Help me clone a Hamburger Helper recipe.
July 11, 2009 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Help me recreate the flavor of discontinued Hamburger Helper (either Pizza Pasta or the original Cheesy Italian Shells, before they reworked and ruined it)!

Never have I been so tempted to ask a question anonymously. I really liked these two flavors of Hamburger Helper (they're very similar to each other), and they're completely unlike anything I have made using actual, real ingredients. I have no idea how to even begin recreating the flavor I want.

What combination of ingredients can get you the "cheese topping"? I know it uses milk, and probably lots of sugar, but not much beyond that. Some kind of actual cheese, I assume? What spices make their "tomato" sauce work? More sugar I'm guessing, but what else?

Can you help me?
posted by kingjoeshmoe to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
There's a good chance that it's powdered cheese, powdered 'italian spices' and tomato powder. I think you can get that stuff at a grocery deli. If they don't have it out, they might have it in the back. Otherwise, you can get any mac & cheese product and add tomato paste and 'italian spices' from a can to taste. If that doesn't come close enough, try adding onion powder, garlic powder and cheap parmesan cheese.
posted by stavrogin at 12:16 PM on July 11, 2009 has ~100 Hamburger Helper recipes.
posted by torquemaniac at 12:32 PM on July 11, 2009

Stavrogin: Yes, it's certainly powdered cheese and tomato powder, but is there a way to recreate these flavors using actual food? And not all powdered cheese is alike. This is very different from what they put in boxed mac & cheese. Sweeter and tarter. Putting tomato paste in mac and cheese would not come close at all.

torquemaniac: Yes, I saw that yahoo answer as well, and looked through None of those recipes are close. My google-fu isn't great, by any means, but I did look around before posting.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 1:02 PM on July 11, 2009

Well, I've never wished I could answer anonymously before, but have you tried their Cheeseburger Macaroni flavor? It's not exactly the same but it is damn good and has something of that same tart flavor. Admittedly, I don't have the most discerning Hamburger Helper palate.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:12 PM on July 11, 2009

is there a way to recreate these flavors using actual food?

Unlikely. My ex's mom used to work for National Starch and Chemical Company and one of the things she did was be a saleswoman for these starch additive packets, including the things you see in Hamburger Helper and in mac and cheese. They basically use starch [like potato starches or I'm not sure what else] and then chemical flavorings. It's probably reproducible using food but you won't get the mouthfeel or the incredible amount of salt/MSG [unlikely anyhow] just as an fyi.
posted by jessamyn at 2:45 PM on July 11, 2009

"The secret ingredient is salt."

This. The Helping Hand is pounding on your chest while waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Some of the flavors have almost 50% of your daily sodium per serving; some of the shelf stable, microwavable cups are pushing 80%.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:50 PM on July 11, 2009

Yeah, it's very likely salt. I consulted my boyfriend as a fellow person who grew up eating Hamburger Helper and he said, "They probably just reduced the salt. Buy the current flavors and add a bunch of salt." It may also be MSG that you're missing.
posted by ishotjr at 5:41 PM on July 11, 2009

Thanks all. This is not encouraging. It's more than salt. The older version had a separate topping you'd put on, that this one doesn't anymore. The sauce was also markedly thicker. I can believe there was more MSG, though.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 6:31 PM on July 11, 2009

Yeah, the missing ingredient is also Food Science. You might be able to sort of kind of approximate it using real food, but think how impossible it would be to truly reproduce boxed mac and cheese using real food -- it's just not what it's made of. I still wouldn't write off the possibility of getting there via some Frankenstein's monster of other, equally pseudofood products. Have you looked at the ingredient list (scroll down a bit) as a starting point for comparison?
posted by redfoxtail at 7:08 PM on July 11, 2009

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