Food Fight: Cooked vs. Instant Chocolate Pudding

Let's compare and contrast, shall we? Cooked vs. Instant Chocolate Pudding! Fight, fight, fight!

When I was a kid, cooked chocolate pudding was the norm. The process of cooking then cooling was all we knew, with dibs being called over who got – or avoided – the pudding skin that formed on the top as it set.

Then instant pudding came along, and it rocked our schoolyard world. I distinctly remember kids having shake-your-own pudding containers, where they’d combine the milk they got for lunch with a small sachet of pudding powder, then shake it until it turned into pudding. Participatory food, I learned, is a hit with the kids.

It’s been years since I last made cooked pudding, mostly because instant is just so much easier to make. When I spotted a small selection of cooked pudding flavours at a local Save-On Foods, I figured I’d whip up a batch of cooked chocolate pudding and a batch of instant chocolate pudding, then compare the two side by side. Here’s what I found.

PREPARATION AND TIME:

The fundamental difference between cooked and instant pudding is the preparation. With cooked pudding, you must apply heat to the cold milk and pudding powder mixture on a stovetop or in a microwave. It must be brought to a boil (with constant stirring along the way), then cooled to set. This takes time (about 20 minutes of work, plus waiting for it to chill) and energy. If you like hot pudding, great. If you don’t, be prepared to wait. (In my fridge, split into 3 cups, it was cool enough for my liking in about 2 and a half hours.)

With instant pudding, all you have to do is whisk it for 2 minutes, let it set for 5 minutes, then serve. There’s no question which one is easier, and less time-intensive. Advantage: Instant.

TASTE AND TEXTURE:

Here’s where the waiting pays off. The taste of the cooked pudding is much richer and more complex than the instant. It’s got a structure to the texture that isn’t limp or watery. It feels as though a much more substantial transformation has occurred in the cooked pudding than in the instant. It’s thick and slightly lumpy. It tastes like the real deal.

The instant has more of a smooth, granular texture, like the powder never entirely dissolved. It tastes like the sum of its parts, not anything greater than that. There’s an artificial twang that I can’t quite place. The colour is deeper brown than the cooked, and it looks velvety instead of lumpy — but looks don’t make up for taste.

THE WINNER:

If ease and convenience matter more than anything else, go with the instant. You just got home from evening soccer practice with the kids, and you want to whip up a quick snack? Instant. You want a simple kitchen lesson for a child that doesn’t involve boiling anything on the stove? Instant.

But when it comes to flavour, cooked just tastes better. WAY better. Simple as that. If you have time, it’s worth the inconvenience.

Instant chocolate pudding with a whisk, just about the only kitchen tool needed to make it.

RATINGS AND DETAILS

Cost: The same for each. $2.49 per 170-gram box at Save-On foods.

Value for cash money: Good.

Availability: Instant seems to be far more readily available these days.

Nutrition?: Almost the same, either way. Each 1/2 cup serving (about 1/6 of the package), prepared with 2% milk, contains 160 calories. There’s quite a bit more sodium in the instant. Each serving has 15% of the daily value of calcium, thanks to all the milk involved.

Serving suggestions: My childhood favourite was to stir in some chocolate chips when serving. For a yummy banana-chocolate combo, cut a ripe banana into discs, and stir it in. Better yet, combine both to make banana-chocolate-chip chocolate pudding.

Cooked pudding, cooling on the stovetop. See that shine to the surface? That's the famous cooked-pudding skin forming.

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