Do MREs Taste So Bad Because Of Long MRE Shelf Life?
The Idea Behind MREs
The objective of MREs is to provide military personnel on field operations with a calory-packed, ready to eat and easy to carry meal.
In addition, MRE shelf life is specified at 6+ months at 100°F/38°C, to accommodate desert and other hot area deployments. That does take a lot of preservatives, some of which alter the taste of the food.
The packaging has to withstand drops and flexing.
The culinary experience is low on the list, along with balanced nutrition and a healthy diet.
That being said, in general, MREs do not taste any better or worse than canned food.
The basic idea is the same.
Precooked, ready-to-eat portions are sealed in a container, the bacteria is killed off by heat and kept out by and preservatives.
If you’re OK with canned food every now and then, you’ll be fine with MREs.
(Cans are usually boiled for 2-3 hours to kill off all the bacteria. MRE retort pouches are sterile within an hour, so in theory they may taste better and have firmer textures. MRE shelf life is not impacted by the shorter preparation time.)
MRE Taste & MRE Shelf Life
The menus are changed every year, supposedly to accommodate trends in popular tastes.
I guess that’s as far as the nothing but the best for our troops slogan goes.
It can’t be denied that the additives responsible for long MRE shelf life alter taste. Just like they do with canned food.
A few years ago a Utah newspaper invited local chefs to taste-test some MREs.
The quotes are priceless.
“Tastes like nitrates mixed with liquid smoke”
Beef Roast with Vegetables
“It’s more like.. warm SPAM”
Cheese and Vegetable Omelet
“I’m curious how this could be described as an omelet”
Spaghetti With Meat Sauce
Have you ever noticed that cheap spaghetti sauce tends to taste like that too? Oh college memories…
Sloppy Joe with Cheese Sauce
“Leave this one alone” (the chef smells it and pushes it aside)
Feel free to watch the full video here, weird music included
MRE Taste Ratings, on a scale of 10
This is how the chefs above rated the MREs for taste.
Luckily for service members, the universally-hated cheese and vegetable omelet has been retired as of 2011.
While none of these MRE meals came close to the full score of 10, it’s obvious the quality does vary a lot. Sadly it’s between bad and mediocre.
Be Your Own MRE Taste-Tester
While MRE shelf life is the same across the range, the quality of the individual meals is not.
I recommend you taste-test before you buy in bulk.
I do realize that we’re all going to eat it anyway when the other option is not eating at all, but why not save yourself the unpleasant surprise in what’s already likely to be a stressful situation?
Also MREs are ready to eat as they are, but usually taste better when heated. Heating may mask some of the medicine taste. Heaters are usually included with MREs, but do check when ordering. Commercial MREs do vary in this respect.