New Science Paves Way for Turkey Bacon, Mac and Cheese MREs

Tom Yang, a food technologist at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, is experimenting with osmotic meat technology, which was originally developed in France, to develop the new turkey jerky and turkey bacon products that taste great but are much lower in salt and fat. (U.S. Army photo by David Kamm)Tom Yang, a food technologist at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, is experimenting with osmotic meat technology, which was originally developed in France, to develop the new turkey jerky and turkey bacon products that taste great but are much lower in salt and fat. (U.S. Army photo by David Kamm)

Thanks to cutting-edge technology, troops could soon be eating shelf-stable hash browns and bacon and close-to-homemade macaroni and cheese in the field.

Transforming these comfort foods into meals, ready-to-eat that will last at least three years in the packaging requires all-new food science, according to Dr. Tom Yang, a food technologist at at the Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. His latest project involves osmotic meat technology — a better way to make long-lasting jerky, bacon, pepperoni and more.

Traditional MRE beef jerky has definite drawbacks, Yang said in a telephone interview with It requires more than two days to dry and prepare and its preservation involves soaking in a very salty solution, which makes it less healthy. Also, he said, MRE jerky tends to get more brittle the longer it remains in storage.

Enter osmotic meat. The process, first developed by French scientists, involves feeding meat into a hopper that grinds it finely and rolls it out in flat sheets.

“Like a fruit roll-up,” Yang said.

The meet sheets are then treated with a food-grade non-sugar syrup that draws most of the moisture out of them in an osmotic process. The resulting product can be eaten as is, or briefly toasted in strips to make jerky or bacon. The whole process takes less than four hours.

Yang can infuse the osmotic meat with a variety of flavors during the preparation process. He envisions creating barbecue or chipotle versions of turkey jerky, which will be more nutritious and stay chewy for the entire shelf life of the MRE.

The science will also enable him to create turkey bacon that is flavored to taste like the real thing — a handy workaround for when troops deploy to countries in which the consumption of pork is restricted.

An early taste test of the osmotic meat was well received, Yang said. Now, he said, he is preparing for a larger field test of hundreds of soldiers that will likely take place in January. Troops will be able to taste two menu items: a hash browns-and-bacon entree and a jerky snack.

“If they think it’s not salty enough or not enough bacon flavor, we can easily modify the formulation,” Yang said.

Those MREs may be approved for fielding in the next two to three years.

But troops may see home-style mac and cheese in their MRE pouches even sooner.

Research is moving forward with another technology called microwave assisted thermal sterilization, which allows scientists to safely cook MRE entrees much more quickly than the traditional slow-cooker method.

“Soldiers love mac and cheese, but you can’t get it in the field. When you reheat mac and cheese in the field, it becomes a lump,” Yang said.

This new cooking method will allow more delicate entrees like macaroni and cheese to retain their texture, taste and appeal. It also paves the way for more entree options, like salmon in alfredo sauce and creamy chicken pasta.

“It will remind [troops] of mom’s cooked food,” Yang said.

Field tests of the mac and cheese MRE have gone well, Yang said. He expects the meal to be approved for production in a year or two.

About the Author

Hope Hodge Seck
Hope Hodge Seck is a reporter at She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.
  • JCitizen

    New science? Looks like we got more to worry about than GMO. And since when do we give a flying fickled finger of fate about eating pork or not to be PC in other countries? Not drinking booze I can see, because it is better for you, but this is going too far!! If it makes sense in the scenario of sharing supplies with indigenous allies, I retract my question.

    • Navyjag907

      We shouldn´t be deploying to assist countries which refuse to allow us our normal rations. I also object to banning alcohol in our own bases and in our own messes or our own billets.//I´ve got bacon and hashbrown MREs in my own supplies. Theyƕe delicious so at least the article is deficient in that respect.

      • JCitizen

        I agree with you Navyjag907 – the only advantage I can see in the no pork provision is a simplifying of logistics if supplying more than one country or ally who have food restrictions. If I was based in Israel, I wouldn’t complain as one in Rome does as the Romans do, but the energy needs of the troops are probably better served with as high energy diet as possible. That means fat, and pork, and etc. are a good route to that objective. So cutting rations is not a good idea no matter what for US forces, in my opinion; and when I say “cutting’, I mean energy efficiency per pound of ration. I’d imagine you can’t beat beef and pork for high energy needs.

      • ron

        It”s not them who refuse us – it’s our PC “leaders” who ban it…..

    • Leon Suchorski

      The problem with pork has been that it was so fatty and subject to problems if not cooked fully. But today, pork is so lean that is less fatty than chicken. That is why the Jewish faith has forbidden it, and the Muslim faith also. For health reasons. But today’s pork is so different than it was just 50 years ago. And as far as turkey bacon goes, I have tried it, and it tastes lousy. A good turkey dinner is great. I even like to use one # of ground turkey with one # of your favorite pork sausage to make a meatloaf. Use your own recipe, and you will find that this comes out so tasty and less greasy. And you knowhow those meatloaf sandwiches taste like cardboard the next day? Well these will taste great. I have been cooking since I was 4 years old, and could not stand the way that my mother made my scrambled eggs. In the Marines, after a week in the field, I would gain weight, because I knew how to make those C-rats work. I will even cook a standing rib roast in a microwave, so that the outside cut is well done, and the inside is medium rare.

      • JCitizen

        I wished I had learned to cook when I was younger, I just can’t get in the habit now. I sure loved those C Rats! Some of my fellow troops probably thought I was crazy, but I really looked forward to the next meal, when we had them. MREs not so much. Green eggs and ham was one of my favorites – there was no sense complaining about the color in those days, because even the issue egg formula the cook section used, was green as well. I used to joke that it was for camouflage purposes! HA!

  • Larry

    They may want to package the cheese separate from the macaroni ( and the alfredo sauce separate from the salmon) and then let the troops mix them together after they are heated to avoid the clumping problem.

    • Leon Suchorski

      Yeah, a lot of guys don’t like salmon.

  • HockeyHM

    I don’t want to be the guy who says “they all look alike” but what does Jackie Chan have to do with MRE’s?

    • HockeyHM

      LOL, not sure why I got down voted. Are people seriously saying the guy doesn’t look like Jackie Chan?

  • Snow

    The Army has been at the forefront of developing nutritious, tasty and appealing combat rations going back to our own civil war. At that time the Army developed dehydrated and compressed vegetables and canned salted bully beef (a/k/a mystery meat). In WW2, the Army developed the famous, and popular, K and C combat rations that two or three generations of soldiers loved and ate with great gusto. Then came LURPs and now MREs, both of which were developed by Army culinary geniuses. The Army has lead the way in military food preparation and shown the other services how to keep service members happy, healthy and looking forward to a good meal, whether it is is the dining facility or a front line foxhole.

    • Navyjag907

      Where did you come from? Popular K and C combat rations? Have you ever eaten C rations? Ever tucked into a can of ham and lima beans or cold scrambled eggs and bacon with extra grease? Did you ever wonder who came up with some of the combinations which I and my buddies had never heard of before? When´s the last time Mom whipped up a big bunch of ham and lima beans//I like some MREs and most of the new menu items but give me a break on your historical reporting!

      • JCitizen

        I think he must be practicing some sarcasm here; but I got to admit, I miss the C rats so much that I got mad when the civilian sources dried up! I loved them for snacks, hunting, and camping. Loved the “green eggs” and ham too!

        • Snow

          BTW, a little hot sauce goes a long way to spicing up the C-Rat.

          • JCitizen

            Yeah, that little bottle GI issue Tobasco sauce came in real handy that way. I always saved the bottle for later if need be.

      • Snow

        I served during the days of the C-Rat, and I have eaten thousands of them all over the world from Viet Nam’s heat to the cold of a Korean DMZ winter. The only rat I did not like was the peaches. Otherwise I found them all eatable and tasty, some more than others. I like ham and lima beans and scrambled eggs. When you are in a line unit it the field you better not be to awful particular what you eat. I also realize some of our service members would complain if they were hung with a new manila rope.

        • left coast chuck

          Sausage patties with gravy at -20ºF — umm, yummy. I wondered about Snow’s taste when he said K rations were popular. Yeah, if you were starving and hadn’t eaten anything for three or four days, K rations were palatable. When he said he didn’t like C-rat peaches, I knew he had something wrong with his taste buds.

          • Snow

            I hate peaches in any shape or form.

      • Leon Suchorski

        Hey JAG, the best way that this Marine found thoe C rats edible, was to bring along a bottle of hot sauce from the mess hall. That would perk them right up, nicely.

      • Leon Suchorski

        With a little hot sauce, those C rats were great. I brought home a meal of ham and limas for my kid cousins, and they thought that they were the greatest. I did not have the heart to tell them what our general opinion of them was.

  • Airborne_fister

    What about a first strike. Those where really of. Pizza, or zapple sauce. Come on. I’ll take a first strike over any mre any dang day.

  • ken

    That is such an appealing picture. Looks like the towel used to dry cars.

    • Snow

      Military rations don’t have to be pretty or good to look at, just tasty and nutritious.

      • Leon Suchorski

        After enough days out there, any hot meal tastes great.

        • Navyjag907

          I hate salmon. In WWI our troops got a lot of canned salmon which they called goldfish. They hated it and most refused to eat salmon when they came home. Same thing with Spam after WWII. Fortunately, no one in their right mind ever served ham and lima beans together when we came home.// You’re right. I always carried Tabasco sauce in the field. It carried over and now I buy Red Hot sauce ten bottles at a time. If I’d had Red Hot 45 years ago, I might have stayed in the Army. Only thing I don’t use it on is Chinese food. Then I use another of God’s creations–Kikkoman soy sauce.

  • Rudy G

    It’s time for this country to think about its own people, customs and traditions. If others want to join us then they must joint our language and laws and customs. Feed our troops what they want and need without concern of another culture or religion.

    • echomrg

      in 2009 there were 3500 Muslims, 4500 Jews and 5500 Buddhists serving in the US Armed Forces
      and plenty more were from other religions that dictate some kind of dietary rules.

      • Snow

        Then they need to get exemptions from their religious dietary taboos.