Backpacking Food Taste Test: Entrées (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2005)

Backpacking Light staff tastes - and scores - several backpacking foods from AlpineAire, Backpacker's Pantry, Cache Lakes, and Natural High.

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by Ken Knight | 2005-08-26 03:00:00-06

Introduction

Backpacking Light staff are known to do almost anything to satisfy our subscribers' thirst for knowledge aboutlightweight backcountry travel. We'll freeze our tushes off in sleeping bags with optimistic temperature ratings, we'll trek up mountains in a self-created sauna wearing a jacket that claims to be breathable, and - at Outdoor Retailer Markets - we'll forgo sleep and bathroom breaks, suffer hand cramps from note taking and typing, and this year, even eat food we don't like. All in the quest for real knowledge.

For the second Outdoor Retailer Market in a row, Backpacking Light staff (Mike, Ryan, Carol, Matt, Vic, Don, and Alan) offer their widely varying opinions on food. This show we tackled eight dried and freeze dried backpacking entrées from four companies. We added a new score to our "Would I take it backpacking" category - zero. Yes, some of our testers had vey strong opinions about certain offerings. (See the results of our Winter '05 energy bar taste test here).

We limited ourselves to those meals that only needed boiling water. It was acceptable if a meal had an item that could be added later like Cache Lake’s Sweet Potato meals. But if a meal required more than one hydrating container we did not include it in our survey.

Our food critics looked at three categories when evaluating the meals: nutrition, taste, and the likelihood he or she would take the meal on a trip. Testers’ ideas of what constitutes “good nutrition” varied. One tester paid little attention to this category except as it pertained to caloric content. Another tester was particularly interested in sodium content. A third tester completely ignored the nutrition category and the rest took what many would consider a more “balanced” approach. Mike blazed a trail in our food testing annals by insisting we add "will not take" as a choice in the "Take It?" category. For him foods that were poor in nutrition and taste just were never going to make it into his pack. Matt agreed, and followed in Mike's footsteps by giving some entrées a grade of zero in the Take It? category.

I crunched the numbers after everyone secretly recorded their ratings in the three categories. For each entrée, scores in each category were averaged for all testers, then the resultant three scores were added, with the third and most important category - will it make it into my pack - double weighted to arrive at the overall score for each meal. It is worth noting that not all our taste testers were able to sample all the meals.

Three entrées formed a cluster at the top of the overall scoring, with a significant separation from the remaining meals. Cache Lakes Sweet Potato With Pie Spice fared best, edging out Backpacker’s Pantry Sweet and Sour Chicken. Cache Lakes Sweet Potato with Cinnamon was third. The rest of the pack trailed noticeably behind with AlpineAire’s Pineapple Orange Chicken taking last place.

Table 1: Ratings Chart for Entrées
Ratings are from 1 - Worst, to 5 - Best
Scores in each category represent the average score from each tester. The Overall Rating is computed as the sum of scores from all categories, with a weighting factor of 2X for the Take It? score.
Brand / Food Overall Score Taste Nutrition* Take it?
AlpineAire / Garden Risotto1 10.3 3.1 2.6 2.3
AlpineAire / Pineapple Orange Chicken1 9.1 2.5 3.0 1.8
Backpacker’s Pantry / Paella with Saffron and Chicken1 10.3 2.5 3.2 2.3
Backpacker’s Pantry / Sweet and Sour Chicken1 14.4 6.0 3.2 2.6
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato with Pie Spice2 15.4 4.2 3.2 4.0
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato with Cinnamon2 13.1 4.0 3.1 3.0
Natural High / Kung Pao Shrimp3 10.4 3.1 2.3 2.5
Natural High / Chicken Enchilada3 11.0 2.8 3.0 2.6
1Tested by six taste testers
2Tested by four taste testers
3Tested by three taste testers

*Don did not consider nutrition in his testing so, for purposes of computing scores, his Nutrition scores were assigned the median value of 2.5.
 
Table 2: Comments
Brand / Food Positive Comments Negative Comments
AlpineAire / Garden Risotto
  • Love cheese based food so this gets a big nod
  • Nice flavor
  • High content of sodium. Not tasty.
AlpineAire / Pineapple Orange Chicken
  • None
  • Bland
  • Disappointing because I figured I would get more flavor out of it
  • Too flippin’ sweet - cloyingly sweet
  • Flavors did not compliment each other. It was sweet when it should not have been.
Backpacker's Pantry / Paella with Saffron and Chicken
  • A bit dry, but decent texture
  • Awesome saffron flavor
  • Great spices
  • Did not cook well, did not taste good, high sodium
  • Poor texture, not saucy enough and extra water would not help
Backpacker's Pantry / Sweet and Sour Chicken
  • Tasted like real food, at least similar to it
  • Good
  • Nice for variety, nothing special
  • Good complex flavors
  • Too sweet
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato with Pie Spice
  • Very, very tasty
  • Sweet enough to be a dessert as well as a useful side dish
  • Awesome flavor and texture
  • Cache Lakes provided calorie content is per bag not per serving
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato with Cinnamon
  • On a par with the Pie Spices dish
  • Good taste, stick to your ribs. Better as a dessert or snack.
  • Cache Lakes provided calorie content is per bag not per serving
  • Not as much flavor as Pie Spice
Natural High / Kung Pao Shrimp
  • Good texture, good flavors, needs some hot spice
  • Bland
  • Just hot, not full bodied with complex spicing
Natural High / Chicken Enchilada
  • None
  • None

Individual Tester Ratings Charts for Entrées

Interactive Table: Javascript-Enabled Browser Required
Ratings are from 0 - Worst, to 5 - Best
The Overall Rating is computed as the sum of the scores from all categories, with a weighting factor of 2X for the Take It? score.

To see the testers’ individual results, click: Mike, Ryan, Carol, Matt, Vic, Don, and Alan

Brand / Food Ryan’s Overall Rating Taste Nutrition Take it?
AlpineAire / Garden Risotto 14.0 4.0 4.0 3.0
AlpineAire / Pineapple Orange Chicken 7.0 2.0 3.0 1.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Paella with Saffron and Chicken 9.0 2.0 5.0 1.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Sweet and Sour Chicken 16.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato Pie Spice 20.0 5.0 5.0 5.0
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato with Cinnamon 9.0 4.0 3.0 1.0
Natural High / Kung Pao Shrimp 13.5 3.5 3.0 3.5
Natural High / Chicken Enchilada 16.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Brand / Food Don’s Overall Rating Taste Nutrition* Take it?
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato Pie Spice 17.5 5.0 n/a 5.0
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato with Cinnamon 15.5 5.0 n/a 4.0
Natural High / Kung Pao Shrimp** Did Not Test Did Not Test Did Not Test Did Not Test
Natural High / Chicken Enchilada** Did Not Test Did Not Test Did Not Test Did Not Test
*For purposes of overall scoring I have given Don’s nutrition value a rating of 2.5 for items he tested.
**Don is a vegetarian and so did not test these items.
Brand / Food Carol’s Overall Rating Taste Nutrition Take it?
AlpineAire / Garden Risotto 12.0 3.0 3.0 3.0
AlpineAire / Pineapple Orange Chicken 12.0 3.0 3.0 3.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Paella with Saffron and Chicken 15.5 3.0 4.5 4.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Sweet and Sour Chicken 15.5 3.0 4.5 4.0
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato Pie Spice 10.0 3.0 3.0 2.0
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato with Cinnamon 13.0 4.0 3.0 3.0
Natural High / Kung Pao Shrimp 9.0 3.0 2.0 2.0
Natural High / Chicken Enchilada 12.5 3.5 3.0 3.0
Brand / Food Mike’s Overall Rating Taste Nutrition Take it?
AlpineAire / Garden Risotto 3.0 2.0 1.0 0.0
AlpineAire / Pineapple Orange Chicken 5.0 2.0 3.0 0.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Paella with Saffron and Chicken 2.0 1.0 1.0 0.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Sweet and Sour Chicken 13.0 4.0 3.0 3.0
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato Pie Spice 15.0 4.0 3.0 4.0
Cache Lakes / Sweet Potato with Cinnamon 14.0 3.0 3.0 4.0
Natural High / Kung Pao Shrimp 9.0 3.0 2.0 2.0
Natural High / Chicken Enchilada 5.0 1.0 2.0 1.0
Brand / Food Alan’s Overall Rating Taste Nutrition Take it?
AlpineAire / Garden Risotto 15.0 4.0 3.0 4.0
AlpineAire / Pineapple Orange Chicken 8.0 2.0 2.0 2.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Paella with Saffron and Chicken 19.0 5.0 4.0 5.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Sweet and Sour Chicken 10.0 3.0 3.0 2.0
Brand / Food Matt’s Overall Rating Taste Nutrition Take it?
AlpineAire / Garden Risotto 3.0 2.0 1.0 0.0
AlpineAire / Pineapple Orange Chicken 13.0 3.0 4.0 3.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Paella with Saffron and Chicken 2.0 1.0 1.0 0.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Sweet and Sour Chicken 3.0 2.0 1.0 0.0
Brand / Food Vic’s Overall Rating Taste Nutrition Take it?
AlpineAire / Garden Risotto 16.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
AlpineAire / Pineapple Orange Chicken 10.0 3.0 3.0 2.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Paella with Saffron and Chicken 11.0 3.0 4.0 2.0
Backpacker’s Pantry / Sweet and Sour Chicken 13.0 3.0 4.0 3.0


Citation

"Backpacking Food Taste Test: Entrées (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2005)," by Ken Knight. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/backpacking_food_entrees_orsm05.html, 2005-08-26 03:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Backpacking Food Taste Test: Entrées (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2005)


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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Backpacking Food Taste Test: Entrées (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2005) on 08/26/2005 02:03:42 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Backpacking Food Taste Test: Entrées (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2005)

Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
Backpacking Food Taste Test on 08/26/2005 15:10:00 MDT Print View

Were these Entrees only selected by participants at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market?
I am surprised some of Mountain House products were not reviewed.
Most of the MH items only require adding water into their existing container. Their Chicken Teriyaki with Rice and their Lasagna with Meat sauce are great!

Carol Corbridge
(ccorbridge) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Mary Jane? on 08/30/2005 13:48:40 MDT Print View

What about Mary Jane's Farm? By far the best I've ever tasted.

Kenneth Knight
(kenknight) - MLife

Locale: SE Michigan
slection process on 08/31/2005 01:01:01 MDT Print View

We selcted items that were either new for the Outdoor Retailer Show Summer Market or had been substantially re-formulated.

On a practical level we kept the numbers down to a reasonable size so we wouldn't overload our taste buds. There's no doubt we could have sampled many more meals, but there just wasn't time.