It is unusual for me to not to spend the night close to a place to eat or a store to buy food for dinner and breakfast. It is even more unlikely for me not to pass a place to buy the next day's lunch.

But, as I was planning my tour around Big Bend National Park (touring plan here), it became clear that on one of the days I would have to carry enough food for a dinner, breakfast, and biking food the next day, without passing a store or restaurant along the way.

As I refined my itinerary, I tried to list out the amount and kind of foods I should carry with me to meet my intake needs that would satisfy both the self-catering requirements and the fact that I am 100% vegetarian. Further, I will be touring in West Texas where there might not be anything filling enough that I can eat on a restaurant's menu or a store's shelf. What's more, since I will be carrying both camping and cooking gear and additional water, I don't want to carry too much and/or heavy food.

My Usual Cooking Style On Tour

I cook on an alcohol stove, carry two pots with lids that double as frying pans, and travel with a satchel of spices (crushed red chili peppers, granulated onions, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, turmeric, olive oil, soy sauce, fresh garlic and ginger). With this "kitchen," I feel comfortable cooking up a stir-fry of local vegetables, pastas and sauce, eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, and other meals.

Most of the time, I eat at restaurants, buy sandwiches for lunch, and rely on markets to get the fresh veggies that I like to consume every day. If the route is such that I will only pass a store early in the day, I carry vegetables, and sometimes even canned goods, for dinner. In this way, I have discovered that certain things, such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and celery, can last for several days inside a pannier, if kept moist. An onion, while imparting its acrid odor to everything, can also be eaten over several days without spoiling. Even cheese, kept out of the direct sun can last a couple days.

But, West Texas isn't "most of the time." There are long distances between towns and there are no services (no gas stations, no convenience stores, no rest stops, no nothing) in-between. What's more, the towns are often very small places whose one store may not have any fresh vegetables or fruits or anything else I want to eat.

Creating My Own Lightweight Touring Food

Knowing this in advance, I decided to try my hand at creating my own lightweight food. Some time ago, we were given a food dehydrator by a friend who no longer needed it. We have used it a bit to dry fruits in season and make kale chips, but little else. I have read about people dehydrating food for use later as both a way to preserve it and reduce its bulk.

I did some searching and found Backpacking Chef, whose section on food dehydrating became the starting point for my dehydrated bike touring food experiment. I followed the recipe for making potato bark, essentially dehydrated mashed potatoes. Then, I re-hydrated it (add boiling water and wait) and tried it. There wasn't much difference between the fresh and re-hydrated versions. Both were a bit bland. But, as a lightweight source of calories, it was hard to beat!

After some more searching, I decided to add some "fresh" vegetables to my larder and dehydrated some broccoli and carrots. Both of these are blanched in hot water before dehydrating. A pound of broccoli

dried to little more than 2 ounces.

Three sliced carrots became a handful of orange nuggets.

While I could have dried even more vegetables, time was running short (it takes 8-10 hours for dehydration) and I felt these three items could make a filling meal.

In order to add more bulk, I also took some textured vegetable protein (TVP), essentially a kind of dried soy protein. Given the amounts I was carrying, I'd say I had
enough for 2 large or 3 medium sized meals. All of this food weighted about a half pound.

In the past, I have carried dehydrated re-fried beans. These are tasty, rehydrate quickly, and are relatively compact. A pound makes about three large helpings. I have eaten them with cheese, avocado and both pita bread and tortillas. After a suggestion in this thread on eating vegan on tour, I packed some nutritional yeast to flavor the re-fried beans, as I didn't figure on carrying either cheese or avocado on this trip.

So, How Did It Work Out?

I'm now back from this tour and can report mixed results. I ate my dehydrated potato bark, broccoli, and carrots twice for dinner on this ride. The potato bark, which looks like potato chips when dried, needs to stirred and kept warm when it is re-hydrating. Both times I ate it, there were a few lumps in it. While it is bit bland, soy sauce, granulated garlic and onions help a great deal with the taste.

The broccoli re-hydrates quickly, looks like real broccoli, and has the same texture. But, it didn't seem to have any taste. The carrots take much longer to rehydrate, are very chewy to eat, but actually taste like carrots.

When these were mixed together, it resulted in a kind of stew that was easy to eat and actually had some taste. Both times, I found it easy to make, though it did take a bit of time, and had enough food to eat. By that measure, the dehydrating was a success.

The unfortunate part of the experiment was the TVP. The stuff I took was rubbery after re-hydration, and not pleasant tasting. Adding it to the stew was a mistake and seriously detracted from the experience. After one meal, I threw it out.

Since I'd had the re-fried beans on previous tours, I knew they were good to eat. However, mixing them with nutritional yeast was a new thing. If you've never had nutritional yeast, it is comes in yellowy flakes that have a cheese-like taste. When mixed with the re-fried beans, the yeast, which doesn't require any refrigeration, created a tasty paste that goes well on its own and would be even better with chopped fresh onion, avocado and bread or tortillas. Nutritional yeast also has a boatload of B vitamins!

What Did I Learn From All This?

The question for me is will I do any of the this for my next tour?

I liked the potato bark but, in the end, it wasn't any better than using Ramen noodles as a meal's main starch. While mixing up and drying a batch of potato bark isn't hard, taking enough for a long tour would require packing a fairly large hunk of it from the very beginning. What's more, dehydrated potato buds are often available in stores along the way. While such commercial products aren't organic, I can always buy some should I desire it on a future tour. The end result is that I will not be taking dehydrated potato bark on the road next time.

My opinion on the vegetables is mixed.

I really liked having the dehydrated broccoli along. I believe that broccoli is the perfect food. It has many vitamins and minerals, adds bulk to the system and even contains some protein. I'm told that dehydration keeps most of these benefits intact. After dehydration, a pound of broccoli weighted 2 ounces and easily re-hydrated into enough for 2 meals. While it didn't have much taste, it was nice to be able to add my favorite vegetable to my dinner without having to worry about finding some and carrying the fresh stuff with me. It also means I can eat organic broccoli wherever I end up eating dinner!

The dehydrated carrots are another matter. While they dried down to almost nothing, they take some time to rehydrate, are fairly hard to chew when re-hydrated, and while they taste like real carrots, weren't all that pleasant to eat. In fact, I often would spit them out if they were too hard to chew. I don't think I would bother to pack dehydrated carrots in the future. Fresh carrots don't weigh all that much and can be bought and packed for several days in a pannier without spoiling. In the future, I'll buy them fresh along the way.

I will definitely pack dehydrate re-fried beans and will bring along some nutritional yeast to mix with it. I might even try to find some other things I can add to this mixture to make it even more filling and tastier.

I don't know about TVP. While this is a lightweight source when added to a meal. The right product could be a great addition to the
re-fried bean-nutritional yeast mixture. But, I will have to try them before committing to carrying any more of it.

Out of all this, I reconfirmed that dehydrated food is a great way to carry provisions while on a bike tour. In addition, dehydrating organic vegetables at home is a great way to add quality food to my larder without adding significant weight.

Some Future Ideas

What I need to do before my next tour is to dehydrate other vegetables to see how much they shrink, what it takes to rehydrate them and what they are like when re-hydrated. Vegetables to try are cauliflower, celery, and red peppers. I also wonder what tomato sauce would be like if dried and then re-hydrated.

I also want to test out other dehydrated foods that I can find at the store to see how I like them. One obvious item is instant hummus, something I've had at home and will likely take on my next tour. There are instant soups, sauces, and other things to try, as well.

While not all the dehydrated foods I took on this tour worked out, the experience made it clear to me that taking along a good selection of such items can make for much tastier and healthier eating on tour.

Please let me know if you have some good dehydrated (preferably vegetarian) tips or recipes to share.
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Copyright © 2007 by Ray Swartz