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Looking At The History Of MRE’s And Our MRE Heater

What does this mysterious acronym mean? Well, if you have experience with camping, backpacking or you’ve served in the military, chances are that you’re familiar with MREs, or ‘Meal, Ready-to-Eat.’ These freeze-dried meal rations have conveniently fed countless people since as far back as the 1960’s, and continue to be praised for their easy preparation in the outdoor camping and backpacking communities. But how exactly did MREs come to be? Well, in today’s blog post, that’s what Barocook is here to talk about.

Barocook Makes The Perfect MRE Heater

At Barocook, we care about MREs and outdoor camping gear because we make the best, most convenient flameless MRE heater on the market. By providing outdoor enthusiasts with a way to heat up food and water from the safety and convenience of their tent or vehicle due to no flames being emitted, Barocook has revolutionized the survival stove market as we know it. To get a flameless cook box that’s perfect for your next camping or backpacking trip, shop Barocook. Now, let’s take a look at how MREs developed over time and eventually necessitated our signature MRE heater.

MREs Go Way Beyond Camping And Backpacking

MREs can be traced back to individual army rations provided by the United States military. These self-contained, individual ‘field rations’ were designed for U.S. military service members for use in combat or other field conditions in which organized food facilities were not available. While MREs should ideally be kept relatively cool, they do not need to be refrigerated, making them a convenient and long-lasting option for food.

In 1981, MREs replaced MCI or ‘Meal Combat, Individual Rations’ which came in a less efficient, canned form. While MREs roots lie in the military, MREs are also very useful and widely distributed during events like natural disasters, though their long-term nutritional sustainability may be questionable for noncombat environments. This is largely due to the high-fat content (52 grams of fat, 5 grams of trans fats) and high-salt content of these freeze-dried meals. For military members who are actively sweating and routinely burning calories by carrying heavy weight, these meals are perceived as less-than-ideal for sedentary individuals.

Eating Meals During Wartime

The first soldier ration was established by a Congressional Resolution during the Revolutionary War and consisted of enough food to feed a man for one day. It consisted mostly of beef, peas, and rice. Moving forward during the Civil War, the military shifted soldier rations toward canned goods. Eventually, these self-contained kits of food were issues as a whole ration and contained foods like canned meat, pork, bread, coffee, sugar, and salt.

At the turn of the First World War, canned meats were then replaced with lightweight preserved meats (either salted or dried) in order to save weight and allow more rations to be carried by soldiers that were carrying their supplies on foot. New rations were introduced during World War II such as the ‘Mountain ration’ and “Jungle ration.’ However, after repeated experiences with providing prepared rations to soldiers prior to World War II, Pentagon officials realized that these meals weren’t nutritionally adequate, and required a healthier balance of complex carbohydrates and proteins to assist with sustained energy out on the field. This re-thinking in nutrition set the stage for MREs.

Early MRE Development

Over time, military officials realized that service members in varying geographic regions and combat situations often required different subsets of ingredients for food in order to be considered palatable over long periods of time. In other words, there was no universal quick-meal option that seemed to work for every soldier in every possible environment. Plus, catering to individual tastes and preferences encouraged service members to actually consume the entire ration and its subsequent nutrition.

In 1963, the Department of Defense began to develop the “Meal, Ready to Eat,” offering a lighter and more efficient replacement for the canned “Meal, Combat, Individual ration.” After multiple years of development, it wasn’t until 1975 that work began on a dehydrated meal stored in a plastic retort pouch - similar to what we know today as MREs. The research and development was led by Dr Abdul Rahman, who later received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award for his contribution. After the refinement of MREs by Dr Rahman and his team, these ready-to-go meals went into special issues starting in 1981 and standard issue in 1986. Initially, the menu was somewhat limited, consisting of twelve entrees to choose from.

Queue Flameless Ration Heaters

Since its initial introduction, MREs have been in continual development. 1990 saw great strides in MRE technology with the advent of the Flameless Ration Heater, a cornerstone of our business here at Barocook. This technology allowed a service member in the field to enjoy a hot meal through a water-activated, exothermic reaction that emitted heat. This allowed service members to receive more entree options as well as larger serving sizes.

By the mid-1990s, graphics were added to make the packets more user-friendly and appealing, while biodegradable materials were introduced for the inedible components of MREs like spoons and napkins. These days, service members can enjoy and choose from up to 24 different entrees and more than 150 additional items. Overall, this evolution in MRE variety allowed service members from various cultures and places around the world to find something palatable. After all, human taste is subjective and influenced by these cultures.

Dietary Reference Intake

MREs have been developed using the Dietary Reference Intake as created by the Institute of Medicine, helping optimize calorie levels and nutritional content to meet the needs of active service members who burn many calories on a daily basis. The Institute of Medicine originally discovered that active service members, or highly active men between the ages of 18 and 30, typically burned an average of 4,200 calories a day, but only consumed roughly 2,400 calories a day during combat. This presented a negative energy balance as well as a daily caloric deficit.

While tweaks and improvements to food items and the distribution of macronutrients to help boost the amount of kilocalories per MRE have been made and are continuing to be made, optimizing MRE nutrition has proved to be a challenging ordeal. Several studies have shown that many service members still do not meet today’s standards of daily consumption, often trading and even throwing away portions of their ration. Overall, researchers continue to study the habits and eating preferences of service members, making constant changes that encourage service members to eat their entire meal and consequently benefit from its full nutritional value.

Your MREs Deserve The Best Flameless Ration Heater

When you need an easy solution to cook your MREs or other backpacking food, our selection of outdoor camping gear and survival stoves at Barocook are the solution. Browse our flameless MRE heaters by visiting here.