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MRE vs Freeze Dried Foods

MRE vs Freeze Dried Foods

Before we do anything we need to take a brief History lesson on MRE's as well as Freeze-Dried Foods. Knowing each MRE and Freeze-Dried food history and advancement throughout the years is of just as important as which one is better. 

We need to see where they come from in order to see where we are headed. 

Vintage Military Poster For C Ration MRE's

MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) History:

Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs) have a history rooted in military needs for convenient, portable, and nutritionally balanced food for soldiers in the field. 


MRE Box of 12 Meals

  • World War II: During World War II, military rations primarily consisted of canned goods, dehydrated foods, and other non-perishable items. These rations were often heavy, bulky, and not always convenient for soldiers on the move.
  • K-Rations: In an effort to provide more lightweight and portable rations, the U.S. developed the K-ration in 1941. These were individualized daily rations containing a mix of canned and dehydrated foods, as well as items like chocolate and cigarettes.
  • C-Rations: After World War II, the K-ration was replaced by the C-ration, which was a more substantial and balanced meal. C-rations were used during the Korean War and into the early years of the Vietnam War.
  • LRRP Rations: Long Range Patrol (LRRP) Rations were introduced during the Vietnam War, providing lightweight, high-calorie meals for reconnaissance teams operating in the field.
  • MRE Development: The modern MRE concept began to take shape in the late 1970s. The U.S. Department of Defense initiated the development of the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) to replace the C-ration. The goal was to create a more palatable, lightweight, and nutritionally balanced individual ration.
  • Introduction and Evolution: The first MREs were introduced in the early 1980s, and they have undergone continuous refinement since then. MREs are designed to provide a complete meal with a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Packaging and Components: MREs are packaged in a durable, lightweight pouch that is easy to carry and open. Each MRE typically contains an entrée, side dishes, a dessert, a snack, a beverage mix, a flameless ration heater (FRH) for hot meals, and accessories like condiments and utensils.
  • Variety and Customization: MRE menus come in a variety of options, and efforts are made to ensure a diverse selection to meet different dietary preferences and nutritional requirements. Some MREs are designed to be vegetarian or meet specific religious dietary restrictions.
  • International Adoption: The concept of pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals has been adopted by many other countries' military forces, with variations tailored to local tastes and preferences.
  • Civilian Use: Over time, MREs have found uses beyond the military, such as emergency preparedness, camping, and outdoor activities. Some civilians purchase surplus military MREs for these purposes.

History of Freeze-Dried Foods History:

The history of freeze-dried foods dates back to the early 20th century, with developments in food preservation technologies. 

Freeze Dried Food Lasagna Meal

  • Early Experiments (1900s): The concept of freeze-drying began to take shape in the early 1900s. Initial experiments involved freezing and drying various substances, including foods, using vacuum technology.
  • World War II: The technology of freeze-drying saw practical applications during World War II. The process was used to preserve blood plasma for military use, as well as to preserve certain medical supplies. This wartime use marked an important step in the development of the freeze-drying process.
  • Post-World War II Developments: After World War II, the freeze-drying process became more refined, and its applications expanded. The food industry began to explore the potential of freeze-drying for preserving food, retaining its nutritional value, flavor, and texture.
  • 1950s-1960s: Commercialization of Freeze-Dried Foods: In the 1950s and 1960s, the commercial production of freeze-dried foods began to gain momentum. Coffee was one of the first widely adopted freeze-dried products. This period saw the development of freeze-dried fruits, vegetables, and even complete meals.
  • NASA and Space Exploration: The space race in the 1960s provided further impetus for the development of freeze-dried foods. Freeze-drying was recognized as a valuable method for preserving food for astronauts during space missions due to its lightweight nature and long shelf life.
  • 1970s-1980s: Expansion of Freeze-Dried Product Range: During the 1970s and 1980s, the range of freeze-dried products expanded to include not only fruits, vegetables, and coffee but also complete meals. Companies began marketing freeze-dried meals for outdoor enthusiasts, backpackers, and emergency preparedness.
  • Modern Applications: In recent decades, freeze-dried foods have become popular not only for space missions and military use but also for everyday consumers. The technology is widely used to produce instant coffee, soups, fruits, desserts, and even more complex meals.
  • Advancements in Technology: Advances in freeze-drying technology have allowed for more efficient and precise control over the process, resulting in better retention of flavor, texture, and nutritional content. Modern freeze-dried foods often closely resemble the original fresh ingredients.
  • Diverse Industries: Today, freeze-dried foods are used in various industries, including the food industry, pharmaceuticals, and the military. The lightweight, long shelf life, and retention of quality make freeze-drying a versatile method for preserving a wide range of products.

MRE's vs Freeze-Dried Food:

Now that we have squared away some of the history of both, Lets begin our topic of MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat) vs. Freeze-Dried foods.

MRE's and Freeze-Dried foods are both types of pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals designed for convenience, portability, and extended shelf life.

However, they have distinct differences in terms of preparation, taste, nutritional content, and use cases.

MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat):

  • Preparation: MREs are fully cooked meals that are ready to eat out of the packaging. Some MREs come with a flameless ration heater, allowing you to heat the main dish by adding water to a chemical pouch.

  • Taste and Texture: MREs are designed to be palatable and offer a range of flavors. They typically include a variety of components such as entrees, side dishes, desserts, and snacks. However, taste can vary, and some people find MREs less appealing than freshly prepared food.

Man Eating MRE on Rock
  • Nutritional Content: MREs are formulated to provide a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. They are designed to meet the nutritional needs of individuals in high-stress situations, such as military personnel in the field.

  • Portability: MREs are known for their durability and portability. They come in a sturdy, compact pouch that is easy to carry, making them suitable for outdoor activities, emergencies, and military use.

  • Shelf Life: MREs have a relatively long shelf life, often lasting several years when stored in proper conditions.

Freeze-Dried Foods:

  • Preparation: Freeze-dried foods require rehydration before consumption. Typically, you add hot water to the food and wait for it to rehydrate. This process restores much of the food's original taste and textures.
  • Taste and Texture: Freeze-dried foods often retain more of their original taste and texture compared to MREs. The freeze-drying process preserves the natural flavors and structure of the food.
Preparing Freeze-Dried Food Meal
    • Nutritional Content: Similar to MREs, freeze-dried foods are designed to provide essential nutrients. However, the freeze-drying process may cause some loss of certain vitamins and minerals compared to fresh foods.
    • Portability: Freeze-dried foods are lightweight and compact, making them suitable for backpacking, camping, and other outdoor activities. They are also popular among hikers and backpackers due to their reduced weight.
    • Shelf Life: Freeze-dried foods have an excellent shelf life, often lasting several years. The removal of moisture during the freeze-drying process helps prevent the growth of bacteria and spoilage.


    • Purpose: Consider the intended use. MREs are often associated with military use and emergency preparedness, while freeze-dried foods are popular among outdoor enthusiasts.

    • Preference: Personal preference plays a significant role. Some people may prefer the convenience of MREs, while others appreciate the taste and versatility of freeze-dried foods.

    • Weight and Space: If weight and space are critical considerations, freeze-dried foods may be preferred due to their lightweight and compact nature.

    Ultimately, the choice between MREs and Freeze-Dried foods depends on your specific needs, preferences, and the context in which you plan to use them. We encourage you to utilize and familiarize yourself with both kinds of long lasting rations. 

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