When U.S. soldiers are out in the field away from their bases, they rely on pre-packaged rations called MREs (meals, ready-to-eat) that can keep for years without spoiling — and ever since MREs replaced canned food in the '80s, those soldiers have been asking for what seemed impossible: pre-packaged pizza.
Today, AP reports that U.S. military scientists are nearing what they call the "holy grail" of MREs with a prototype batch of pre-cooked pepperoni pizza in a bag.
"You can basically take the pizza, leave it on the counter, packaged, for three years and it'd still be edible," said Michelle Richardson, a U.S. Army food scientist. Research has proceeded on-and-off for years on a pizza MRE, but the stumbling block turned out to be the moisture in the sauce, cheese and toppings, which would soak the dough, turning it into a breeding ground for mould and bacteria.
To solve the problem, the food scientists incorporated humectants (ingredients like salt and syrups which bind to water) to keep the moisture from the dough. They also increased the acidity of the sauce, cheese and dough to fend off bacteria, and included a packet of iron filings to absorb any air that made it through the vacuum packaging process.
According to AP, the most popular MRE is currently spaghetti, and recent menus include items like chili and chicken fajitas. Early MREs like chicken loaf and beef diced with gravy weren't terribly popular among soldiers, earning nicknames like "Meals Rejected by Everyone" and "Meals Rejected by the Enemy."
According to the lab scientists at least, the pizza MRE isn't bad at all. "It pretty much tastes just like a typical pan pizza that you would make at home and take out of the oven or the toaster oven," Richardson told AP. "The only thing missing from that experience would be it's not hot when you eat it. It's room temperature."