Lyo and Wayfarer Expedition Foods Test
Pre prepared mountain food has come a very long way in recent years. We now have a far bigger range from a very wide choice of manufacturers. So much choice, infact, that maybe it's getting harder to choose the best options for your adventures.
We recently collaborated with premier online mountain food provider and Peak Mountaineering retailer discount partner Base Camp Food to conduct a comparison taste test on a selection of options from their Lyo Exoedition dehydrated food range and, as a comparison, we also tried a couple of dishes from the Wayfarers hydrated foods range.
The test was conducted with a total of 7 testers during a Hill Skills Course overnight camp. As we had a vegetarian in both groups we focussed on vegetarian options. We also tested the first vegan option that we know of that is commercially available. The test also included a selection of dessert options and both dehydrated and hydrated meals.
There certainly wasn't any great science to the test. While energy content, packed weight and other nutritional information is important, at the end of the day it is eating a tasty, filling and easy to prepare meal that will mean the most when you are in that storm bound tent! So, we simply prepared the food according to the manufacturers instructions and then ate it. We then shared our thoughts on what we liked and didn't. We did discuss the energy values of different options and their respective weights but this wasn't part of any test criteria.
Primarily this was designed to be a test of dehydrated foods but we wanted to show our first time Hill Skills users as broad a selection as possible so we added a couple of hydrated options too. Both types of food have their pros and cons. Hydrated foods don't need water to be available to cook them and they can be eaten cold. Their big drawback is that, because you are carrying the water that is in the pouch, they are relatively heavy. This makes them better suited to situations where their weight won't be an issue or eating them cold may be required. They do have another drawback that is, in my opinion, very significant. If you want to eat these foods hot you either need to empty the contents into a pan or heat the contents by placing the bag in a pan of boiling water for several minutes. The first method creates washing up and the second uses more fuel. Both these problems can be avoided by modern dehydrated options but in this case you obviously need access to enough water and they have to be rehydrated to be consumed.
The rest of the options we tested were dehydrated. These are all prepared in the same way. This involves pouring boiling water into a tough foil sachet, stirring, sealing the sachet and waiting a prescribed amount of time. The food can then be eaten straight from the pouch which avoids any washing up (apart from licking your spoon clean!). Preparation of these meals really is that simple.
The hydrated meals we tested were a Wayfarers meals main course and dessert.
Wayfarers Vegetable Curry
We heated this by heating the food pouch in a pan of boiling water on a Jetboil stove. The Wayfarer divided opinion within the group. It was well received by several testers although others were underwhelmed by the flavour and texture. Several also commented on the portion size and said that if they were eating this as a main meal after a mountain day they would either need 2 servings or would need to supplement the meal with something like pasta, rice or noodles - which really defeats the point of buying a ready made meal. Overall, this wasn't on anyone's favourites list for taste and the disadvantages of portion size and preparation issues are significant considerations.
Wayfarers Sticky Toffee Pudding
This was eagerly awaited by many testers. We again prepared it by boiling the bag in a pan. The view of many testers was that, while it tasted okay, it didn't really live up to expectations. Most people thought the sauce was delicious but that the pudding was dense, chewy and unappetising. This one surprised me as I had tried it before and my recollection was that it was nicer than I found it this time. Maybe the recipe has changed or it could just be my dodgy memory!?
The range of dehydrated foods we tried was broader but still by no means exhaustive. There is certainly a lot of choice out there. For this test we had simply selected a range of options from the Lyo Expedition range including what I understand to be the first vegan option on the market.
Lyo Expedition is an award winning German manufacturer offering a broad menu range covering soups, snacks, main course dishes and desserts. Lyo meals are very easy to prepare and feel and taste like a high quality product. Usefully, the meals are available in small or large sizes which helps cater for different size appetites.
Cream of Tomato Soup
A very well received option which was creamy, tasty and filling. The soup has a really nice tomato flavour and also a bit of a spicy tang. Overall, a great soup that was praised by everyone.
Cream of Champignon Soup
This was also thought to be a very good product for backcountry use. Tasters commented on its creamy texture, mushroomy taste and decent sized portion. Everyone liked this.
Farfalle with Gorgonzola and Spinach Sauce
This meal was well received by most, but not all, testers. It has a creamy consistency and good flavour. The pasta kept its shape and had good texture and there was a nice cheesy flavour. 2 testers said this was their favourite option. At the other extreme of opinion, however, a few testers couldn't stomach this option and found it very bland.
Barley Lentil Risotto with Avocado Mousse (Vegan)
This meal was, in several testers opinion, very nice. The combination sounded like it could be pretty grim but the dish was tasty, contained a good sized portion and has a decent energy value of 498kcal per portion. That said, some of the testers were less keen. One described it as lacking substance and another said it lacked flavour. I guess a vegan meal is always going to be the type of thing some people will really like and others will be less keen on. There were no vegans in the group.
Lyo Exotic Pleasure Chips
These snacks are yummy. They are a mixture of tangerine, kiwi, banana and pineapple and are a great expedition snack that's easy to use, a good energy source and nutritious. Everybody liked them. They also, at 132 kcals per 35 gram packet, offer a highly energy content.
Lyo Wild Berry Mix
This is another snack pack containing dried raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Really tasty, nice texture and nutritious. Everyone who tried these loved them - and why not?! The calorie content, at 76 calories per 30 grams, isn't as high as the other snack packs, but it's still pretty good.
Lyo Sweet Morning
Perfect for either a breakfast or dessert, Lyo's Sweet Morning is a mixture of cereals, raspberries and apple. It also has milk powder in the sachet with gives, when water is added, a nice creamy mix. The tasters all liked this. It is the right level of sweetness, has a good texture and is very tasty. Another well received Lyo option. It can also, conveniently, be made with either hot or cold water.
Lyo Chocolate Morning
This is another option for either breakfast or dessert. This contains strawberries, banana and chocolate cereals. It can again be made with hot or cold water but we tested it with hot water and it was another very tasty product that the testers enjoyed. There were a couple that found it a bit sweet, but overall it was well received.
Unless there was a likelihood that the foods might need to be eaten cold then there is no advantage in choosing hydrated foods over dehydrated dishes. They are heavier to carry and actually take more fuel to prepare. They also, significantly, weren't considered any tastier or more nourishing by the testers.
The products from the Lyo Expedition range were well received although every dish attracted some extremes of viewpoint. In the end expedition food is really like going to a restaurant. Some people will choose some dishes and others will select something different. It depends on taste.
The trick is to try things out and see what you like and don't like before you commit to using them in the wilderness environment.
Some testers commented on the cost of these meals and it is true that, if you combined a soup starter, main course and dessert you'd be spending as much as a pub meal. There are also cheaper alternatives and we discussed some ideas in an article I wrote which you can find here. What ready made meals do offer is choice, quick preparation times, good tasting food and the convenience of knowing the nutritional content of each dish.
All I want to heat up when I'm in the mountains is water - so my whole catering system is based around that. I also want to travel as light as possible and that influences my choices too. As a simple, light and efficient water heating system it is hard to beat an integrated cooking system like Jetboils or Primus Lite+. They heat water quickly and, due to their clever design, they use minimal fuel. They also pack up into a really small package which takes up little pack space. I can easily get away with a 100 gram gas canister for a few nights away and this allows for cooked breakfast and dinner plus plenty of hot drinks.
If all I use my stove for is boiling water this also means I have no washing up because the foods we used for this test were all ones that are designed to be eaten straight from the pouch. This is perfect but requires a suitable spoon. For this job a long handled titanium spoon is unbeatable and this was the subject of a recent Peak Mountaineering Top Gear choice which you can find here.
I still need a mug to drink from and my current top choice is a Squishy Bowl (it's called a bowl but I use it as a mug). These little beauties are light, easy to store and great to use. We also shared some Squishy Bowl love in a recent blog post here.
That's all I take and so it really couldn't be much simpler. They make little insulating sleeves that the food pouch can be stored to keep it warm for longer but I don't bother because I can do the same thing by putting the pouch into a hat or by wrapping it in a fleece. You can also take a pan gripper but the better integrated systems have an insulated sleeve around the pan so you don't need it. It's a system that is as simple as you can get. You don't even need a pan scrubber! So, Jetboil, long handled titanium spoon and Squishy Bowl. Perfect.
Posted by Paul
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