Incredibly inedible eggs

Monday, November 29, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Isn't it already "the incredible, edible egg"? Only if it's not served up in an MRE.

The military discontinued using eggs in its "meals-ready-to-eat" pouches about 10 years ago after soldiers complained they were rubbery and had a grayish tint.

Now, defense officials want to dish up a tastier, tender egg to America's soldiers -- and it's enlisted the help of three schools to do just that.

Researchers at Ohio State, Washington State and the Illinois Institute of Technology are experimenting with a way to preserve scrambled-egg patties by combining high temperature with high pressure. By applying pressure of 100,000 pounds per square inch, the process takes about six minutes.

The old way to preserve MRE eggs, which came in the form of an egg-and-ham omelet, used to cook eggs at high temperatures for more than 90 minutes, said Patrick Dunne, senior adviser in the Combat Rations Directorate at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center near Boston.

"You've got thoroughly cooked eggs to say the least," said Dunne, a biochemist.

The researchers have been working on the project for the past 16 months with a $250,000 grant.

"We're kind of going through tryouts," Ohio State food scientist V.M. Balasubramaniam said of the different recipes.

The scrambled-egg patties being tested contain about 20 percent cheese. The eggs have been taste-tested by a consumer panel at Washington State.

"They blessed it," Dunne said.

Next, the eggs will be taste-tested by food technologists at the Massachusetts soldier center, who will rate the eggs for flavor and tenderness. The packaging system must still be finished, and the Food and Drug Administration must approve the eggs before they can be sent to soldiers for field tests.

Dunne hopes the new egg item can be introduced next year, but said it may not get into the hands of troops until a year or two later.

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