Popular Mechanics
Cooking Shrinking The Modern Combat Ration Image Credit: Popular Mechanics
Cooking Shrinking The Modern Combat Ration Image Credit: Popular Mechanics

Cooking (& Shrinking) The Modern Combat Ration

At an Army development lab, creating food for troops is as much about technology as it is about cooking. We sent a chef to learn how it all works. And tastes.

Tyler Kord

THE ENTRANCE TO the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center is busy and confusing. Based on how much the soldier at the gate my Uber driver and I pulled up to was shouting at us, we were not doing a great job of navigating that entrance. But after a few phone calls and with the help of our escort for the day, I was finally on my way down the long path to the correct building.

Natick is an Army base where the military scientists at the forefront of the development of food systems for all of the armed forces (as well as NASA!) are developing new technologies like sonic agglomeration, vacuum microwave drying, and sonic swab technology. The part of Natick I wanted to visit is a warehouse full of super-cool machines that will potentially help our soldiers be able to do their jobs better, by feeding them foods that are packed with calories, nutrients, and flavor, but without weighing a ton or taking up much space. And they’re doing all of this while maintaining vitamin integrity so that soldiers and even astronauts can eat that food, be full, and also be healthy. As a chef, I spend all of my time trying to make food delicious, comforting, and entertaining, while keeping the process simple enough for my cooks to be able to complete orders in a timely fashion.

I wanted to find out how the scientists and engineers at Natick do all of those things, only with an added priority: making the food last for three years without refrigeration.

I was

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