MRE Quirks

The American MRE is the standard ration for the US armed forces, and is also frequently deployed as aid to areas affected by natural disaster. The MRE came with some interesting innovations when it was introduced in 1981, and many of these have spread to other nations’ rations. Let’s take a look.

Calorie Accounting
The contents of one MRE, as you might have gathered from the name, are intended to be one meal. Or, one third of a soldier’s calorie and nutrient needs for one battle day. One entree, one side, one powdered off-brand Gatorade clone, etc. Most other nations’ rations are accounted for by day. So one package contains two or three entrees, three sides, maybe a snack. I have no idea where this difference came from. Maybe it’s a metric/imperial thing.

Retort Pouches
The classic ration uses cans to store the various components. This is pretty common among older rations, and is still popular today. Cans are pretty old school and easy to make. You can heat things up right in the can, and they can be used to make all kinds of improvised stuff. The MREs are different, using retort pouches to store food instead of cans. A retort pouch is a pouch made from layers of metal foil and various plastics. Food can still be heated up in them, either by immersing them in hot water or with the ration heater. They’re still sealed, just like cans. They weigh less than cans. They don’t make a clanking sound when a bunch bang around in a pack on a long march. Oh, and they require less energy to make. Although these are slowly spreading, especially among the Commonwealth nations, I don’t know why these aren’t more popular. Retort pouches rock.

Ration Heater
Everybody provides some means to heat the food in their rations. Usually, it’s a knockoff Esbit stove with some fuel tabs and matches. It’s fire. Fire is good. But fire leaves obvious traces. So the US military did what it usually does, and came up with a solution. The result is the flameless ration heater. No visible flame. No smoke. It’s a plastic pouch with some magnesium, iron, and salt in it. Add water, and it’ll get really hot. Hot enough to heat your rations. The spec says it’ll heat an 8 ounce ration entree item up by 100 °F in twelve minutes. They’re a really neat little piece of equipment, and lots of fun to play around with. They’re also super easy to use. I really like the flameless ration heater.

The Tabasco bottle
An offshoot of the program to improve MRE menus is including a small bottle of Tabasco sauce. The Army, after spending millions1, finally figured out that being able to control how spicy a dish was played a big factor in how much people enjoyed a dish. So they added a small bottle of Tabasco2 sauce to some, but not all, of the MRE menus. Progress. All that said, while I really like this idea, it would be better if it was in all of the menus.


  1. They could have grabbed a few chefs, or even a few diner cooks, interviewed them over a few beers and gotten the exact same information. But leave it to Big Army to do it the spendy way. 
  2. Actual, name brand Tabasco sauce! Unlike most things in an MRE, this is a brand you’ll recognize, not some knock-off. 

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