It’s often said that an army marches on its stomach, and military history is, in many ways, synonymous with food history. Marching day and night through difficult terrain can burn a shocking number of calories. The tedium of downtime can itself pose unexpected issues for armies. Bland foods enjoyed while on foot often become something quite different when it’s the only thing to focus on while waiting for orders.
MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are the modern solution to all of these problems. MREs will theoretically provide people with all the nutrients needed for an active day while also satisfying their taste buds — and make no mistake — taste matters. If someone’s going to benefit from MREs, then they’ll need solid incentives to eat the entirety of it. The better MREs taste, the greater the chances that soldiers will voluntarily consume all of the nutrients needed for peak performance in their duties.
Modern MREs were initially developed in the United States. But over time MREs have become the norm for the military all over the world. Every one of these countries has its own unique take on the idea. MREs around the world are providing people with a reminder of the tastes and smells of home. The following examples highlight the best military MREs on a country-by-country basis.
The United States is something of a legend when it comes to MREs, so it's little surprise that they've earned top ranking. The Department of Defense first adopted MREs as the successor to their LRP rations in the early 1980s. From that point on, researchers have worked to improve every element of MREs. This includes stability and ease of preparation, but considerable attention has also been given to the taste of American MREs.
The US innovated in its use of pouches for MREs instead of cans. The "wet pack" packaging style provides a number of benefits. This includes an overall reduction in both weight and size. The American MREs usually use a wet pack for the entree. The exact nature of this dish differs on a case-by-case basis, but it's usually something that would be instantly familiar and appreciated by the average American. These might best be described as "comfort foods". Some of the more common options include spaghetti, stew, and chili.
Crackers are a common component of many countries' MREs. And the US take on MREs is no exception to that rule. American troops have been eating crackers for the entirety of the country's history, but the crackers in modern MREs are a huge step forward from the hardtack American soldiers once relied on. The crackers in a modern MRE are actually tasty and filling.
American MREs also include a side dish. This is usually an option along the line of what people would think of as snacks. For example, you might find raisins or nuts serving this purpose in an American MRE.
Finally, American MREs usually contain both a dessert and candy to add a little extra flair. The candy will usually be something like Skittles.The dessert can range all the way from actual cookies to fig bars. MREs from the US are generally considered to be the best of the best.
France has a reputation for fine cuisine, and it's little wonder that they've designed some of the best MREs. A common rumor that they contain a little wine is, sadly, not true. But they do contain some impressive options.
French MREs are divided into two main servings, an appetizer, soup, dessert, and crackers. The MREs have a tremendous variety of options, but some of the more notable items within them are duck mousse, rabbit pâté, chicken stew, squid, sausage, fish soup and lentils.
Thai food enjoys a healthy popularity all over the world. It typically combines spicy flavors with surprisingly nutritious ingredients. The country's MREs tend to follow a similar formula. Thai MREs tend to work with rice as a base for the larger meal, but the real magic of both Thai food in general and their MREs is the flavoring.
Thai MREs put an emphasis on seasonings and sauces to help people reach the perfect level of spiciness. The various options tend to work around that theme as well. You might find Panaeng chicken curry, rice and a variety of similar options, but one common element is spiciness.
Australian MREs tend to roughly align with the taste profile of the United States. It has an emphasis on meats such as beef and chicken, but one notable point that should make Australians feel a connection to home is the Australian cheddar cheese, and of course, what Australian meal would be complete without vegemite? The standard cracker's analog in Australian MREs are the options for cream or sweet biscuits.
The Australian MREs also keep people's sweet tooth in mind and usually put an emphasis on chocolate. This can include chocolate bars, chocolate-drink powder, and candy chocolates. But there's also some sweetness to be found from nature, in the form of fruit. This includes fruit diced in syrup, fruit bars, apricot coconut bars, and tropical fruit bars.
Italy is famous for pasta, ad the country's MREs certainly reflect that fact. Beef tortellini or pasta and bean soup may well be on the menu when opening up an Italian MRE. Italians also have their own take on the standard crackers found in many MREs. Standard crackers are included in some Italian MREs, but they might also come with almond biscuits. Italians hoping to satisfy their craving for sugar can enjoy chocolates, fruit bars, and fruit jellies. Though the highlight of some Italian MREs is an alcohol-rich cordial.
Unsurprisingly, China's MREs tend to focus on rice-based dishes. Rice has always been an important part of China's military planning, so it's not a surprise to see this preference continuing into the current day. Fried rice in particular is one of the most common options for the main course in Chinese MREs.
Chinese MREs usually ship with a vegetable side dish as well. However, the design of MREs always needs to take storage and long-term stability into account. This doesn't lend itself very well to most vegetables. The Chinese MREs typically get around this problem through the use of pickled seaweed. This provides some familiar vegetable flavors, textures, and nutrients, but it's also compatible with long-term storage. Finally, Chinese MREs also tend to provide noodles.
China's MREs are notable for the number of changes they go through on a regular basis. The country hasn't always had the best reputation for its MREs, but they're clearly putting work into making them more palatable.
South Korean MREs tend to aim for a more basic and utilitarian design. The country's famous kimchi is a perfect option as it provides vegetables that also enjoy a long shelf life. Various types of fried rice, such as ham fried rice, are also common additions that match the country's favorite meals. The options for sweets are a little more limited in South Korean MREs than those of some other countries, but the round chocolate candies and almond cake are still a welcome addition. South Korean MREs might not rank as highly as the other options, but they still pack a strong combination of taste and nutrition.