I was first introduced to freeze dried meals in the late 1960’s when a New Zealand company Alliance Freeze Dried meals first released Freeze Dried meat products. If I recall correctly they were okay, but more importantly they enabled the hiker to carry meat on longer trips.
Roll on quite a few years as well as a change of hemisphere and the Freeze Dried meals have changed significantly. Over the past couple of months I have used the three brands shown in the above photo. So what are they like? What do I like/dislike about them? Taste of course is one issue and is very much a personal choice. For me, I prefer non spicy low fat meals and as a consequence I have spent some time reading labels for the contents and nutritional information.
Preparing the meals: No matter which brand of meal I use my preparation follows the same procedure, determine how much water is required from the label, then add a bit more (maybe 10% or so) boil the water add to the bag, place the bag in the cozy and wait the 10 minutes plus a bit before eating.
So lets take a look at the three offerings.
Real Turmat this Norwegian Brand is easily recognizable in their orange packets and is found in most outdoor shops in Scandinavia and further afield, like many such companies they are suppliers to the military, and thus it is also possible to find green packages containing the same meals. My preferences in Real Turmat are Chicken in Herbal Sauce and Game Casserole. Though I have at some stage tried most of the meals and would if needed use any of them. I find the Real Turmat meals to be filling, have reasonable taste and very robust packaging. One of the attributes that sets this product apart from the others is their vacuum packaging which ensures that there is no excess bulk in your pack.
Fuizion Food this brand came on to the market about 4 years ago and immediately created an impact for their variety of meals and the taste, for 2 years I took them on my long trips and was immediately impressed, however, the company ran into financial difficulties and disappeared for a while but as of writing this September 2014 they are operating again. In my experience the meals are tasty, weigh a little less than Real Turmat, their packaging seems to be oversized for the contents, even when water is added, as well the packaging does not seem as robust (though a package has never broken open in transit). My one reservation has been since their return to the market their seems to have been subtle change to the recipes and as a consequence I now find the meals that I prefer, Kung Po Vegetables with Noodles and Kung Po Chicken with Noodles seem to have become spicier, as well I have found that the chicken is not fully re-hydrating as it did in the past. Another downside, for me, is that the meals need to be ordered online which adds to the overall cost of the product.
Lyo Foods is the "new meal on the block" having entered the market in 2013 and winning the Gold Award at the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen that year. I have tried 3 of their meals and felt that they sit somewhere in the middle between RealTurmat and Fuizion. Taste wise they on a par with real Turmat and the packaging is similar to that offered by Fuizion, but more user friendly. That is, the Lyo food packaging has one neat feature which is its 2 stage “tear off” set up. There is the normal tear off top near the snap lock so that water can be added, then once your meal is ready a second tear off can be used which reduces the height of the packaging such that a long handled spoon is not required to get to the bottom. I did find it strange however, that the Mexican Dish, required 277 mls of boiling water to be added, I wondered who would be carry a measuring cup to the nearest millilitre in the field. Overall I was very satisfied with the meals. But do remember to remove the oxygen absorber packet from the package before adding boiling water.
So which would I choose for a long trip and why, the answer is maybe all three. But if I want strong “bulletproof” packaging it will be Real Turmat otherwise I would take Lyo foods because I can buy them locally without paying for shipping, as well they are tasty and satisfying along with no preservatives or additives it seems like the ideal choice. The choice of course for you will depend on a range of factors, but these meals, work for me.
As a footnote, I normally only carry prepared freeze dried meals during long trips in summer, when I want to be sure that the food is of the highest nutritional value. For shorter trips I tend to take my own dehydrated meals, which are often tastier and certainly cheaper than most of the packaged hiking meals that are available.