FAQ - Dried Food Sources

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Many of us take the easy route to catering and buy dehydrated meals. They are not cheap, but most of us think they are good. (Supporters of the home desiccator are invited to send in some info for a page on home drying.) There are several brands of meat and meals made in Australia/NZ using a drying process: I know of Settlers, BackCountry (NZ), Adventure Foods (ex-Army) and Surprise (vegetables). There also some imported American brands, but they do not include any meat dishes because of some strange Customs ruling. I haven't included them for two reasons: I haven't tried them and we have found that bushwalking without meat leads to severe anaemia. Some of these meals have been freeze-dried, while others have been sun-dried (or equivalent). I list below what I know to be available. Obviously I will have missed some brands or items: let me know. Send samples for testing too.



Rehydration and Cooking

As a general rule, you will need to add about 60 g of dry carbohydrate per person to a 'dried meal' package to get enough food for a good dinner. This can be rice or noodles or Deb instant mashed potato. Some people use other forms of carbohydrate, but none of them have appealed to the author. Some Americans seem to use "Stuffing Mix", which is probably bread crumbs, flour, flavouring and who knows what else. Gad! At least we haven't sunk that far. In some cases it is worth adding some Surprise vegies as well, especially if the meal is mainly meat or a little small. And of course, there is always the usual range of herbs, spices, Ardmona Tomato Magic (dried tomato paste, powerful) and dried onion flakes to consider. It is probably a good idea to add a little salt to the carbohydrate and extra vegies, but not much.

The meal sizes suggested here assume you will have some Instant Noodle Soup or something similar first: a quick starter for energy and electrolyte replacement, and at least a cocoa afterwards. Some people like some sort of desert as well (cocoa and dark fruit cake...). Your appetite will be different, so you will need to adjust the amount you take over time anyhow.

I did ask one supplier why they don't put enough carbohydrate in the package, or why they put in some but not enough, or why they couldn't skip it and let us add our preference. The answer was a mix of reasons. The market would not stand a higher price; the average consumer does not eat as much as a hungry bushwalker, people want utter convenience and no work, and it's a hard life anyhow. Well, hum.

Preparation sounds simple: add water, heat, eat. Or boil water, add, let stand. That's the basic idea, but it helps to know a little more. The best method seems to be to add cold water to the mix, let it stand for maybe 5 minutes, and then to heat slowly. This is meant to allow enough time for the water to diffuse into the largest lumps. The army instructions give a range of options, including eating dry, but even they suggest allowing a bit of time for rehydration. One thing to really watch out for is whether you have added enough water. I have made up a fairly sloshy Back Country stew, simmered it, and then put it aside to "Dutch Oven" for 5 minutes. When I opened up the pot the mix was solid: all the water had been totally absorbed and the mix needed more water added. It is startling just how much water should be added. Of course, you could read the directions on the packet: they are fairly close in practice, although we normally add a little more as we are thirsty. Another time I though I had added enough water, but it was quickly all absorbed and the mix started to stick to the bottom of the pot (ie burn). It doesn't matter if your stew is a bit sloshy: you need the fluid anyhow.


Settlers Country Foods

This brand became known to many walkers as plain 'Settlers Beef Mince'. Plain, fat-free beef mince, air-dried: make of it whatever you like. (I previously reported this a freeze-dried, but the manager has corrected me.) Sadly, due to a total failure by the previous distributor, getting the stuff used to be difficult. Then it disappeared from the market for a while the company went through a management/owner change, then the principal abattoir closed down: a long list of problems. But now the renewed company is expanding, with extra meals. The brand is migrating towards the 'Country' name. Some bushwalking shops now stock some of it: if your favourite shop does not, ask them to get it. But Settlers have seen the future, and you can now buy their products over the web (URL below), packet by packet. Way to go! As far as I know, the meals available are:

Meal Wt gm $ Wt gm
Beef Mince 125 g $4.90 1 kg
Beef & Black Bean 125 g $6.90 1 kg
BBQ & vegies 125 g $6.90 1 kg
Mexican Burrito 125 g $6.90 1 kg
Beef Bolognaise 125 g $6.90 1 kg
Casserole 125 g $6.90 1 kg
Mild Thai Curry 125 g $6.90 1 kg
Malaysian Satay Beef 125 g $6.90 1 kg
Bacon, Egg & Beef Mix 125 g $6.90 1 kg

They also sell dehi vegies in bulk and some energy drinks.

A 125 g pack rehydrates to about 500 g of beef. That's quite a lot of meat. We use about half a 125 gm pack of Settlers Beef Mince per meal for two people, but add maybe a whole pack of Surprise vegies or some of Settler's vegies, some tomato powder, some herbs and spices and of course the 60 g/person of carbohydrate. Something similar would apply for the other meals listed since we are dealing in dry weights. However, lacking experience with the rest, I cannot say much more about them.

You can contact the manager Nev Solomon thus (but he can be difficult to get):
Nev Solomon Enterprises
PO Box 421
Ferny Hills   QLD   4055
Ph 61 7 3351 2181     Fax 61 7 3351 2738     Mob 61 0412 193977 or 0412 929 790
nsolomon@ bigblue.net.au
Web Site: http://settlersfoods.com.au/

They also make some electrolyte drinks in Lime and Orange flavours. I have tried the Lime: it was quite good on a hot day. I have also tried some of the flavoured meals. The flavours are OK, but the mixes are just meat and flavour: no vegetables. You will need to provide your own vegies for now, although another company is interested in being active here. More on this if it happens. The Bolognaise isn't bad.

Since the names of the meals do bear some resemblance to those of the other companies, I asked Nev Solomon whether they were buy-ins. The reply was :"NO, they are all my own products, all the R & D has been by me & all packs are blended individually & then packed by me or my son on order ensuring freshness. My new packaging will have 'Settlers Country Meals' on them. Settlers Food Products is my company set up for these meals." However, some components may be bought in - things like dried vegies and so on. At the time of writing (June, 2003), many of the meals are new to the market, and more are being designed as well. Got any good ideas?


Back Country Foods Ltd (NZ): Freeze Dri

This company has been through a management/owner change a few years ago too. It's now owned and run by Arthur Ballantyre and his wife, who do the work as well. They produce a range of good meals in a medium weight foil package. However, when buying any of them, be careful to check the pack size: they come in three sizes: 1-man, 2-man and 5-man. The 1-man packs verge on the expensive, but the 2-man packs are competitive with a couple of McDonalds hamburgers. We add the amount of carbohydrate mentioned, but in general do not need to add extra vegies or any herbs and spices.

The instructions on the packet specify 400-500 ml of water. Yes indeed. They also suggest you add the boiling water to the mix in the alfoil bag and let it stand for 10 minutes. Well, that's possible, but it leaves you with a very messy alfoil bag! If you have enough water to rinse the bag out thoroughly afterwards, fine, but we usually decant into a pot. And of course, you would never leave the alfoil pack behind in the bush!

The local distributor has so far refused to sell direct to clubs or other groups, which is a pity. He promised to send me some info to list here, but so far ..... As far as I know, the available meals include the following, with variable prices in the $10 - $12 range.

Meal Wt gm $
Classic Beef Curry (beef, rice and vegetables) 175 g $10.95
Beef Teriyaki (Eastern, soy flavoured sauce) 175 g $?
Sweet and Sour Lamb (lamb, sauce, vegetables) 175 g $?
Roast Lamb and Vegetables (mint gravy, vegetables, mashed potato) 175 g $?
Beef and Pasta Hotpot (casserole, pasta) 175 g $?
Spaghetti Bolognaise (beef, tomato, noodles) 175 g $?
Babotjie (African, beef, fruit chutney, raisins, egg, rice) 175 g $?
Lamb Fettuccine (sour cream sauce, lamb, vegetables) 175 g $?
Honey Soy Chicken (chicken, vegetables, rice) 175 g $?
Mexican Chicken (kidney beans, corn, chilli sauce, corn chips) 175 g $?
Thai Chicken Curry (coconut milk, curry, green beans, peanuts) 175 g $?
Nasi Goreng (brown rice, vegetables, egg, peanuts) 175 g $?
Pasta Vegetariano (beans, tomatoes, olives) 175 g $?
Fish Pie (fish pieces, egg, potato, cheese) 175 g $?
Cooked Breakfast (beef, bacon, egg, beans, tomato sauce, potato) 175 g $?
Scrambled Egg ? g $?
Beef Mince (plain) ? g $?
Instant Rice ? g $?
Apricot Crumble ? g $?
Fruit Salad Trifle (Madeira cake, fruit pieces, custard) ? g $?

There are a few 'extras' at the end of this list. In fact, there are more available than I have shown, but things like instant mashed potato are more cheaply available elsewhere.


Adventure Foods

This company was spun off from the Defense Food Science Centre in Tassie. Obviously it had to be good: our soldiers were eating it. Interpret that as you will! However, the packaging reflected the military source followed by "marketing" glitz: a colourful heavy plastic bag (leave at home), then a very heavy sealed-for-life aluminium foil bag, then a tough paper bag. The paper bag was designed to allow you to boil the right amount of water in it over some Esbit tablets to rehydrate the food. Yes, there were markings, instructions and a pouring hole in the paper bag. A bit of a giggle. One has to add that a few bits of tough meat were encountered in some of the product lines: one assumes the soldiers have good teeth. We added the carbohydrate (rice, pasta, etc) and half a pack of vegies. Sometimes I added some herbs and spices, but not always.

Unfortunately, since our politicians decided to strut the world stage and send our soldiers overseas to sort out other people's problems at our expense, the supply of Adventure Foods dried up (2007 onwards). In fact, to my embarrassment, I find that DSTO have been nagging me for a 'long time' to remove any suggestion that they can supply the stuff. Apparently it's off the market, with little likelihood of returning. A pity - some of the meals were OK.

A reader Cameron Lewis sent me a lot of information from DSTO about the freeze-dry process, what meals they offer and the nutritional value of the meals. I have given it a page of its own. But that info is now effectively obsolete too.


Tinderry Mountain Dried Foods

This is a small company operating out of the ACT, run by Allan Lehepuu. They make a fairly wide range of dried meals and some fruit leathers etc. The meal servings are 125 g per person (dried of course), and look rather colourful. However, they are a bit expensive at $10.60 per person per serve. Two-man meals packs are available on request, at precisely double that. I asked Allan about this and he replied:

To use an analogy, Tinderry Tucker is to Back Country as your friendly local cafe is to MacDonalds. Both provide a good meal but to different sections of the market demographic. We use a process that involves preparing the food, placing it on trays and placing the trays into hot air driers. We use no sulphurs or preservatives in our products which adds to both labour and material costs.

I am not able to compete with Back Country et al on price so that excludes me from one section of the camping market. We have a business model that is more akin to a cafe/small restaurant than that of a large volume food business. We have over the past decade grown a cliental that is happy to buy our product. It is a product that we take great care to produce quite often to the personal tastes of our clients. I constantly work to keep our prices to a minimum but I cannot reduce them to a level which is below my input costs. That is a quick way to close the doors of any business.

David Morrison commented favourably on Tinderry thus:

To add to your Tinderry Mountain entry, I have bought stuff from them a few times and found it to be quite satisfactory. It should be noted that while the individual meals seem expensive, they are a *big* meal. One fellow who used them on a trip was trying to give away his leftovers as there was too much to eat.

You may also want to note that apart from their packaged meals, they will sell packets of individual vegetables. This is particularly relevant for people who have intolerances to certain vegetables. And they can sometimes do other vegetables if required. I asked about leek, and was told that if I got back to them in two hours, he would pick some up while he was in town!!!

Tinderry sent me two meals: a double chicken and a single beef, for testing. Well, David's comment about size is certainly right: the double meal lasted two of us (my wife and me) for two nights, and the single meal was enough for the two of us on another night. So maybe the cost is not that bad. However, while the meals contained a lot of different bits and pieces of meat and vegetable (and rice or couscous), they seemed awfully bland. Each item in the packet had been carefully dried all by itself, and when rehydrated they didn't develop any 'stew' flavour. Each meal included a packet of 'gravy mix', but the contents were mainly salt and didnt seem to add much flavour anyhow. My summary so far is that they are of very generous size and probably quite nourishing, but they really need to work on the flavour.


Continental Surprise vegies

The Continental company makes 100 g bags of freeze-dried Peas, Peas & Carrots, Peas & Corn, and 50 g bags of Beans. Rather surprisingly, they recommend adding all of 500 ml of water to 100 g of dried food. It looks a lot, but those vegies do soak up the water. They also state that a 100 g bag contains eight 1/4 cup serves. This may be so, but we prefer four 1/2 cup serves!

The same company sells Deb Instant Mashed potato in 115 g bags (and other sizes). This is an under-valued food in my opinion. One bag is just right for two people in place of rice or noodles, and is dead easy to prepare. Of course, a bit of salt helps, and a spoonful of milk powder and a few herbs and some pepper don't go amiss either. See also below.

The same Continental company sells a range of instant soups, and several other companies do as well. You can get them in most any supermarket. There are version with noodles, 2 serves per carton, and versions without noodles, 4 serves per carton (and more salt). I am really not keen on the high-slat versions. There are also some "chunky" versions with more vegies and few noodles, and another with 'croutons'. A few spare packets can be welcome at lunch time on ski trips. We find them an excellent fast introduction to dinner: they provide water, some food and some electrolyte, and a nice lot of warmth in winter. If you want a change in your evening meal, try throwing a soup packet or two into a pot of rice or noodles and add some diced cheese or salami on top.

Bega Dried Foods

Bega produces dried fruit without the use of additives. They also do mail order. I can attest to the fact that the pears, apples and especially mango are delicious.
David Morrison

Tropical Harvest

Another company I came across in Queensland last year is Tropical Harvest. Their dried mangoes were long thin strips whereas Bega's were dried slices of mango. Still delicious.

Instant Rice

There are lots of different sorts of rice on the market, but many of them take a rather long time to cook. There is a (white) Express Rice which cooks rather quickly but it does not have a real lot of flavour. You have to add something to it. There is a 'Quick Cooking Brown Rice' by Sun Rice which has a bit more flavour. In each case you may find that bringing the rice to the boil for 30 seconds and then letting it sit in its pot well-insulated for 10 minutes will get it close enough to acceptable. A little longer does not hurt, but make sure there is enough water in the pot to fully rehydrate the rice. Brown rice is always going to be a bit more chewy than white rice, but I prefer it.


If there are lots of different sorts of rice on the market, there are zillions of different sorts of pasta! Check the cooking times before you buy: they do vary.

We have found that many of the plain pastas are a bit ho-hum. We get more joy from the egg noodles and some of the wholemeal fettucini types. For an idea, try fettucini, a packet or two of instant mushroom soup, and some chopped-up Italian dried mushroom: 'Fettucini al Fungi'! You could also try mixing some Tomato & Basil instant soup with some Italian sun-dried tomatoes - but remember those tomaatoes are pretty powerful!

Deb potatoes

Sounds rather plebian of course, but potato is as much carbohydrate as rice and pasta. So it is a viable alternative, provided you can find something suitable to go with it. I have read of Americans making a meal of dried mashed potato and turkey stuffing with gravy. Sigh! I am sure you can do better than that. 

© Roger Caffin 1/3/2002, 8/7/2008, 26/06/2009