Kraft Mac And Cheese... A Quick History Lesson - Kate's Kitchen Blog at Allrecipes.com - 327365

Kate's Kitchen

Kraft Mac and Cheese... A Quick History Lesson 
 
May 17, 2014 6:12 pm 
Updated: May 20, 2014 1:19 pm
Today I want to write a little bit about boxed Macaroni and Cheese... especially the Kraft variety.  I think if you ask people about this, you will get a very wide array of answers, from positive to negative, and everything in between.  

For college kids, it might be the first meal you learned to make by yourself (I think for me it was), if your a mom, it might be a quick meal alternative (or not), or you may just remember loving to eat it as a kid.  I guess for me the feelings are a combination of secretive love, indulgence, and nostalgia... with some guilt, because what is that mystery powder?  And finally, it ends with a little shame because, "Wow, did I just eat that entire box myself?... yikes!" 

Last night, I bought a couple boxes of boxed macaroni.  For a quick, and maybe a little crazy, dinner idea, I poured an entire box of prepared macaroni and cheese (with added bacon) on a Boboli pizza crust, topped it with green onions, and baked it for the 10 minutes called for. 

picture photo

Honestly, it wasn't awesome, but it wasn't terrible either (to each his own).  My husband noticed that I bought the generic box of macaroni instead of Kraft.  It got me thinking what else I could do with the boxed macaroni, but I also had a nagging feeling that maybe this isn't the most healthy base for a dinner.  But it's not as bad as eating out, right?  How bad can it really be?  I wanted to find out a little more about it.

Let's start with the big question, what exactly is this powdered cheese and how is it made?  Is it even real cheese?  Check out this great short video from the New Yorker.  The article is great as well.    

Object of Interest: Cheese Powder


As the video points out, unfortunately the actual cheese content in cheese powder is going down.  Specifically in Kraft cheese packets, an unnamed scientist "estimates that cheese would account for no more than 29 percent of the sauce’s solids."  The reason for this decrease has to do with how cheaply a product can be made, unfortunately, not how good it tastes.  Sasha Chapman explains, "Driven by the commodity markets rather than taste, processed food formulas often change according to the going rates of their ingredients: when whey powder is cheap, for example, a cheese sauce might include more of it" (Chapman, Sasha. "Manufacturing Taste." The Walrus. Sept. 2012).  This answers what I was already cautious about; that there really isn't very much actual cheese in the powder.

Chapman writes a great article about the story behind James Lewis Kraft, who was first to win the patent for processed cheese in 1916, and the origins of the dish we have grown to love today.  Chapman also makes mention of society's growing desire for easier meals with minimal prep time in a fast paced world, saying, "We devote a total of forty-two minutes to cooking and cleaning up three meals a day — six fewer minutes than we spent in 1992. Over half the dinners we consume at home involve a prepared or semi-prepared food."  I can completely relate to this statement, as I'm sure many of us can, which is why I found myself in the grocery store last night at 9:00pm thinking about how I can pour mac and cheese over a pizza crust.  Chapman begins her article with the origins of macaroni, then writes about the history behind the blue box, which I found especially interesting.

The intentions behind this meal at the beginning were both positive and necessary.  In the late 1800s, before pasteurization, cheese was often safer and longer lasting than milk.  The World's Fair in Chicago was happening around this time and had a massive influence on North America with the emphasis on industry, with 30 million in attendance when only 60 million lived in the entire US (Chapman, 2012).  Kraft moved to Chicago in the early 1900s to find a more modern, efficient way to distribute cheese.  Since the best cheese was reserved for export, Kraft had seen high amounts of cheese either varied in quality or wasted once it reached the domestic market.  By the beginning of World War I, he discovered that emulsifying salts could be used to make processed cheese. 

Boxed macaroni and cheese as we know it today actually came about during the Depression.  A salesman in St. Louis wrapped rubber bands around cheese packets and pasta and convinced retailers to sell together.  In 1937, this began being sold as Kraft Dinner, which promised to feed a family of four for only 19 cents.  The boxes had a long shelf life at a time when few families had refrigeration. Sales doubled to $14 million by World War II with the food being used for soldiers, as well as for families where women had entered the workforce.  I think all of the history behind the beginnings of macaroni and cheese is very positive.  It seems like there was definitely a need for this type of product.  It's amazing to think that we have been making this meal for over 75 years.

Bringing us to today, Kraft removed the Yellow 5 and 6 dyes from some of their products late last year after a petition, so I think this is also good to see.  You can also buy the whole grain pasta option.  It's pretty incredible how many varieties are available on the Kraft site, and they all look really good!  There is also a large list of recipes available that use macaroni and cheese as a base.  I really like this idea because it gives you a starter, but then you can have a lot more variety. 

Returning to the question of whether or not to use Kraft Mac and Cheese, I personally follow the mantra of everything in moderation.  Even though the cheese content and nutritional value are low in the Kraft box, I can't deny that it still tastes good, and that there are quite a few ways to make it more interesting.  I wouldn't recommend eating mac and cheese, or anything, every single night, but it's fun to treat yourself to a childhood favorite once in awhile. :)         

I hope you enjoyed this exposé on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and by all means eat it and enjoy it!  You are not alone!
 
Comments
Lela 
May 18, 2014 6:45 am
Hi kate! An interesting and informative blog. My son would live on Kraft macaroni and cheese and pizza. In fact, the Kraft variety is still the #1 macaroni my son, daughter, and my granddaughter will eat. I am glad Kraft removed the yellow dyes because some people are allergic to dye.
 
duboo 
May 19, 2014 6:18 am
I dislike Mac n Cheese, and especially dislike the boxed stuff, but I really liked your blog. Nice work!
 
May 19, 2014 10:26 am
Good blog post! Just to clarify, most food manufacturers do not change their recipes with commodity prices. That would be far too expensive do to labeling regulations and the cost of packaging. Also, focus groups are used to ensure that recipe changes do not drastically alter the flavor of the product. Although I would contend that over time the flavor does deteriorate from the original recipe. I have only found one generic mac and cheese that I like as well as Kraft's. I can't remember the name of it, and it might not even be in production anymore. My family, when we eat Mac and Cheese are purists, though my wife and I have enjoyed it with tuna, or sliced hot dogs, or a bit of spaghetti sauce with meat mixed into the Mac and Cheese. I didn't like it much with steamed broccoli however!
 
May 19, 2014 10:32 pm
Anyone between the ages of 65 and 50 grew up on that stuff!
 
May 20, 2014 8:12 am
Thank goodness someone else likes this stuff!! You're very brave to admit it! I have made it from scratch-even a "5 cheese" version- but none were better than this easy mix, so why bother? I don't have it often, but when I do (like tonight!) I use Kraft - it's so cheap as it is, why go generic? (unless it's actually Kraft in disguise?) I like Doc's idea of mixing in tuna and will be trying that soon...
 
May 20, 2014 1:19 pm
LOL I know! I was afraid to admit liking it on this site and was hoping I wouldn't get lots of comments on how I should make it myself. I know it's just as easy, but like you said scootersandi, Kraft just tastes good as it is so why bother! My husband said that very thing when I bought the generic; it does not have the tanginess of Kraft and he could tell! Seriously, check out www.youknowyouloveit.com because there are some great ideas for starting with the boxed mix. I tried one last night, so will update soon with pictures. I have tried with tuna, and agree with Doc that it is really good!
 
 
 
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kate310

Home Town
Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA

Member Since
Aug. 2009

Cooking Level
Intermediate

Cooking Interests
Baking, Slow Cooking, Mexican, Italian, Southern, Healthy, Dessert, Quick & Easy

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Scrapbooking, Walking, Reading Books, Music

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About Me
My favorite things to cook
My favorite things to cook would have to be dinner options. This is the main meal I cook most days and this is where I try the most new things. I absolutely love pasta or any Italian dish, and so does my husband. Macaroni and cheese is really becoming my favorite food, and there are so many ways to change it up! Pasta and macaroni are my go-to favorites!
My favorite family cooking traditions
My grandma is a fantastic cook, so I love going to her house for any meal, especially holidays. I love her ham balls, chicken casserole, and chocolate chip pudding cookies. Eating these foods always reminds me of being at her house. I love whenever I visit her that she always has afternoon tea around 3:00pm. I think this is a nice little tradition and want to keep it up myself.
My cooking triumphs
I think the best thing I ever made was BBQ beef brisket out of the Food Network magazine. Pretty much anything I make from this magazine I consider a triumph, but I could not believe that I made this brisket; it was that good. This is definitely one I would use to impress people, plus you cook it in the slow cooker, so it is really minimal work!
My cooking tragedies
I remember I made some kind of dinner casserole and I think I accidentally used condensed milk instead of evaporated milk - it was so sweet and just gross! The first time I tried to make homemade spaghetti sauce, the recipe just said to use ground beef and diced tomatoes and that the tomatoes would cook down. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but this did not work and I have found a new recipe since. I also remember burning some butter or something on a flat baking sheet; the smoke alarm even went off and I threw the pan away!
 
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