Heather’s Choice Packaroons and Dehydrated Meals
Heather’s Choice is a relatively small brand that’s based in Anchorage, Alaska, where all of its backpacking/bikepacking meals and yummy Packaroons are made and tested. They sent us some samples to try out, and here’s the verdict…
Based in Anchorage, Alaska, Heather’s Choice is a relatively new dehydrated food company dedicated to making ultralight, nutrient-dense meals and snacks for adventure. Founder Heather Kelly, an evolutionary sports nutritionist and certified psychology of eating coach, started the company based on the combined premise of a paleo diet and the need for nutrient-rich, lightweight meals in the backcountry. All of Heather’s Choice meals and snacks are gluten, soy, and dairy-free, and based around high-quality proteins, such as wild-caught sockeye salmon and grass-fed bison. We had the chance to try their full selection of Packaroons and dehydrated meals. Here are the details and what we liked and didn’t like.
Heather’s Choice Packaroons
Alright, let’s start with dessert. What is a Packaroon? As you may have guessed, it’s a portable/packable macaroon. For those unfamiliar, a macaroon is a small, sweet, and moist biscuit made primarily from shredded coconut. I got pretty addicted to macaroons back when I was on the vegan diet in the 2000s; they’re typically made without eggs or dairy. Following suit, Heather’s Choice Packaroons are gluten, soy, egg, peanut, and dairy-free and pack a lot of calories into a very small package.
One thing I dislike about most energy bars is that they’re dry and often seem like you’re trying to choke down tree bark to sustain enough energy to keep riding. Packaroons are a nice departure from that. And not only do they offer 160 calories in a small 28-gram package, they’re somewhat moist, chewy, and not as laborious to eat as your standard Clif Bar. They’re not as cheap, either, but it’s nice to know that they only have a handful of ingredients and contain no artificial flavors, fillers, or preservatives.
There are eight flavors overall, and the original Sweet Coconut, for example, has only six ingredients: shredded coconut, maple syrup, almond flour, coconut butter, vanilla, sea salt… and the first four are certified organic. Aside from being tasty and relatively easy to eat, coconut is a great source of fuel. It’s loaded with medium-chain fatty acids, healthy fats that are easy to metabolize for energy.
Some of our favorites include the original Sweet Coconut, Lemon Lavender, and Mint Chocolate. The Dark Espresso was also pretty good, but I didn’t much care for the Blueberry Almond. All in all, I quite like Heather’s Choice Packaroons. It’s hard to beat coconut for quality, energy-rich fat. And these are a good take on the classic macaroon with some interesting flavors. Gin and I fought over a couple of them out on the trail (although that’s not too uncommon for us).
As mentioned, Packaroons are pretty expensive. At $2.50 per piece, they definitely won’t be for everyone. Hopefully they become more widely distributed and the price will drop. And, as always, I’d like to see them packaged in a more sustainable material, and even put into two or three-packs.
Find more info on Heather’s Choice Packaroons over at HeathersChoice.com
Heather’s Choice Dehydrated Meals
Since its successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2015, Heather’s Choice now offers five dehydrated meals. Each is dairy, soy, and gluten-free and features a massive helping of protein. There are four that contain meat and one vegan option. Each is offered in a single-serving portion.
While I’m generally trying to get away from single-use packaging while bikepacking, I know there’s still a demand for quick-to-prep dehydrated meals. All I can hope for is that more companies will implement biodegradable materials into their meal packets. Speaking of packaging, Heather’s Choice packs have one unique feature: a water gauge that lets you know how much boiling water to add. Most require about 10oz (~300ml) of boiling water with a 20-minute wait time.
Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder
Generally speaking, Heather’s Choice meals are pretty tasty. We certainly had our favorites, but there were a few we didn’t like as well. My personal favorite was the Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder. The salmon is caught in Deep Creek, Alaska, and hot smoked in Ninilchik. As with most of the other meals, the package is pretty small and weighed just 113 grams, so I was a little worried I’d go hungry after a long ride. But I wasn’t disappointed. The thick stew has coconut milk powder for a base and contains carrots, celery, potatoes, and a seasoning mix of dill, cayenne, and white pepper. You certainly have to like salmon to enjoy it, which I do, but it’s fairly calorie-rich (490) and has a whopping 39 grams of protein.
One dinner neither of us cared for was the Chicken Mole. And the Mom’s Spaghetti was quite tasty, but not our favorite. It has a nice flavor, but to be frank, it caused a significant rumble in the belly that translated to rumbling in the tent, if you catch my drift. I tried it twice, and had the same results on both occasions. That leaves the Dark Chocolate Chili and African Peanut Stew, which were Virginia’s favorites of the group. Here’s what she had to say about them:
Dark Chocolate Chili with Grass-fed Bison
Heather’s Choice bison chili is a flavorful and satisfying meal that’s packed with tons of protein (42g) and healthy ingredients, many of which are organic. The standout ingredient in this dish is the 100% grass-fed bison, as this is more of a Cincinnati-style chili (meat heavy) versus a stewy, tomato-based dish. While I personally prefer the consistency of chili made with a puréed or crushed tomato base, the flavor profile of Heather’s Choice is right on. The minimally spicy chili powder is well balanced and the chocolate and espresso add a nice richness and depth to the flavor.
The $15 per meal price tag is a bit steep for me, so it won’t be a regular in my bikepacking pantry. That said, it’s tasty and full of quality ingredients, so I’d consider splurging once in a while.
African Peanut Stew
Heather’s Choice African Peanut Stew is a refreshing take on pre-packaged backcountry/bikepacking meals. This vegan “stew” is rice-based and includes a healthy dose of vegetables, including rarely seen leafy greens (Swiss chard). This meal is also gluten and soy-free, making it a great option for folks with diverse dietary restrictions.
The flavor profile of this dish is pretty fantastic. While it’s not spicy, the ginger and curry add nice warmth, and the peanut butter rounds out the flavors with a dose of richness. My only reservation with this stew is that it’s not exactly “stewy.” It’s definitely tasty, but I felt as though the ingredients needed a little something to bind them together, perhaps additional tomato purée or some partially blended potatoes. All in all, this meal is a great option, especially for vegetarians and vegans. It’s really flavorful and full of high quality ingredients. It’s also worth noting that at $10, this is the least expensive meal in the Heather’s Choice range.
Overall, we were pleased with the snacks and meals from Heather’s Choice. All of the dinners and Packaroons are pretty expensive, which makes them a little hard to swallow, but hopefully that will change as the company grows. And, in all fairness, it’s nice to see tasty, pack-friendly food made with interesting, high quality ingredients and loads of protein… and without added sugar, soy, or gluten. The Packaroons are out of this world and I’d eat them all the time if I could. And, we really appreciated the wild caught and grass fed proteins in the dehydrated meals, as well as the unique recipes, such as the coconut milk base in the Smoked Salmon Chowder, and the use of Swiss chard and a flavorful blend of spices in the African Peanut stew.
All that said, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t add this to every pre-packaged meal review: hopefully we’ll see all outdoor food brands implement sustainable, biodegradable packaging soon, which has been my biggest gripe with all dehydrated meals lately. There’s no reason that food designed to be enjoyed in the outdoors has to come in packaging that will be tossed into a landfill.