Freeze-dried meals is a lifestyle item for most adventurers. Although we prefer to cook our own food over an open fire – or on a gas burner in a pinch – sometimes circumstances bring hard compromises, like digging a freeze-dried meal out of our pack. To be truthful – our team sometimes prefer a freeze-dried meal – the good ones are very, very good.
Scandinavia is home of a global favorite: Real Turmat™ from Norwegian Drytech. But this recent year two more contenders have surfaced – Gilde Turmat™ from Norway and Trail™ from Denmark. Hungry as always we´ve assembled a small panel to taste and compare.
New Kid on the block – Trail™
The most obvious difference is the choice of packaging. Trail™ comes in a short and slightly wider package when compared to Real™ and Gilde™. We guess this is a marketing based choice because the content volume is similar and placing it in a smaller package result in a “fatter” and softer package that is less practical when packing. Also, the shape may not be optimal for trapping steam and heat when preparing and keeping hot.
Trail™ is the only brand to embrace ecology as a main parameter. The competition use conventional ingredients in their meals. The team behind Danish Trail™ is TV-personality Nikolaj Kirk and chef Mikkel Maarbjerg. Both experienced product developers and cooks. The new company is jointly owned with outdoor brand distributor Odex AS.
Currently Trail™ offer five different meals: Beef & Potato Stew, Creamy Chicken With Pearl Barley, Pasta Bolognese, Vegan Daal With Rice, and Vegan Pasta Ratatouille.
We have testet the stew, the ratatouille and the bolognese. They suffer from a common issue: Lack of taste and smell. Truly a surprising problem considering the team behind the product.
Freeze-dried meals may not smell much prior to preparation, but with smell and taste being inseparable to the enjoyment of any meal, we felt miserably cheated when opening the Trail™ meals.
In spite of the impressive look and texture, Trail™ meals are under-seasoned and bland, delivering a somewhat disappointing experience.
Where Trail is a newcomer, Gilde must be considered old spice. The brand is an iconic Norwegian brand, known for processen and unprocessed products, mostly animal protein based.
Considering their size, distribution net and economic resources we had expected more of a developed product. However, Gilde have chosen to make a copy of industry leading Real Turmat – evident in both packaging and branding. Currently, Gilde is entering the market with two meals: Pasta Bolognese and Brun Lapskaus (Brown stew). We have tested both.
Ignoring a growing segment of critical consumers, Gilde has quite surprisingly decided to base both their meals on pork meat. The two classic recipes – Bolognese ragout and Brun lapskaus – are traditionally made with beef, veal and pork. Gilde´s versions are made with pork only.
The unmistakable orange package has an established international crowd of followers and it´s not by coincidence. Real Turmat™, located way north of the arctic circle in Norwegian Tromsø, has perfected the manufacturing of free-dried meals for more than 30 years.
A few years ago Real offered mainly meal packages – one series mainly for military personnel and the rest for outdoor recreation and expeditions. Today Real has a huge product portfolio that also include breakfast meals, soups, snacks, energy-bars and drinks, as well as specially formulated Arctic Field Rations. Real also offer vegetarian and vegan meals, as well as meals free of gluten and lactose.
For this small head-to-head review however, Real is represented by a single meal – their Pasta Bolognese.
How they compare
We have prepared the three Pasta Bolognese per the manufacturers´ recommendation. We have examined the meals prior to adding water. We have smelled, stirred, added, opened, smelled – and eaten. Here´s what we think.
Trail has an impressive appearance – nice large chunks, good color and great full size penne pasta. Unfortunately, it smells close to nothing.
Real also impress with good chunks and color, but the pasta chosen looks a bit “low rent” compared to Trail´s glorious penne.
Gilde has an intense orange glow and a smell of tomato. Pasta content is minimal.
As directed, content of all three meals are carefully mixed before boiling water is poured.
After approximately 10 minutes the real fun begin by opening the bags, searching for the smell of a nourishing hot meal. Immediately, we spot major differences.
Does it look like food? Does it smell like dinner?
Gilde Turmat looks grainy and too much like baby food, in the panel´s opinion. The smell is very tomatoey… like tomato soup.
Real Turmat looks closer to a ragout and the pasta has retained some consistency. Smells like dinner and in a general direction of a ragout from Bologna. Clearly our panel’s first choice for taste.
Danish Trail look fabulous – like lifting the lid after a slow simmer. But where is the smell? Again this product stuns us by it´s lack of presence. It quacks like a duck – but isn’t one.
Taste and Texture
A pungent smell of tomato is ever present in taste. We catch a strong acidic tomato base, very little else. There is no taste of meat or other ingredients. Even the carrot pieces are over whelmed by tomato. The meal is well seasoned but too sweet. Four spoonfuls into the meal, we´ve had it with tomato.
The texture is good and the taste has a deep meaty flavor, like we expect from a classic Bolognese. We´d love to add the more substantial pasta from the Trail version, but all in all, this meal is the best tasting by a generous margin.
Trail deliver great texture but It is totally under-seasoned and tastes surprisingly little. Compared to the two others, it has no taste to speak of. A vague taste of vegetables and cooked pasta, but none of the depth of flavor connected to a ragout Bolognese. If you bring Trail for dinner, don´t forget your salt and pepper. Completely lacking character, this meal needs help.
NOTE: Recipes for all Trail´s meals are availble from their web site, if you feel like cooking any of them from scratch. However, read careful and be critical – some items seem to be missing entirely, like potato from the Beef & Potato Stew recipe.
The three manufacturers chosen for this small review all present similar specifications for nutritional value. After all – these meals are life savors after a long day on the trail. Sometimes life saviors in the true sense of the word. In the world of ultimate proof – the taste and texture of these meals are secondary. But for most recreational adventurers, smell and taste and texture is important to fuel our good spirits and keep the promise of another great day alive. This is the explanation for our less than scientific review.
Here´s the basic nutritional info for the three tested Pasta Bolognese servings (500 g)
Trail: 598 kcal
Gilde Turmat: 523 kcal
Real Turmat: 525 kcal
More information available on these web pages