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It’s a special sauce that makes MREs really RE

By Staff | Mar 13, 2009

Cackalacky! That is the name of the zesty condiment topping that is made with an all-natural sweet potato base and lightly tinged with Chile peppers and red wine that turns the military’s Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs) into mouthwatering masterpieces.

Even if you’re not serving in Iraq, there’s a lot to love about the MRE – what my team and I eat when normal food service facilities are not available. Serving up 1,200 calories of entre, side dish, dessert, and beverage in a tan, 1 1/2 pound pouch, the MRE has come a long way since its introduction in 1981. Today there are 24 different MRE menus, such as cheese tortellini, Jamaican pork chop and jambalaya.

Most recently, MREs have been developed using the Dietary Reference Intake, created by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM indicated that service members typically burn about 4,200 Calories a day, but tended to only consume about 2,400 Calories a day during combat, entering a negative energy balance.

I have learned from my experience here in Iraq that the trick with MREs is mastering the delicate cooking process. Each main course comes in a tri-laminate retort pouch, a sort of flexible can made out of thick aluminum foil and plastic, with a flameless heater. To warm the food, I pour a tiny amount of water into a bag that holds both the heater and the pouch-sealed entre. Then I place the bag in a carton and prop it against a rock or small mound of sand for about 15 minutes before eating.

My personal favorite is pasta with vegetables in tomato sauce, which includes peanut butter and crackers; a pack of pitted, halved, sweet maraschino cherries; and pound cake. The vegetarian sauce has a hint of freshness, and the cherries are a sweet snack.

My least favorite is the chicken with Thai sauce, which comes with white rice, crackers and jalapeo cheese spread, raisin-nut mix, vanilla cappuccino, and a teeny little bottle of hot sauce. The cappuccino is not too bad, but the sauce is bland. Needless to say, I use a lot of cackalacky with this MRE.

I must say that MREs are something of an acquired taste, as with most foods that have a shelf life of three years at 80F. Still, all of my meals here in Iraq are a pleasure with a little cackalacky.

– Tom Maiden lives in Shepherdstown with his wife and four children. When not serving as a Citizen Sailor, Tom works part-time teaching insurance & financial planning at Shepherd University and owns a financial planning practice in Shepherdstown.