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Via Press Release
07/30/2014 12:24 PM

Scott Gourley By Scott Gourley

There’s no better way to enhance the taste bud feedback of military rations than with hot sauce

There is an observation frequently attributed to Napoleon that “An army marches on its stomach.”

While certainly true at some level, that’s only part of the story. In the case of modern 21st century armies, at least some of that marching takes place on its taste buds. And there’s no better way to enhance the taste bud feedback of military rations than with hot sauce. In fact, it has become a critical accompaniment to a broad range of military rations.

The evolution of flavor

For example, almost anyone who has enjoyed United States MREs since the late 1980s is familiar with those ubiquitous little 1/8 ounce bottles of Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce.

According to Jeremy Whitsett, one of the leads in the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate, hot sauce was first added to MREs in 1987 “as a flavor enhancer to increase variety and sensory profiles,” thereby increasing consumption.

Initially, in 1987, the tiny Tabasco bottles were included in just one MRE entree. However, the following year they were added as an accessory packet component in four different MRE dishes.

Along with the expansion of traditional hot sauce, the MREs also included a green hot sauce in meals packed from 2007-2010. Moving forward, a chili lime hot sauce will be included in meals packed in 2015.

MRE’s and beyond

It’s not just MRE’s getting spiced up. Once field kitchens arrive in a tactical setting, warfighters can also use hot sauce condiments to enhance the flavors of Unitized Group Rations – Alpha option (UGR-A) or Heat & Serve (UGR-H&S). Both provide for group feeding - with the difference being that UGR-A rations use frozen entrees while UGR-H&S use shelf-stable tray entrees.

Favorite hot sauce brands like Texas Pete and Frank’s Red Hot have found their ways into the hearts and stomachs of both UGR-A and UGR-H&S consumers over the last several years.

Since federal acquisition regulations prevent the specification of a particular brand or manufacturer of hot sauce when purchasing ration components, NSRDEC scientists first evaluate the product and then develop performance-based contract requirements that the military procurement agency (Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support) incorporates into a request for proposal. The technical documents are generic enough to allow any company with the appropriate capabilities to produce a product.

The process relies on things like the U.S. Department of Agriculture Commercial Item Description (CID) A-A-20097F, which classifies nine different “types” of hot sauce (hot, extra hot 4X, green, chipotle, habanero, garlic, chili and lime, sweet and spicy, and other) with clarifications like “The hot sauce shall have a typical pungent (heat value or bite) flavor and odor characteristic for the type of hot sauce.”

NSRDEC scientists offered up an example of how the hot sauce requirements process has evolved, noting that the original commercial requirement for the UGR-A hot sauce condiment was “Hot Sauce, Portion Control (PCs) Packet,” with the PCs in the UGR-A primarily being Texas Pete. However, following military field-testing of Frank’s Red Hot .75 oz bottles in 2006 that showed high acceptability, the generic product description allowed ration assemblers to introduce Frank’s Red Hot as a new standard.

FY’10 also witnessed the addition of Chili Lime Hot Sauce to two UGR-A breakfast and three dinner menus.

More recently, based on warfighter feedback, Texas Pete Hot Sauce, 3 oz. bottles were tested and approved for inclusion in the FY’15 UGR-A menus.

The UGR-H&S menus have included Texas Pete and Panola hot sauces in the past.

Reiterating that the government does not specify a particular brand of commercial components, Whitsett added, “When we reviewed the UGR-H&S rations we have ‘in house’ it was identified that the vendors are currently packing Texas Pete Hot Sauce and Frank’s Red Hot Chili and Lime.”

The science behind the sauce

And it’s not just the sauces themselves that get a heavy dose of thought put into them. Natick scientists at the DoD Combat Feeding Directorate have also devoted efforts toward reducing costs and simplifying packing logistics for hot sauce products.

A perfect example of their success can be seen in those little MRE Tabasco bottles. Government scientists worked with industry partners to eliminate the cost of the standard glass bottles. The challenge they encountered was that the high acidity of the hot sauce “ate through” many of the alternate package materials during long-term storage. However, working with Natick’s own Polymer Film Center of Excellence, they were able to create a novel packaging material that allowed the transition from the glass bottle to a new 3.7 gram pouch in 2011.

Asked about current hot sauce activities, Whitsett pointed to the recent evaluation and warfighter approval of chili lime hot sauce for MREs that will be packed in 2015 as well as the test and approval of Texas Pete's Sriracha - CHA! bottles that will be included with certain “Asian Menu” items beginning in FY’15.

“We anticipate hot sauce will continue to represent an option as a flavor enhancer in combat rations,” he concluded.

About the author

Scott Gourley Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer with defense industry experience spanning unmanned air vehicle, tracked combat vehicle, and individual lethality programs. He is the author of more than 2,000 articles covering topics across all military services, with air, land and sea story projects that have taken him from air-to-air refueling operations, to a tandem jump with the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights, to an underway visit aboard the submarine USS Ohio following her conversion to SSGN configuration. He currently holds masthead listings as correspondent, contributing editor, or North American editor for nearly one dozen international defense publications.

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