Freeze-dried food is freeze-dried food, except for when it isn’t. Oregon Freeze Dry, the makers of Mountain House #10 cans and Freeze-Dried Mountain House Pouches has been in the freeze-dry industry for over 40 years. One of the few United States freeze drying facilities has recently made a fundamental shift in how they make their food. To understand this, let’s get a little background on the matter.
Oregon Freeze Dry has traditionally created their freeze-dried entree meals by cooking the entire meal then putting it in trays which are loaded into freeze drying tunnels. The entire meal is freeze dried in the process, not one ingredient is added after the fact, from there it is packaged and ready for consumption… but that is slowly changing.
Recently I have eaten Beef Storganoff and Noodles and Chicken and noticed something a little bit different looking, mainly that the noodles are clean as if they were dropped in fresh like from a recently opened box of pasta that you would buy at the grocery store. You see, before when they baked the meal together and freeze dried it the entire meal would be coated with sauce as seen in the image below of a Mountain House pouch of lasagna.
Now what you are starting to see is the meal, minus the pasta noodles, being cooked and freeze dried. After that step, low water activity noodles (think Cup O Noodle instant noodles) are blended into the remaining mix. The noodles are no longer being freeze-dried, instead they are a special “instant” type noodle that only take a few minutes to soften up.
In the end I am not sure this change is going to negatively affect the consumer. The fact of the matter is that noodles do great in storage so I doubt there is any significant loss on the shelf life side of things. The one thing that may or may not change is the taste, the Beef Storganoff I ate didn’t seem to taste as good as some in the past but that may have be due to the discovery I made and was somewhat put off mentally. I wish I had an older pouch of stroganoff that I could have whipped up and done a side by side comparison test.
Anyways, it makes you wonder why Oregon Freeze Dry (OFD) made the change and I feel there are a couple likely reasons;
1. Bring down costs. OFD saw that by bringing in an instant noodle they could save money. For one they are now using their freeze-drying tunnels more efficiently. Now they can fill them up with the sauce and meat base of the meal and after the fact drop in noodles. This makes their production more efficient, probably to the tun of 30-40% on meals with pasta.
2. Faster production. Everyone saw that Mountain House food storage dried up after the Japanese Tsunami in 2011. If it was the government buying it all up, or just the average Joe I am not sure, but either way these are recent changes definitely after March of 2011.
In the coming weeks I will open up another pouch of Mountain House Stroganoff or Noodles and Chicken and take a picture so you can see what the new noodles look like.
UPDATE: Here is a picture of the Noodles and Chicken we recently reviewed, see how the noodles are completely clean from sauce?