The invention—which is vaguely reminiscent of astronaut ice cream—came about because soldiers have been requesting pizza for years. Of all the existing MREs, or “meals ready to eat,” spaghetti is currently the most popular, so it follows that tomato-sauced pizza would be right up there.
Scientists at a Natick, Massachusetts military lab are “closing in on a recipe” for a zip-packed “pizza prototype,” calling their endeavor to create shelf-stable pizza the “holy grail.” Food scientist Michelle Richardson has spent almost two years trying to pin down the right recipe. This is serious business.
Challenges facing the team have been largely moisture-oriented: the sauce, cheese and toppings made for a soggy, less-than-tasty crust (and encouraged the growth of mold and bacteria). But the use of humectants such as sugar, salt, and syrups forestalled water from getting into the dough. Iron fillings in the packaging help stave off bacteria, too.
The result? A slice that looks straight out of the frozen foods section (is it possible that these “scientists” have just photographed a slice of Elio’s?) that tastes, “like a typical pan pizza that you would make at home,” one scientist told the AP. Another weighed in with similar tasting notes: “It tastes pretty much what you would get from a pizza parlor.”
We placed a call to the lab to find out what pizza parlor prototype was used and learned that Richardson visited small, mom-and-pop Italian restaurants in Providence with her mother, taste-testing as she went. Her colleague David Accetta, a former Army officer, reports that she hit upon the real deal: “It was a lot better than I thought it would be; as good, if not better, than a lot of frozen pizzas that you can get at the grocery store.”
When will these be available out in the field? “Six months to a year,” Accetta told us. What’s the holdup? The technology for how to heat up a slice on the fly is tricky; MRE pizza can’t be heated up the same way usual MRE meals are heated (via flameless “ration heaters” involving magnesium iron alloy powder). Soldiers everywhere are no doubt eagerly awaiting the day when the kinks are worked out, and they’ve got slices in hand.
[via the Associated Press]