For most of us, the thought of eating cold pizza from last night’s takeaway can be a pretty unappetising prospect. Soggy crust, rubbery cheese and a thin film of grease awaits anyone looking for a quick morning snack. So imagine if someone offered you a slice of pizza that was three years old. Pretty disgusting, right?
While eating three-year-old pizza might sound like some form of culinary punishment, it could soon become a normal occurrence for US soldiers. No, it’s not part of some evil plan by army chefs; US military researchers have reportedly developed a pizza which can stay on the shelf for a whole 36 months and is still safe to eat.
Pizzas destined for military ration packs
But why? The US Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts has answered calls from hungry soldiers who were desperate to have the cheesy snack while on operations. The pizzas will be used in individual field rations – or MREs – which soldiers carry into combat zones when field kitchens can’t be used.
"You can basically take the pizza, leave it on the counter, packaged, for three years and it’d still be edible," said Michelle Richardson, a food scientist at the US Army centre told Associated Press.
Ration pack pizzas are apparently the ‘holy grail’ for scientists at Natick labs, some of whom have spent nearly two years on the recipe. Scientists had to find a way to stop the moisture from the cheese and tomato sauce migrating to the crust, which caused the pizza to go mouldy and grow harmful bacteria.
A number of ways were found, which prevented the unwanted migration including the use of humectants – sugar, salts and syrups – which absorb the water and prevent it getting to the dough. Researchers also modified the acidity of the cheese, sauce and dough and added iron filings to the packaging (not the pizza).
A little moist: tasting a ration pack pizza
So how does three-year-old pizza taste? With the recipe still in development, it’s still only been tested by a select few. Jill Bates, who runs the taste lab at Natick, told Associated Press that the pizza’s crust was ‘a little moist and not super crispy’.
With the pizza designed for ration packs, it will only ever be eaten at room temperatures. Nonetheless it will be a welcome morale boost for troops.
Pizza is not the first comfort food to be added to military ration packs in order to increase troop’s morale. Over the last decade there has been a huge effort to improve what have been traditionally boring and tasteless ration packs. In 2009, the UK military introduced a brand new range of ration packs loaded with meals like chicken tikka masala and tomato pasta salad.
With so much work going in to giving soldiers a good meal, it just goes to show that Napoleon’s famous aphorism that soldiers march on their stomachs still holds true today.