It might seem pricy to invest in a freeze-dry machine, but the benefits of what it can do for food savings will be the bigger reason overall. Yet, many people are still wondering what can and cannot be freeze-dried. We’ll give you an eye-opening view into what are the Dos and Don’ts of basic freeze-drying.
What can you freeze dry?
Let’s get one thing clear, freeze-drying is nothing like dehydrated food. You might have thought that those drying shelves that come in a tower-like setup are going to be enough to dry fruits and veggies, but sadly it never does. And though a dehydrator does make great beef jerky that’s sliced from your favorite meats, there is a major difference between food dehydrators and freeze-dry units.
What is defined as freeze-dried?
You probably have bought freeze-dried food so many times and never gave it a second thought. If you enjoy instant coffee granules or powdered coffee, chances are it’s actually freeze-dried. And those instant ramen noodles are obviously freeze-dried since they absorb hot water like a dried sponge. But the process of freeze-drying is as close to food preservation as you can expect.
How Freeze Drying Works
Most home freeze driers use two very important components that make the freeze-drying process work effectively. This involves bringing down the temperature to Antarctica levels mixed with a powerful vacuum that’s the same as the one in outer space. By mixing these two elements, the ability to remove all of the moisture from all kinds of foods results in a dried food item that feels and weighs the same as Styrofoam.
This is exactly why freeze-dried food is sent up to the ISS to feed the astronauts, but more importantly, freeze-dried food is so lightweight. This makes it perfect to send up in rockets during restocking flights. Yet, most people don’t know that freeze-dried food will last for several decades when stored in the right conditions. If you’ve ever seen freeze-dried ice cream, it will come packaged in a silver foil vacuum-sealed pack.
The foil pack prevents light from affecting the color of freeze-dried food, and the vacuum-sealed pack keeps out moisture and helps keep it fresh as the day it was freeze dried. Once the food is rehydrated, it will have the same exact flavor with no change in texture at all. The whole process takes no more than 20 hours to remove all of the moisture inside food before it can be packaged for long-term storage.
Now, this might sound like a lot of work, but there is a very good reason why this is a whole lot cheaper than buying freeze-dried food. If you look at the astronaut ice cream, you can see that 1 ounce (25 grams) is costing about 5 dollars for an ice cream sandwich! And while this is nostalgic if you happen to be a ‘Baby Boomer’, it’s not feasible to buy premade freeze-dried food if you can’t afford it.
There is a growing community that does invest in MREs that are partly containing freeze-dried foods, but most are simply long-term storage foods. Making your own freeze-dried food will end up costing you the amount of electricity used and the packaging used for your food. You also need to calculate the cost of each food item that is freeze-dried and will vary due to total freeze-drying times.
To give you an idea, a small freeze dryer can dry as much as 4 to 7 pounds of food for $1.00 to $2.80 per day. Plus, this also includes the cost to operate a vacuum-sealer which is mere pennies. You can figure that the real cost is going to be about 1/3 the price of freeze-dried food if you buy these at specialty stores. Considering that this food can last a minimum of 25 years, this cost is much more effective than buying fresh food each week.
In a single year, you can prepare food that will last indefinitely if there are food shortages. So really, all that’s needed is enough space to store all of the food you can freeze dry…
Foods to freeze dry
If you can imagine, the kind of food that is suitable for freeze-drying covers everything from A to Z. This includes fresh meat, seafood, shellfish, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and many kinds of dairy items. Seeds are especially important for freeze-drying because this prevents seeds and nuts from becoming rancid. It’s also very simple to freeze-dry milk or sour cream that will rehydrate very easily with water.
If this is food that you buy from the store, it can be reduced to powder and dried items that are completely devoid of moisture. These foods won’t need preservatives and as a result, will taste fresh once they are rehydrated. Even if you freeze-dry a steak, it will have the same texture and taste and is ready to cook once it becomes hydrated with ordinary water. If only you could freeze dry water, this system would be foolproof – (just kidding!)
Foods that don’t freeze-dry very well
Vegetables can be slightly tricky to freeze-dry so the best step is to blanch leafy veggies like kale, lettuce, or cabbage before they go into the freeze dryer. Most fruits such as peaches and sweet-tasting items have high sugar content. These need to be sliced into smaller pieces so they freeze-dry easier even though they take longer to get the moisture out. Fatty meats need to have the fat trimmed since fat is also hard to remove moisture from, here’s some additional tips on freeze drying meat and other foods.
Obviously, items such as peanut butter, jellies and jams, and thick sugary sauces will be difficult to freeze dry and are mostly near-impossible to get great results. Some other items that can’t be freeze-dried include butter, syrup, and honey. That’s not to say that they cannot be incorporated into sauces that are easy to break down for freeze-drying. The whole point is understanding- where there is a will, there is a way’, so being creative can produce great results.