What's Actually in a Box of Instant Pudding?
And why does it taste so good?
There's nothing easier to make in the kitchen than pudding from a box. All you have to do is dump that instant pudding mix into a bowl, add cold milk, and mix the two ingredients together. Then just like that, you've got pudding! And there's nothing to be ashamed about making or liking pudding from a box. Even Alex Guarnaschelli is a fan of boxed pudding, and sometimes, you just want a treat that's delicious with minimal effort. But what is in that box of instant pudding, exactly?
To understand what goes into a box of instant pudding, you should first understand what ingredients go into a bowl of that thick, custardy, American style of pudding when you make it from scratch. Puddings are similar to custards, but puddings are thickened with cornstarch instead of eggs. So all you really need to make chocolate pudding without a box of instant pudding mix is milk, sugar, cornstarch, butter, vanilla extract, and chocolate.
The chocolate, sugar, and vanilla extract are pretty self-explanatory; these ingredients give the pudding its flavor and its sweetness. The cornstarch thickens the mixture and helps the liquids congeal into that pudding you know and love. All you have to do to make chocolate pudding is whisk the dry ingredients together, add the wet, and cook them up in a saucepan until it all thickens up into a pudding.
So with that in mind, the list of ingredients on the side of a box of instant pudding make a lot more sense. It's really just the dry ingredients, to which you add the milk youself. Take the ingredients of JELL-O's chocolate-flavored instant pudding, for instance. The first three ingredients are sugar, cornstarch, and cocoa—which are exactly the ingredients you'd use if you were making pudding from scratch.
But then, the list of ingredients gets a little more commercial, albeit in relatively small quantities. There's a slew of different dyes and artificial colors; disodium phosphate and tetrasodium pyrophosphate, which are used as a thickener; and some mono- and diglycerides, which are fats used to help prevent separation of oils. BHA, or butylated hydroxyanisole, is also in there, as a preservative.
If you're looking to keep it as easy as humanly possible—and to avoid turning on a stove—you really can't go wrong with boxed, instant pudding mix. But now that you know how simple it is to make pudding from scratch, and how few ingredients you need, there's no reason not to put the box away and try making homemade pudding yourself.