Army Testing Vacuum Microwave Dried Food — Yummy!

(Video John Napolitano/

Army scientists are looking to vacuum microwave drying, or VMD, technology to create new, quality items for rations that may also reduce the warfighter’s carrying load.

U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center researchers hope to acquire the pilot scale equipment to develop items that meet the stringent requirements of military rations that must be shelf stable for years in extreme climates with no access to refrigeration, according to a recent press release.

The rapid drying technology would enable the creation of lightweight, nutritious, inexpensive shelf-stable foods, including cheese, fruits, vegetables and meats. Such items could be incorporated into the following rations: Meal, Cold Weather; Food Packet, Long-Range Patrol; and Meal, Ready-to-Eat.

“Some of the conventional drying methods are not efficient,”Tom Yang, a food technologist in NSRDEC’s Combat Feeding Directorate, or CFD, said in the release.

“For example, sun drying takes a long time and is dependent upon Mother Nature. And it is not very sanitary. Another method is mechanical drying, which involves using a hot oven with hot air to remove moisture. But drying foods at a high temperature can affect quality, taste and texture. It is edible, but it can be hard like a rock. Drying foods can also take away nutrients. The food can shrink and the color can become dark. Not very appetizing.”

VMD combines vacuum and microwave technology, heating foods uniformly through a quick, gentle process.

“Since you combine vacuum technology with microwaving to remove water, you can do so at a lower temperature,” said Yang, who is part of CFD’s Food Engineering and Analysis Team. “You maintain nutrients since the rapid drying process doesn’t destroy heat-sensitive nutrients. The colors remain appetizing and the texture doesn’t become hard and brittle.”

Foods created by VMD are nutritious and pleasing to the palate. The technology also fits into NSRDEC’s mission to lighten the warfighter’s carrying load.

“It is low weight. It is very easy to eat on the move,” said Yang. “You don’t need to store it anywhere.”

The Food Engineering and Analysis Team, led by Lauren Oleksyk, hopes to obtain its own VMD machine for its Food Innovation Lab, where it will be used to create new foods for the warfighter and improve existing offerings.

“Soldiers do so many important missions,” Yang said. “They are under a lot of stress. They need to be well fed. Their physical and mental state needs to be in top shape. We are hoping to get a [vacuum/microwave] unit so that we can use it as a tool to try out many ingredients and recipes that we know soldiers would like to have.”

Yang said he thinks it is important to create some favorite foods for soldiers far away from home.

“I have an idea for a shelf-stable cheeseburger with a layer of dried cheese, a layer of dried meat, and a layer of dried bread,” Yang said. “A regular cheeseburger would be highly perishable, but this one would be shelf stable for three years.”

About the Author

Matthew Cox
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  • Steveweiser

    Who knew Jackie Chan did something else besides make movies?!

    • Yellow Devil

      Holy schmoly he does look like Jackie Chan, and I’m ethnically Chinese myself…

    • babola

      Exactly my thoughts as soon as I opened the link…:-)

    • Stefan S.

      They all look alike anyway. Joke

      • wtpworrier

        That was not funny.

        • 1C3

          Show us where the internet hurt you.

    • guest

      And the Army went kung fu fighting…

    • wtpworrier

      Aw man! I was thinking the same thing. This guy look just like Jackie Chan!!!

  • Leon Suchorski

    So, what do you do? Just add water and it instantly becomes a meal? Incomplete article. It says nothing about how the troops handle this stuff in the field to eat it.

    • Mike

      I think the point, Leon, was to demonstrate the direction they’re looking to take the technology. Wherein they have a concept which needs to be proven, once that occurs then they’ll tackle the far more ominous problems of how to package, store, deliver and prepare it….. Aww hell, who am I kidding, I’m just glad they got rid of the cheese and veggie omelette.

      • Stefan S.

        Did you suffer through the original ham and egg omelet? Now that was gross.

        • thomas_67

          I ate those. The only bad experience I had was when I first opened the pouch and the excess water spilled all over my pants. After that, I knew to carefully open the pouch and drain the water. I remember these being slightly less gross.

  • guest

    The Army has always been on the cutting edge of military rations. From desecrated vegetables and mummy meat during the civil war, through inventing K and C rats, along with spam and processed cheese in WW2, to our modern field rations the Army has lead the way in inventing tasty and nutritious food for our soldiers and Marines.

    • Docsenko

      Ham and Limas were not tasty. Even hot sauce would not help.

  • JCitizen

    I’m still mad they quit making C rats! I liked ’em so much I’d snack on them at home. I can’t say that for the MRE or anything after that. The other good thing about C rations is that I always lost weight eating them in the field. That always helped balance out my profile and kept me off weight control.

    • Larry

      My favorite was the Ham and Eggs. Fortunately, most people didn’t like them.

      • JCitizen

        Me too. I loved green eggs and ham! I’d trade people for them!

      • Robert Everhart

        Mine to. I loved them. They were way better than MREs. Back in the day I was Security Forces and would spit shine others boots for cash and ham and eggs.

    • No Name

      Never served, but I’ve eaten my share of MCI’s. College I went to didn’t really do meals after breakfast on Sundays. The cafeterias would have bread, cold cuts and cheese for lunch (Do it yourself), and supper was whatever you could scrounge or afford on the economy. Buddy of mine’s Dad was RA and he’d ship his son a of case of MCI’s each month, but my buddy wouldn’t touch them. I was working my way through college, so free food was always gratefully excepted when he’d just give the case to me to get it out of his room.

      The chopped ham and eggs was my favorite, too, although it took a bit of getting used to to eat grey eggs. We weren’t allowed to have anything other than a hot air pop corn maker in the dorms (this was long before microwaves were cheap and common), so I ate them all cold or somewhat warm if I thought to put the M unit in my hot pot with a little water. Think that’s what made MCI’s better then MRE’s. If you didn’t carefully scrape off ALL the congealed grease, at least you stayed regular -LOL! Can’t remember if I ever ate the Ham and MF’s.

      Still carry a P-38 my BIL sent me from ‘Nam everywhere I go. Amazed my son’s Scout Troop a couple of months ago when I opened three cans to their one with my P-38 versus their regular can opener.

      Now that my son is a Scout, I wish some company would make a commercial version of the First Strike ration for sale to us civvies. You can sort of, kind of put your own together, but some components aren’t commercially available and it’d be great if they were.

  • JohnD

    What ever happened to freeze dried meals? Too expensive vs VMD? Nothing loke a vomit omlet to,get you,going! That is what we called LURP rations!

  • m1a3

    The financialization of the American economy

    American University read engineering research students are almost all from other countries.

    America local students all went to Wall Street

    America’s ‘Brain Drain’: Best And Brightest College Grads Head For Wall Street

  • John

    is that Jackie Chan making the food????

  • DBM

    The 1st gen MREs were horrible. The not only tasted bad but the also either stopped you up for a week or gave you the runs.

    • thomas_67

      … I never got the runs, but was most often stopped up.

  • KenLand

    I don’t miss those dehydrated beef patties as I called them dehydrated cat turds.

  • IAC

    What about the water factor ?

    Removing the water from the food basically means you now have to carry it elsewhere.

    • thomas_67

      Maybe it will eventually come with a small pouch of water specifically for dehydrating the food packet.

  • Bryan

    I have 24 years in the Army now ( most in the reserve) and been on three deployments now. Also, I like the woods and camping and such. The civilian type freeze dried food is awesome to carry and tastes great. I wish I could do it myself but the equipment is expensive. With a hand pump water purification unit ( like the pro hiker) you are set in almost all environments. A desert scenario would require you to carry your water just like IAC indicated above. I cannot stand MREs after having to eat them for long durations… Just that weird smell they have makes me gag. Since oif 1, you can probably count the MREs I have had on your fingers.

  • Timbo

    I dont know what generation of MRE’s I got fed (Desert Storm era), but I always thought they were pretty good. I was a big fan of the spaghetti and the Chicken and Rice. The peanut butter was sketchy, but for me and a lot of other guys, it was worth having around to stop the runs. The biggest and best deal was to get the MRE with the packet of M&M’s in it. I lived on MRE’s for four months straight one time and two months straight another, and those M&M’s were like a blessing from God. Anyone recall the sawdus..err… oatmeal cookie bar?