A big fat improvement
Given that hot chips are commonly thought of as belonging to the fatty, fast food category, you might be pleasantly surprised to know there are no red lights for fat for any of these products – you can even find some with as little as 2.6% total fat. But the type of fat is just as important, and this is where the improvement lies.
When we last looked at frozen potato products, most were cooked in artery-clogging saturated fat, usually beef fat (tallow). Palm oil can also bump up the saturated fat, so if you’re watching your intake check for both these items in the ingredients list (palm oil may simply be listed as “vegetable oil”).
Today, the majority of products instead contain healthier monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats such as canola or sunflower oil.
All in the cooking method
To benefit from this improvement, be sure to use a cooking method, such as oven bake, grill or microwave, that doesn’t require you to add fat. All but one of the products we looked at provide instructions for at least one of these methods. It’s recommended you deep-fry Woolworths Select Potato Wedges in oil, which is the only reason this product didn’t make it onto our What to Buy list.
To get the most nutrition from frozen potato products be sure to cook them in a way that doesn't require you to add fat, such as grilling or oven bake.
Kids' products the saltiest
The saturated fat content of potato products may have improved, but the same can’t be said for salt, with more than half the products having an amber light for sodium. And it’s the products kids are most likely to clamour for that are among the most heavily salted. The worst culprits are:
- Seasons Pride Curly Fries
- McCain Potato Nuggets
- McCain Hash Browns
The recommended serve of each contains about one-third of the upper level of acceptable daily sodium intake for four- to eight-year-olds. Worse still, seven of the eight novelty potato products in our table are in the top 20 for fat. And all five hash brown products make it into the top 10.
As a general rule of thumb, novelty potato products and hash browns tend to be heavy on salt and/or fat, so have them as occasional treats only. Oven chips and wedges are usually a healthier option.
The emergence of frozen mashed potato since our 2003 test was eye-opening, so CHOICE home economist, Fiona Mair, assessed this new product to see how it stacked up for taste and cost.
Frozen mashed potato can go from microwave to table in as little as 90 seconds (You’ll Love Coles mash varieties), whereas making it from scratch (peeling, chopping, boiling, seasoning and mashing) can take a good deal longer. The frozen versions cost on average 55 cents per 125g serve, compared with 48 cents for the same size serve of our homemade mash. And the taste? Our home economist was unimpressed, commenting that overall the frozen mash tastes “nothing like the homemade version” with a texture she describes as “overbeaten”.
The cooking time for frozen roasted potatoes can be as little as 14 minutes under the grill (McCain Mini Roasts), which beats our time for homemade roast spuds by about half an hour. In our taste test, frozen roast potatoes were tougher on the outside than the homemade version and all brands had a lot of odd shapes and sizes, causing uneven cooking. Frozen roasted potatoes cost us on average 59 cents per 125g serve. An equivalent serve of our homemade version – including the olive oil and salt – cost 48 cents, although you could save more money buying your potatoes in bulk.
To round off the taste test, our home economist also checked out microwaveable packs of raw baby potatoes, which are in the chilled vegetable section of your supermarket. Not surprisingly, they taste no different from when you microwave baby potatoes yourself – but you’re paying $10/kg for the “convenience” of potatoes already in a container with a dab of butter on top. As our home economist commented, “Why bother?”
Try our home economist’s recipes and tips for making the perfect mashed, roast and steamed potatoes.