They call it the holy grail of ready-to-eat meals for soldiers: a pizza that can stay on the shelf for up to three years and still remain good to eat.
Soldiers have been asking for pizza since lightweight individual field rations — known as meals ready to eat, or MREs — replaced canned food in 1981 in combat zones or areas where field kitchens cannot be set up.
Now scientists at a U.S. military lab in Natick, Mass., are closing in on a recipe that doesn’t require any refrigeration or freezing. “You can basically take the pizza, leave it on the counter, packaged, for three years and it’d still be edible,” said Michelle Richardson, a food scientist who has spent nearly two years developing the recipe in a kitchen full of commercial equipment.
Such efforts were long thwarted because moisture in tomato sauce, cheese and toppings migrated to the dough over time, resulting in soggy pizza that provided the perfect conditions for mold and disease-causing bacteria to grow.
But on-and-off research over the past few years helped scientists figure out ways to prevent moisture from migrating. That includes using ingredients called humectants — sugar, salt and syrups can do the trick — that bind to water and keep it from getting to the dough.
But that alone would not help the pizza remain fresh for three years at 80 degrees, so scientists tweaked the acidity of the sauce, cheese and dough to make it harder for oxygen and bacteria to thrive. They also added iron filings to the package to absorb any air remaining in the pouch.
How does it taste?
Most soldiers haven’t tried it because it’s still being developed, but Jill Bates, who runs the lab, said, “It pretty much tastes just like a typical pan pizza that you would make at home and take out of the oven or the toaster oven. The only thing missing from that experience would be it’s not hot when you eat it. It’s room temperature.”
— Associated Press