Future Concepts Calorie Dense Rations

The need to reduce the size and weight of supplies soldiers must carry and to provide them with an eat-on-the-move capability has motivated research on calorie- and nutrient-dense rations. Provided that these rations are well accepted, their compactness and convenient shape offer significant benefits with respect to soldier performance and to ration storage and distribution. Consequently, some new concepts for ration design and tailoring are being explored.

Dehydration, Infusion, Compression, and Extrusion. Certain conventional and novel technologies, alone or in combination, can be considered for making calorie-dense ration components (29). Caloric density is defined as kilocalories per cubic centimeter (kcal/cc). One conventional approach involves dehydrating the product, which leads to a porous food, and then compressing it, which removes most of the air space. Caloric densities of about 1.1 kcal/cc can be obtained this way. One novel approach now being explored, even for civilian products, involves infusing a porous food with energy-rich ingredients, filling all of the air spaces with stable and nutritious constituents. Caloric densities between 5 and 6 kcal/cc are achievable. The technologies for producing the porous food could be either conventional dehydration or the more recently exploited cooking-extrusion process. Extrusion involves processing a flour and water mixture under high shear and high temperature within a confining extruder barrel so that, when the doughy mass is forced through a die opening, the superheated moisture rapidly vaporizes, blowing holes in the extrudate and forming a honey-combed structure. Commercial corn curls illustrate this type of product. Another way to achieve high density that does not require a structured, porous material is to directly compress dried powders.

Caloric Densities and Compactness. The volume reduction achievable through use of these technologies can be put into perspective by comparing some of the past and current rations. The Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI), with its moisture-laden food packed in metal cans, had a caloric density of 0.8 kcal/cc; the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE), with similar foods packed in flexible pouches, weighs less but has a similar caloric density. The Long Range Patrol (LRP), with its dehydrated but noncompressed components, weighed less but had only a slightly higher density of 1.1 kcal/cc. The Food Packet Assault (FPA), with dry and compressed components, reached 1.5 kcal/cc, and the new Ration, Lightweight 30 Day (RLW30), with carefully selected and optimally processed dry and compressed components, reaches a high of 3.7 kcal/cc. Several experimental rations have reached as high as 7.1 kcal/cc. Assuming that the goals for acceptance, compactness, and cost are optimized, it should be possible to produce a ration with a caloric density of 4.8 kcal/cc. This sixfold greater density compared to the MRE means that, for an equivalent amount of calories, the proposed new ration would take up only one-sixth the space.

Current Thrusts. Research in this area is concentrating on refining the technologies so a ration can be produced with any prescribed nutritional or physical characteristics. The texture and infusibility of an extruded matrix are determined by the size and number of the air spaces as well as by the thickness and fragility of the walls defining those spaces. The nutritive value, the physical stability, and the textural attributes of the liquid with suspended particles that are infused into the extradâtes are very much influenced by the size and shape of these particles and by their ability to penetrate the extrudate (30). Industry is currently infusing certain dried fruits with sugar solutions to increase their stability and appeal. Because one of the ultimate goals is to be able to tailor the ration composition to satisfy particular nutritional requirements for different climatic or tactical situations, the research should lead to an ability to produce the prescribed components by specifying the formulation and by adjusting the process parameters.

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