Our first taste test competition was a classic David and Goliath battle where we pitted industry giant Wise Foods against the relatively unknown eFoods Direct. No contest – eFoods ran away with it, surprising and delighting us with its restaurant-quality Tortilla Soup. I could go for a bowl of it right now.
Round #2: The Competitors
We wanted to do another head-to-head taste test using the same general format of an industry leader compared to a lesser known food provider. The industry leader we chose for this match-up is THE industry leader, Mountain House. Mountain House is the best known name in the food storage business and has a reputation for good taste and high quality. They also tend to be on the expensive side.
The “David” that we chose for this comparison testing was the winner of an 8-vendor cook-off that a select group of preparedness bloggers was invited to earlier this year. Yours truly was not one of the invitees, but I have an “in” with one who was there and I learned that the winner of the competition was a little outfit called Food Insurance. They also market their products under the brand name of Daily Bread. This promising young upstart seemed like the ideal candidate to take on the 800-pound gorilla known as Mountain House.
I bought a pouch of Mountain House Chicken and White Bean Chili from my favorite sporting goods store. I didn’t have the presence of mind to retain the receipt, but if memory serves me correctly (a dicey proposition at best) it was in the neighborhood of $7.95 for a 4.8-ounce, 2-1/2 serving package.
The Food Insurance entry was purchased as a “free” sample, where you pay only for the shipping and handling. $5.95 for shipping of a 2.5-ounce one-serving sample makes me feel like it wasn’t so free after all. They chose which entrée we got. I was less than delighted to see that it was Chicken Teriyaki with Rice, “a sweet combination of oriental flavors.” If I had my druthers, I would have picked something else.
I’m going to cut to the chase and let you know who won. You can read more about why each product scored the way they did after the results. And while we’re letting the cat out of the bag about the winner right here, there’s still a surprise to be found below.
The winner was the Food Insurance Chicken Teriyaki with Rice.
I opened the Mountain House Chicken Chili first. It was beautiful. A nice balance of white beans with chunks of freeze-dried chicken, and some red bell peppers. This is my kind of food. This was going to be hard to beat.
The Food Insurance Chicken Teriyaki looked about like expected. Lots of rice, a mixture of freeze-dried Chinese vegetables, and small pieces of chicken in a brown powder.
Preparation instructions for both products were exactly the same. Boiling water was added to each, stirred, and allowed to sit covered for eight or nine minutes. Both of the products gave the option of preparing the food right in the pouch that it came in by adding the boiling water directly to the pouch. Not only does that say a lot about the quality of the pouches, it’s also a potentially huge convenience factor. This means that you can travel light and don’t have to take a cooking pot with you when you’re backpacking, bugging out, or just on the run from the law. We didn’t take them up on their offer of cooking and eating out of the pouches for this taste test, but opted to prepare them in bowls.
Nutrition stats are important to me. I read labels and make choices based on it. One of my concerns about many of the freeze-dried long-term food storage entrée’s on the market today is that they are way too high in sodium. I was attracted to the Mountain House Chicken Chili because it had a bright label pasted on the pouch announcing that it had only 260mg of sodium per serving. That’s outstanding for a product of that type. By comparison, Food Insurance’s Chicken Teriyaki had 790mg of sodium per serving, more than three times what MH put in theirs. Mountain House was the clear winner here. (In a small, random sampling of other free-dried entrées, I found sodium content as high as a briny 1200mg per serving. Yuck!)
A key stat for emergency food is calories per serving. Unlike in normal times, you want to consume high-calorie food in an emergency because you’re not likely to be eating as much or as often and you’re likely to be burning more calories through increased activity. Food Insurance came in with 280 calories per serving, while Mountain House was at a tummy-trimming 150 calories. Food Insurance did almost twice as well as Mountain House in this category.
Both entrées had 13 grams of protein, but there was a big difference in carbs — 19 grams for the Mountain House Chili versus 51 grams for the Food Insurance Teriyaki, boosted by brown sugar as the third ingredient. Mountain House also prevailed as the fiber leader with 7 grams per serving versus Food Insurance’s paltry 2 grams.
For me at least, it’s hard to pick a winner in the nutritional value category. I like all of Mountain House’s stats with the exception of its low calorie count. The solution is to doctor it up with a healthy, high-calorie addition, such as a small splash of olive oil.
This brings up a teaching point about long-term food storage. You can’t think of pre-packaged foods like the two in this taste test as being a total solution to your food storage needs. They are a component, but you also need to store staples and ingredients that can be added to an entrée to better meet your needs.
In our first taste test, we found that the eFoods Tortilla Soup mix had so much robust flavor that we could add a small amount of it as a topping to a serving of white rice and extend it far beyond the number of servings of just the soup by itself. Most of the nutritional stats on this Mountain House Chicken Chili are great, but it needs more calories. Having a well-stocked prepper pantry can address almost any deficiency in a convenience entrée.
This is a “taste” test, after all, so how did the two products actually taste? We’ve already announced that the Food Insurance Chicken Teriyaki was the winner. How did it accomplish that?
The Mountain House entrée disappointed both of us. Chicken Chili is my kind of food, but this wasn’t a very good example of it. It was beautiful to look at straight out of the pouch and after it had been rehydrated, but both of us were negatively surprised by a potent tangy-ness that the dish just didn’t need. The list of ingredients includes tomatillos, citric acid, tartaric acid, and lemon juice powder, all of which could boost its sourness. Whatever the culprit, it was just too much. Leave out the tangy overload, find a different seasoning to punch up the flavor, and this would be a home run. I gave it 3-1/2 stars for the overall quality of the product, but had to ding it for the tang.
While Sandy was in total agreement with my assessment of the tangy-ness factor, finding it equally as unappealing as I did, she was much more put off by the level of hot spiciness of the Chili. This was a non-factor for me. I didn’t considered it to be spicy at all, but Sandy is extremely sensitive to hot pepper and its kin. Using this Chili as a stretcher for something bland like white rice would have improved it for her, but we evaluate the products as they come out of the package, prepared according to the manufacturer’s instructions. As such, Sandy scored the Mountain House Chicken Chili at 1-1/2 stars and said that she would never eat it again.
Then we moved on to the Food Insurance Chicken Teriyaki. To be quite honest, it didn’t look all that good when it was rehydrated. The teriyaki sauce gave the dish the consistency of a bowl of oatmeal. It was already something that didn’t intrinsically appeal to me, but now I was even less looking forward to actually eating it.
But it was good. Yes, it really had the texture and mouth-feel of a bowl of oatmeal, but it was good. How did they do that? The sweetness that I was dreading was well balanced, not overpowering. The oriental vegetables tasted fresh and didn’t get lost in the crowd of flavors. It wasn’t like getting Teriyaki Chicken at a good oriental restaurant, but for something that was a chunky freeze-dried powder eight minutes ago, it was darned good. We both gave it 3-1/2 stars. While it was very decent for a freeze-dried Chicken Teriyaki, it still had that baggage of being not the kind of food that we would normally choose for ourselves, so we gave it a just slightly better-than-average rating. But given our prejudices against this type of dish, that was a triumph.
Just like the group of preparedness bloggers had determined in their taste test of eight different food storage companies’ products, we proclaimed Food Insurance to be the winner over industry giant Mountain House. At least in this random pairing of entrées. But like they say in football, “On any given Sunday..”
There are a few “bottom line” lessons to be taken from this:
- It’s not easy to find the perfect survival food. Mountain House did better on some measures while Food Insurance was the clear winner on others.
- What’s good for the goose isn’t always what’s good for the gander. Mountain House’s spiciness wasn’t a factor for me at all, but it was a total deal-breaker for Sandy. You have to store foods for every palate in your family.
- Try a small quantity before you buy in bulk. On the face of things, I would have tanked up on the Mountain House Chili. Low sodium, low fat, low carb, decent fiber, all baked into a Chicken Chili. Sign me up! But it had something in it that neither of us liked.
- Even something that doesn’t have a lot of immediate appeal for you could be a surprise winner. Mountain House got downgraded for a negative surprise. Food Insurance got upgraded for a positive surprise. Keep an open mind. Try anything once. Maybe twice.
The Bonus Surprise
I said above when I announced the winner that there would be a surprise below. You’ve persevered and found it.
It should be clear by now that I read labels carefully. That’s where I got the info on the nutrition stats and ingredients. The surprise came when I read on the label that Food Insurance, which also goes under the brand name of Daily Bread, is actually manufactured by a company called Oregon Freeze Dry, Inc.
The same Oregon Freeze Dry that makes Mountain House.
In the words of the late, great Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story. Good day!”
For the month of September, Mountain House has done something it’s never done before. Apparently, they have a contractual agreement with their vendors where Mountain House controls the minimum price its products can be sold for. For this month only, Mountain House has lifted that restriction and is letting their vendors set their own prices. As a result we’re seeing Mountain House foods selling at the lowest prices ever and competition between vendors is fierce. I don’t know if Mountain House will ever do this again, but I’m not going to let it get past me without taking advantage of it. (We’re ordering a couple of cases of free-dried meats to use in “meals-in-a-jar” recipes. More on that later.)
Below is a short list of reputable Mountain House dealers. All of them are running specials on Mountain House products. I’ve listed a number of them so that you can comparison shop. I don’t know of any one vendor for whom all their Mountain House products are cheaper than all other vendors. They might all advertise “40% off!”, but off of what starting price? Sorry, but you’ll have to do a little homework on this one, but whichever vendor you go with, you’ll save a bundle if you jump on this deal before the end of the month.