This is a post that I originally put up over at MRE Forums . While it was directed toward improving military rations, it is just as applicable to most meals that you are going fix in the woods:
If you eat MREs, you know they often lack a bit in the taste department.
I love them for their convenience, both in the toting them up into the woods, and in the ease of fixing them up to eat while you’re out there. However, I usually would like them to have a little bit more flavor. Fortunately for us, since we are all fanboys and not militarily deployed field users, we have options that the active-duty guys don’t.
I thought I would show you a few photos of some of the stuff I’ve picked up over at the dollar stores and the Fell-Off-A-Truck-Stops that are used to turn my outdoor dining experience into something a little bit more gourmet.
First off: here’s a selection from the counter packets that I have grabbed at fast food joints along with my meals over the last few months. I keep these in a Tupperware tub in the fridge, and grab a few that will work best with whatever meal I’m planning on taking along. “Free” and tasty.
While I don’t have one here to show, the food court over the Sam’s Club usually has singleserving packages of actual sauerkraut right there in the rack with the ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. More than just a condiment, sauerkraut is a nice way to add just a little bit of roughage side-dish to your woods diet. [I wouldn’t want to carry it for a week along the AT or the PCT, but for an overnight or two it seems perfectly safe. After all, it’s already fermented]
Next up: some seasonings… most of these are dollar store finds that come in packages of eight to 24.
The two foil packs on the left are miso/ramen flavoring’s. Miso is full of the umami taste. [Umami is the “fifth” taste along with sweet, sour, salt, and bitter… there is actually even a sixth taste if you want to include piquancy or hotness] Umami is what adds the richness to things like Worcestershire sauce. These do not so much add flavor, it is more that they perk up the taste of what’s already there. Great in stewed stuff.
You probably already recognize the bouillon and the Mrs. Dash. The tubes over on the right are coarse, brown turbinado sugar. I think it gives it richer, fuller flavor than the Domino white crystals, and you’re probably going to want sugar at some point for something.
The REVA is much like a variation on the MRE beverage bases. It is quite a light flavoring, but if you combine it with one of the Tru-Lime paks you’ve got a really nice thirst quencher for a hot day. Supposedly, coconut water has all the advantages of electrolyte replacements.
The TruLime will also add a nice little bit of zest to the salsas and other hot sauces.
And the Hazelnut Cream… OMG!… basically Nutella in a tube. Squeeze while you hike… You can thank me later.
Lastly: a bunch of beverage replacements/substitutes.
I have found that I kind of like the cappuccino packs. If you stir in one of the singleserve Tasters Choice coffee tubes out of an MRE, you’ve got a coffee drink with a very reasonable amount of kick. I like cream and sugar in my coffee, but I hate that powdered creamer. This is a pretty good solution unless you are trying to stay away from refined sugar products. You can also do the same thing with a cocoa mix pack and Tasters Choice.
The red package at the bottom center is actually real ground coffee in a tea bag form. It has to steep for a few minutes, but you can use more than one for a really “manly” brew.
And tea is tea whether you call it Chai or not… I must actually have a few British bones in my body because I really do like tea… straight… dark.
Finally, I carry along the cider mixes as a [non-caffeinated] hot beverage before bedtime, and as an alternative to cocoa. I’ve always found that a hot beverage before I slip into my bag helps me fall asleep quicker and sleep more soundly.
The great thing with all of these items is that if you regularly keep your eyes open down at the dollar store, you can get a whole lot of stuff for not much more than the $8 cost of a single MRE. I don’t think anything here cost more a cup of coffee… and that was for multi-packs. For the most part they seem to have a fairly indefinite shelf life as long as they are kept cool and dry. Those teabag coffees in the last photo are at least 15 years old, I keep them in a screw-lid peanut butter jar and they still taste just fine. You can simply toss all of your finds loose into a one gallon Tupperware container down in the basement with the rest of your gear. When you get ready to go, fish out a few that might be handy, strip and “field-rat” an MRE, add your extra goodies, duct tape the sucka waterproof, and you are out the door with a much better, and much tastier meal option.