Military Experiments on Fruitcake

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

(Image credit: Flickr user Mark Giles)

(Part 1: 1981)

During the 1970s and 1980s the US military conducted a series of tests on fruitcake, the long-lasting holiday comestible. They issued at least two reports. Here’s a look at the first report:

Nutritionally Fortified Fruitcake (Thermoprocessed, Flexibly Packaged) Developed for Shuttle Flight Use,” T. Branagan, NATICK/TR-82/004, June 1981. (AD A129 878).

The report features these lyrical passages:

NASA asked Natick Laboratories to develop a contingency ration that would meet and retain 100 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) and maintain consumer acceptability under ambient storage conditions for three years. NASA chose flexibly packaged fruitcake, a single food, as the approach to this ration. The desired fruitcake was to be nutritionally complete, meeting the 1968 RDA for males 22-35 years of age (700 grams supplying 2800 calories, 65 grams protein, nine vitamins and at least four minerals). The fruitcake was fortified with vitamins (A, C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine and B 1 ), calcium and magnesium….

Each acceptance test consisted of 36 untrained consumers selected at random from the 400-member NLABS Food Acceptance Panel. Samples of both fruitcakes were rated on a nine-point hedonic scale…


1. The concept of using fortified fruitcake as a single food contingency ration is sound….

4. The fortified fruitcake developed by NLABS far exceeded NASA’s high temperature stability requirements, retaining acceptability and meeting RDA nutrient requirements throughout one year’s storage at 380C….

6. Thermoprocessed flexibly packaged fruitcake, receiving a “like moderately” hedonic rating at zero time, will drop one scale point to “like slightly” after three years at 4*C and 21*C or six months at 380C. It will drop approximately two hedonic scale points to “neither like nor dislike” after 12 months at 38*C.

The following charts illustrate the “mean consumer acceptance ratings of fortified and unfortified fruitcake”:

(Part 2: 1982-4)

This is part 2 of our look at the US military’s tests, conducted at their laboratories in Natick, Massachusetts, during the 1970s and 1980s, on fruitcake, the time-honored holiday comestible. They issued at least two reports. Here’s a look at their second report:

Effects of Storage Time and Temperature on Nutritional Content of Fortified Fruitcake” [Final report 1982-1984], Ann Morrill, Mary V. Klicka, Doris E. Sherman, Maureen T. Branagan and Ivy Fossum, report ADA191995, July 1, 1987, 29 pages.

The authors explain:

Fortified fruitcake was accepted by astronauts on Apollo 17 [the last of America's lunar manned missions], permitted on SkyLab as a Christmas treat, included on the Apollo-Soyuz menu, a component of Orbital Flight Test menus, and is available for shuttle flight menu use. Results from earlier storage studies indicated that although fruitcake retained consumer acceptability throughout storage, fortification levels of some nutrients were inappropriate. This report describes the results of a two-year follow-up study on fruitcake with some alterations in nutrient fortification levels….  Fruitcakes were stored for two years at 4 C and 21 C, and one year at 38 C….

CONCLUSIONS: Fortified fruitcake is an adequate carrier of vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, and vitamin E. It is not adequate for vitamin B12, folacin, and ascorbic acid….

The authors wish to acknowledge gratefully the contributions of Mrs. Nancy Kelley. Mr. Henry Russell. and Mr. Henry Morgan in the production and packaging of the fruitcake.

(Thanks to investigator Brenton R. Stone and the excellent librarians of his acquaintance for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS SONG: “Fruitcake” by The Superions:

(YouTube link)


This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2012 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can purchase back issues of the magazine or subscribe to receive future issues, in printed or in ebook form. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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