Adventures in food shelf-life

When it comes to storage-type food, you very often trade flavor for shelf life. You can have a product that tastes really good, but only lasts a minimum amount of time…or you can have a product with a great shelf life but its flavor is such that you would only eat it after the fallout settles and the Kroger’s is a smoking ruin.

Years ago (eight years, actually) I bought a bunch of the Idahoan instant potatoes in pouches. I recommend these highly, and find them to be very good. So good, in fact, that when I’m feeling too lazy to peel, boil, and mash ‘real’ spuds I reach for these. For the price of two of these pouches I can buy a 5# bag of potatoes at my local supermarket, so economically it may not make a lot of sense to have them all the time, but for storage food….very highly recommend.

One concern I had was the durability of the paper pouches. Its heavy duty paper, to be sure…but how will it hold up over time? Funny you should ask….

13890According to Idahoans website FAQ, this particualr pouch o’ spuds was born almost eight years ago. I’d bought a bunch of these when they were on sale and stuffed ’em into a plastic tub, sealed it up, and sat it on the shelf with all the other mid-term food storage in the classic ‘cool,dry place’. But…after a few years, I was pretty certain theyd have gone stale or bad or whatever happens to dehydrated potatoes. In fact, while I wasnt sure enough to pull them off the shelf and discard them, I was sure enough to pull them off my inventory spreadsheet.

Well, to make a long story short, it appears that even in the simple heavy paper pouch, stored under good conditions, they actually held up quite well for eight years. No discernible loss of flavor or texture. In fact, they seemed just fine. So, despite theyre not being packaged in a long-term manner from the factory, if you just stuff the pouches into a hard container, seal it up, and store it under the usual conditions…it lasts just fine.

So…if you’re looking to ads something to the ol’ pantry that tastes good enough to eat on a regular basis, but has a shelf life that goes on for quite a while…..these come highly recommended.

 

Fun with eggs

Have you ever actually eaten powdered eggs? I know theres all sortsa stories from military folk talking about the horrors of such tings, but those stories are also usually pretty dated. Food preservation (and fabrication) technology has changed a bit.

Being an unapologetic bargain hunter, I always peruse the ‘marked down’ shopping carts in the back of the store where my local supermarket dumps the stuff it wants to sell now. Usually it’s things no one wants like sugar-free cake frosting, squirrel-flavored olive oil, dill pickle flavored barbecue sauce, and other ‘food’ items that are obviously not moving and taking up valuable shelf real estate.

So, the other day as I was sifting through the cart I found this:

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My history with powdered eggs is a long one. I originally wanted some back in the late ’90s but had no idea for a source. I found this particular brand, Deb El, but found out they did not offer any larger quantity of them than these cans and some industrial-sized 50# bags that I was in no position to repackage. A few years later I discovered ‘Wakefield’ powdered eggs (an excellent product) but its availability was spotty since it was basically manufacturer overruns from .gov contracts (they can sometimes be found through REI). Finally, I found that Mountain House offered #10 cans of eggs and I picked up a few cases of that. Later on I found that Augason Farms offers whole eggs in the far more convenient #2 size cans…and scrambled egg mix in the larger #10 cans. I got a buncha those as well.

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The first time I used powdered eggs I was extremely skeptical… the powder, when mixed with water, made this foul-smelling, orange-colored, pancake-batter-consistency mix that looked amazingly unappetizing. but, after a couple minutes in a frying pan with some butter it was like some sort of culinary magic trick – the orange turned into that lovely scrambled-egg-yellow that we all know and love, the smell was just like regular scrambled eggs, and the texture, while quite uniform, was also very similar. In fact, the giveaway that fresh eggs were not used came from the even coloring of the eggs….’real’ scrambled eggs have random flecks of white among the yellow. These were an even yellow across the board. But….absolutely delicious and indistinguishable, taste wise, from fresh eggs.

The powdered eggs are a bit more orange-y colored that fresh eggs, but in the half-light of your average apocalypse-induced power failure you probably won’t notice the difference. However, here’s a comparison of the powdered egs [first photo] cooking versus the fresh eggs cooking [second photo]:

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Takes about two  minutes to cook. Powdered:

IMG_1928Fresh: IMG_1931

Side by side on a plate you can see the color difference. (Too be fair, I used much more butter with the powdered eggs and virtually none with the fresh, so that may contribute to the color difference.) However texture is identical:

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The powdered eggs come out looking not as good as the bright-yellow fresh eggs, but they have a far greater shelf life and lend themselves to mass feeding. Ever go to a hotel that has a breakfast bar and you can get all the omelettes you want? Notice the cook often has a juice bottle or container full of egg mix he pours or dips from? Yeah. Thats powdered egg (or liquid egg mix from powder) that he’s using.

So what good is this stuff? Well, for starters, if your breakfast includes scrambled eggs, french toast, or anything that requires an egg….well, heres your egg. No refrigeration necessary (although refrigerating eggs is, I am told, a mostly American notion. In Europe eggs are left at room temperature.) When Hurricane Sandy knocks out the power and the morning promises a long day of grunt work it’d be nice to be able to have scrambled eggs to go with the canned bacon, canned hash, or other breakfast fare. (According to my research, a post apocalyptic breakfast can be pretty impressive – scrambled eggs, hash, bacon, breakfast cereal with milk, oatmeal, canned fruit, orange drink, and coffee….a better breakfast than I have now.) And, of course, anything that requires egg like pasta dough, breaded foods, etc, etc, are going to be needing this stuff as well.

So…for those of you who may be curious about powdered eggs but don’t feel like cracking open a $40 #10 can of them for an experiment…well, I risked $4 to show you what to expect:

My suggestion to you? Buy the long term eggs in the smaller cans (because once you open a can of powdered eggs it’ll start drawing moisture and if you dont use it soon it’ll cake solid). Don’t expect it to taste/look exactly like fresh eggs, but don’t be terrified about it either. Its about the same quality as fastfood/breakfast bar/college cafeteria eggs.