06/18/2010 04:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rating the Rations: A Taste Test of Freeze-Dried Hiking Foods

Does packaged hiking grub have to taste like gruel? Our young tasters say no.

Ask a group of John Muir Trail veterans to recommend their favorite
store-bought backpacking meal, and you're likely to get an earful on
the nutritional and spiritual benefits of DIY dehydration. But not many
people have the time or inclination to make "mango leather." So we
recruited six young adults from Leadership Excellence, a group affiliated with the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings
program, to blind taste an array of commercially produced freeze-dried
fare. Our volunteers sampled 15 entrees and five desserts and scored
them on a scale of 1 to 10. Their bravery will help keep the rest of us
from gagging around the campfire.


1. AMERIQUAL | Beef Enchilada in Sauce | Score: 9.2 | A company that produces generic-looking meals ready to eat (MREs) for
the U.S. military pulled a surprise runaway win. Tasters praised the
authentic Mexican flavor, calling it meaty and "delicioso." Ameriqual's
unappetizingly named Chicken, Pulled With Buffalo Style Sauce also
scored well, garnering compliments for its sweet hotness -- though more
than one person thought it was tuna. $2.50;

2. MOUNTAIN HOUSE | Macaroni and Cheese | Score: 7.6 | As one taster put it, "Who doesn't love mac and cheese?" Most of the
others echoed that comfort-food sentiment, though a few suggested
cooking the pasta longer than the instructions recommend. The company's
Turkey Tetrazzini was also well received, inspiring favorable
comparisons to Rice-A-Roni and "the inside of a potpie." $6.35;

3. BACKPACKER'S PANTRY | Organic Garden Vegetable Couscous | Score: 6.2 | "Different in a good way," was the general verdict on this course, which earned praise for its seasonings and texture. $7.90;

4. NATURAL HIGH | Spicy Thai Chicken | Score: 5.7

Opinions varied wildly, from "Yes, yes, yes!" to "Hate it." Even these
young palates could detect the dish's Thai origins. Some compared it to
Top Ramen. $6.75;

5. MARYJANES FARM | Organic Curried Lentil Bisque | Score: 5.5 | Our oldest taster (the only one in her twenties) loved this bisque but
pointed out that adults would probably appreciate its full-fledged
curry flavor more than kids would. A few said the green, soupy
substance was "missing something." $6;


1. MOUNTAIN HOUSE | Blueberry Cheesecake | Score: 9.3 | There was hearty applause all around for this creamy and "berry, berry good" concoction that had many asking for seconds. $6;

2. [TIE] ASTRONAUT | Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream | Score: 7.2 | Most were delighted by this dessert's melt-in-your-mouth quality, comparing it to cotton candy and whipped toppings. $2.70;

2. [TIE] ALPINEAIRE | Deep Dish Peach Crumble | Score: 7.2 | Though most tasters mistook the peaches for apples, this warm confection's cinnamony goodness won them over. $6.65;


Keren Osman, 18

Yendis E. Richard, 24

Aziza-Cree Evans, 18

Marquise Andrews, 17

Jazmin Bell, 18

Nicolette Hafiz, 19

[via Sierra magazine]