A Pentagon lab is cooking up pizza that can be stored for three years without freezing and still be edible. Its addition to field rations is meant to be a moral boost for troops longing for home comforts.
The almost-everlasting pizza us under development at Natick Army Labs, a US Army facility which was the prime developer of the current field rations for American troops.
The MREs, or ‘meal, ready to eat’ packages replaced heavier canned field rations in 1981, but are being improved by nutrition researchers according to soldiers’ requests and the budgetary constraints of the DoD.
Adding pizza to MREs has been something that troops have long been asking for, and now the Massachusetts-based lab has almost finished cooking one that can, reports AP. The recipe, which has been in the making for two years, allows it to remain harmless even after three years on the shelf.
"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 at the Natick lab.
The trickiest part was coaxing water from toppings, souse and cheese not to migrate to the dough over time. When it does, pizza is turned into a soggy repulsive mass, which also provides perfect conditions for microbes to grow. The researchers captured the moisture through a number of techniques, including the clever use of humectants - water-binding ingredients like sugar, salt and syrups.
They also tweaked the acidity of the sauce, cheese and dough, making them repressive to bacteria growth and other sources of food decay. And an iron filling inside the package absorbs residual air in the plastic pouch.
The rot-resilient packed pizza is like a pan pizza, with a crust that's a little moist and not super-crispy, says lab head Jill Bates.
"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," she said. "The only thing missing from that experience would be it's not hot when you eat it. It's room temperature."
The latter is actually not that big a problem, considering that MREs include a chemical heater.
"In a lot of cases, when you are cold and tired and hungry, having a hot meal that's something that you like and you would get at home, it increases your morale — and we consider that to be a force multiplier," said David Accetta, a former Army lieutenant colonel and spokesman for the lab.
The pizza is still in development, so the majority of troops have not tasted it. Before it’s rolled out, the lab wants to develop alternative recipes, like Turkey pepperoni pizza for soldiers who don’t eat pork products.
Currently the MRE option most favored by the soldiers is spaghetti. Another very popular choice is vegetarian tortellini.
In addition to nutrition kits, the lab develops parachutes and airdrop systems, combat clothing, tents and shelters and other materiel.