It wasn’t so long ago that there were only a few companies making backpacking meals and the selections they offered were pretty limited. Now you can go to a backpacking specialty store and find a lot of options. Not long ago I was at REI with my daughters and they browsed up and down the dehydrated food aisle until they came across a name on a label that they recognized… Macaroni and Cheese. They were so excited and curious about how they tasted, and to be honest I had never had either one, so I thought we would give them a try. I chose 2 different brands of macaroni and cheese and decided to do a side by side comparison and share my review of them.
Mountain House vs. Mary Janes Farm
Note: I used Annie’s macaroni and cheese as a baseline for taste, color and texture comparison because it is my families preferred macaroni and cheese.
Here are the contenders after having added the boiling water. Neither looks very appetizing. The Mountain House brand got thick pretty quickly, but the Mary Janes Farm was pretty much just floating noodles in white, milky looking liquid.
The Mountain House product has a very easy to seal, zippered pouch. The Mary Janes Farm does not have a zipper seal pouch and it needs to be folded down and rolled to keep the steam in. It kind of unwinds but it actually does a very good job of keeping the heat in.
After a bout 10 minutes of re-hydrating here are the results with our typical make at home mac-n-cheese in the middle for size, texture and color comparison.
makes (3) 1 cup servings @ 310 Calories per serving * Note: you get more servings with the Mountain House product.
- Preparation: According to the directions, the amount of boiling water to add is 2 cups, stir thoroughly, then let stand for 8-9 minutes. This is a little less time than the Mary Janes Farm mac-n-cheese but by only a few minutes. The Mountain House freeze dried macaroni and cheese requires more water to re-hydrate. The extra quantity of water may not be a huge issue, assuming you have access to a fair amount of water, but the bigger issue may be the additional fuel that is required to boil the extra 1-1/3 cup of water.
- Texture: For me the texture of the Mountain House rand was kind of hard to get over. It was very soupy / cheese saucy. The flavor was good… very yellow cheddary tasting, but at times it was hard to tell that there was even pasta in the cheese sauce.
- Packaging: The pouch is larger in width and in thickness than the Mary Janes Farm . The Mountain House contains an oxygen absorber that you must remove and pack out, and more air, which are both kind of negatives in my book. The pouch does have a very good, easy to close zipper seal. I’m not sure what the pouch is made out of, but it seems plastic like on the outside and shiny or foil like on the inside, and the pouch says to pack it out! I’m guessing it wouldn’t be good to burn in a campfire.
- Ingredients: See below.
Mary Janes Farm:
makes (1-1/2) 1 cup servings @310 Calories per serving. * Note: you get less servings than the Mountain House product.
- Preparation: According to the directions, the amount of boiling water to add is 2/3 of a cup, stir well, then let sit for “at least 10 minutes”. This is a little more time than the Mountain House mac-n-cheese, which does not seem like a lot of time but after hiking all day and when your very hungry, a few minutes may seem like an eternity. This Mac-n-cheese requires 1-1/3 cup less water than the Mountain House. I see it as a plus since less fuel is required to boil the smaller amount of water.
- Texture: This seemed like a more traditional mac-n-cheese. It was small elbow pasta in a sharp cheddar sauce. You could taste the pasta and feel the texture of it in your mouth. A few pieces of the pasta were still pretty crunchy, but the vast majority of the pasta was well re-hydrated and a little al dente… which is the way I normally prefer my pasta. I believe I could have stirred it maybe halfway through the re-hydrating process and not had the few crunchy pieces. The sharp white cheddar sauce was a very good and not too overwhelming flavor and really added to the pasta.
- Packaging: The packaging boasts “Non- Aluminum Eco Pouch” Nice marketing job but there is definitely something to be said about aluminum free packaging, and being environmentally friendly is a good thing. There is not as much air in this pouch as the Mountain House product, so it would take up less volume in a pack or bear canister. Like I said before, the pouch does not have a zipper seal but it folds down upon itself several times and stays closed pretty well. The pouch says it is combustible and can be burned in a hot fire or packed out. Being able to dispose of the packaging in a campfire could be a good option. No messy smelly garbage to attract animals and less to pack out, albeit a very small weight savings.
- Ingredients: Organic-Vegetarian. Check the ingredient list below to see how few there are.
AND THE WINNER IS…
Both macaroni and cheese products would be a very well received meal after a long day of backpacking, but if I could choose one, I would most certainly pick the Mary Janes Farm brand. The macaroni with the sharp white cheddar cheese flavor was very enjoyable and the fact that I felt like I was eating pasta rather than a thick cheese soup made it pretty much no contest for me. The only drawback that I had with the Mary Janes Farm was the $9.50 price tag. Ouch. I guess it’s more convenient than packing in a burrito from Chipotle but at $2 per package more than the Mountain House, and less servings… it’s a very expensive meal.
That being said, the great taste, quality organic ingredients, smaller burnable Eco friendly packaging, less boiling water requirement and down right convenience of preparation, make it an excellent choice for any backpacking trip.
Disclosure: I tasted these products and gave my honest unpaid opinions. I purchased them both using my own funds.
PS: The results of my daughters macaroni and cheese comparison were… A 3 way tie! Who would have guessed they liked all 3 the same? I guess my kids just like mac-n-cheese, but it’s good to know they would eat either of the freeze dried ones.