In a special camping edition of Julia Tries Everything, Julia tries all of the most popular MRE (Meal, Ready to eat) packages from two of the biggest brands on the market: AmeriQual APack and Sopakco Sure-Pak.
MREs are U.S. military operational rations, each package contains roughly 1,250 calories with the precise amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to keep you sustained throughout the day.
During the pandemic, most online stores are sold out of civilian MREs and when you can find them, they can go for prices of up to $150 for a 12-pack.
If you haven't seen these essentially fire-proof, water-proof, thick brown packages before, let me introduce you to what some of the military lovingly call "meals, rarely edible." Each package comes with an entree, side dish, cracker, spread, dessert, beverage, seasonings, and a flameless ration heater. Some come with gum and candy, others come with cornbread and "portable sandwiches"—it's a mystery bag awaiting your discovery.
Each self-contained meal is meant to provide all the nutrition needed to sustain the armed forces during a deployment—and during the pandemic sales for MREs have hit an all-time high. Now doomsday preppers and extreme campers are looking to get their hands on these rations. As a Navy kid (my mom and dad met at the Naval Academy and both served for over 30 years) one of the most exciting gifts for my dad to bring back after his six month deployment were his unused MREs. It was like an adult lunchable to six-year-old Julia. Little did I know that these packages were filled to the brim with fiber and sodium to keep you full and make you stomach feel like a brick.
Now, as a fully grown adult, it's time to taste these again and see which meals really are "edible" and which can stay in the box.
Best MREs, Ranked From Worst To Best:
12. Homestyle Vegetables in Sauce with Noodles and Chicken (APack)
This was the most flavor-less, mushy meal of them all. It was pale and no matter how much salt, pepper, and other seasonings I threw in, it didn't change the flavor; it tasted like canned pea mush unfortunately.
11. Pork with Sauce and Rice (APack)
I have learned that "sauce" mainly means sugary tomato paste at this point in MRE lingo. The pork looked similar to pork floss, completely shredded, but unfortunately the tomato flavor and brown sugar seasoning is so sickening sweet it's hard to distinguish any other flavor.
10. Pasta with Garden Vegetables (APack)
9. Lemon Pepper Tuna (Sure-Pak)
You'd think the lemon pepper tuna MRE would rank better than the standard tuna package but the lemon in this one is sugary and candy-like instead of a fresh, zesty lemon flavor. Candied tuna is a pass for us.
8. Tuna (Sure-Pak)
This would be ranked in my top 5 if I got to rate the Santa Fe style rice and beans that came with this MRE because it tasted like a cheesy burrito, but, unfortunately we are ranking on the main entree here. The tuna package comes with a tortilla so you can make yourself a wrap. Add in the salt, pepper, and hot sauce packages and you've got a well-rounded (albeit plain) lunch.
7. Southwestern Style Beans with Rice and Chicken (APack)
This had absolutely no flavor besides a sickening sweet tomato paste coating in my mouth. I recommend loading this one with hot sauce to help the bean and rice mixture.
6. Lentil Stew with Lamb (Sure-Pak)
The lamb in this is more jerky-like and tough and has a gaminess that takes over the lentils. The lentils are perfectly mushy and have a garlic-tomato flavor that's subtle.
5. Spaghetti with Italian Style Sauce and Meat (Sure-Pak)
The noodles were cut into pinky-sized bites and the texture was softer than the other noodle dishes. The meatballs mimicked soy bean balls, more crumbly than spongey.
4. Sweet and Sour Sauce with Rice and Chicken (APack)
It may not look cute, but the flavor is on point. It's ginger-heavy, sweet, tangy, and isn't the bright orange color of the rest of the dishes. This didn't need any extra spices added, but you know it'll taste that much better with some pepper added.
3. Chili and Macaroni (Sure-Pak)
This is a chewy, al dente macaroni noodle covered in a hefty beef sauce. Out of all of the packages, this one looked the best straight out of the bag—which, yes, is not necessarily saying much. This has a well-rounded beefy flavor with a red pepper kick.
2. Cheese Tortellini in Tomato Sauce (Sure-Pak)
Somehow the tortellini stay intact even if you squeeze the package to get it evenly heated, which is a huge plus one in my book. This smells like oregano, basil, and a bunch of sugary tomato paste. The sauce is thick and a bit gluey and tastes like Chef Boyardee. Out of all the pasta packages, this had the best overall flavor.
Lentils in Masala Sauce (Sure-Pak)
This smells exactly like masala, it has that sweet cinnamon, earthy cumin and turmeric, and spicy heat from the pepper. I was completely blown away by this one, especially because it was the only vegan MRE.
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