ubiquitous in the 20th century American kitchen. The cheese powder is key to the success of our salacious dinner (or snack) option. Kraft patented it in 1916, and while he didn’t invent the process, recognized the power of the powder. He worked with dairy experts to ameliorate mass cheese production and went on to hone the methods for making Velveeta in 1928 and later Cheez Whiz (1952) and Kraft Singles (1965).
While J.L. Kraft may have invented the blue box special, it was a St. Louis salesman who actually thought up the concept for boxed macaroni and cheese. He wrapped packets of grated Kraft cheese around boxes of macaroni with rubber bands to sell the complete package. Kraft Dinner as the full meal deal was introduced to hungry Americans in 1937 and Canadians in 1939. During World War Two more than 50 million boxes of KD were devoured because grocery shoppers could get two boxes with one food stamp. With the rise of the working woman, more and more families needed quick meal options for weeknights and Kraft Dinner became an ideal solution; it could feed a family of four in under 10 minutes.
The box’s iconic blue came into play in 1954 but you can see from the boxes we are using for the showdown today that the blue box = mac and cheese. After one late-night conversation, I decided we needed to compare as many kraft dinner options as possible…and the idea for the showdown was born!
Kraft Dinner Showdown
Maggie and I bought any iteration of Kraft Dinner we could find in the grocery stores of St. John’s, Newfoundland. We came up with seven different varieties of the beloved stove top feast:
- Original Kraft Dinner $1.00
- Organic Kraft Dinner $1.99
- Blue Menu (President’s Choice) $1.00
- Annie’s Organic $2.49
- IP (Italpasta) $1.00
- No Name $0.89
- Compliments (Sobeys) $0.89
We prepared them exactly how the boxes instructed and did not vary in the milk or butter quantities at all. Maggie, Sean, Adam and I tried a sampling of each of the seven varieties and for the purposes of our testing, we had three scores — creaminess, cheesiness and overall taste — that we scored out of 5. So I know by now you’re wondering, what ended up on top? What was our favourite? Here are the rounds:
Original Kraft Dinner VS Organic Kraft Dinner
From the first pairing we were surprised. The Kraft Dinner was really milky! It took away some of the cheesiness and while it was more plentiful than the organic box (original is a 225g box while organic is 175g) I really liked the flavour of the organic Kraft Dinner. The other tasters thought the organic rendition was cheesier, they wouldn’t get on board (personally I think some pre-judgment happened in this round; should have done blind-tasting).
Blue Menu VS Annie’s Organic
The next head-to-head was the organic section. Loblaw’s line of Blue Menu products are highly revered for being above-average quality and healthier. This is where the trouble started: the whole wheat noodles overpowered the faded cheese powder and no one really liked that one at all. Annie’s organic was hands down the winner in this category with a creamy flavour and good colour.
Overheard about Blue Menu:
“Tastes like whole wheat bread.”
No Name vs IP vs Compliments
The third and final tasting rounded out the discount brands, all costing under a dollar to buy. No Name was an immediate loser with absolutely no flavour or colour. Cheesiness? Forget about it. IP, which is Italpasta’s rendition, proved to lack flavour, while Sobeys’ Compliments blew everyone out of the water with the cheesiness and creaminess!
Overheard at the table about No Name:
“No taste at all.”
“No name, no taste!”
Overheard about Compliments:
“It had max cheesitude.”
The Overall KD Champion?
After we tabulated the results between the four tasters:
7th place: No Name (18 points)
6th place: Blue Menu (21 points)
5th place: IP (27 points)
4th place: Orignal KD (34 points)
3rd place: Annie’s Organic (42.5 points)
2nd place: Organic KD (46 points)
WINNER: Compliments (49 points)
Oddly, by following the instructions to the letter, it resulted in a lot of milky noodles — one of them had a 1/3 of a cup of milk per package which washed away that fake cheesy goodness. The variety in the flavour, texture and colour of the kraft dinner was also shocking. Some were almost white compared to others that were neon orange. We all loved the Compliments cheesiness and the creaminess and it won by a landslide.
Not one of the boxes tasted normal to us because we followed the instructions. This just goes to show the yield for creativity when it comes to making Kraft Dinner. Everyone puts a little less milk or a little more butter. I always add extra cheese, whatever I’ve got in the fridge, and swap in cream for milk. It results in a way creamier and cheesier KD.
What about you? Do you always stick to the original or do you put some extra old cheddar in your Kraft Dinner? What’s your brand of choice?