One of the challenges of providing packaged food that has an adequate shelf life and enough nutrients to keep troops nourished has long been a challenge for the U.S. military.

As such, the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Soldier Center’s Combat Feeding Division in Natick, Massachusetts, has turned to advanced technology to address both issues.

In particular, the division is working now to drastically improve the quality of fruits and vegetables in the Meals Ready-to-Eat, more commonly referred to as MREs.

The division has set its sights on a new technique called “vacuum microwave drying” to turn the produce contained in MREs into crunchy snacks rather than vacuum-sealed preservatives.

In the latest of the Future Soldier series, Military times goes into the kitchen were MREs are designed and produced. Find out how they’re made.

The Combat Feeding Division has not, as of yet, specified which fruits and vegetables will be included in the process, however.

Julie Edwards, a senior food technologist with the Combat Feeding Division told Military Times, “These components may provide an opportunity increase the number of fresh like fruits and vegetables (meaning that the fruits and veggies retain a bright color and similar shape but are just crunchy) within the MRE if found to be acceptable by Warfighters during an Initial Operational Test and Evaluation.”

Working with a company called BranchOut foods on the technology, the Combat Feeding Division hopes to include these upgraded fruits and vegetables in the close combat assault ration, which is typically used for short, high-intensity deployments.

A public affairs officer for Combat Capabilities Development Command noted, “[Combat Feeding Division] is conducting storage tests of these items to determine if they meet military ration requirements and is leveraging direct feedback from Soldier Center’s in-house Human Research Volunteer soldiers through sensory evaluations to help down select the vegetables to incorporate into ration items that are more appealing to warfighters.”

The main goal is to preserve not only the nutrition of the produce but also its taste. In addition, the division is experimenting with enhancing flavors with spices and seasonings.

“The flavor is retained post processing and there was an opportunity to add additional flavors after the drying step, so the Soldiers taste tested pineapple with chili lime seasoning as well as vegetables with either ranch or buffalo seasoning,” according to another food technologist, Danielle Anderson. “The VMD process changes the texture from soft to crunchy but does not affect flavor significantly.”

However, these greens haven’t yet entered official testing. As a result, soldiers have not weighed on the flavor, texture or overall impression of the food.

“CFD has not conducted the initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) on these items yet so there are no comments currently available,” Anderson said.

The timeline for fielding these foods in MREs is, as of this writing, not officially set.

Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.

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