Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
Images via Harvest Right
We’ve all heard of dehydrating foods for better storage life. We want to preserve the food grown on our land in the best way possible, and that includes finding ways to elongate the shelf life of our emergency food stockpile.
You’ll find plenty of non-perishables and jars full of canned goods in the home of a prepper or homesteader. However, there is another way to preserve food that will help it last up to 25 years or longer: freeze-drying.
If you’re looking for long-term food storage, freeze-drying food is your best bet. It not only helps remove moisture from food but does it in a way that significantly increases the food’s shelf life without the need for fridge or freezer space.
For serious preppers and homesteaders, freeze dryers are the way to go. Take a look at the table of contents below to see what we’ll cover in this article.
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What Is Freeze Drying?
We have all encountered freeze-dried products at the store, probably without even realizing it. Freeze-dried foods are those that usually come in an airtight bag or container that is relatively light.
Think of those dry soup mixes that only require water or pouches of dried fruits. Another popular freeze-dried product are those bags of food in the camping or backpacking section of the store that look a lot like the space food that astronauts eat.
Freeze drying is defined as drying something in a frozen state under a high vacuum, especially for preservation. Essentially, all of the water is removed from a food in order to create an environment where it is hard for bacteria to live and grow.
How Is Freeze Drying Different From Dehydrating?
Many homesteaders have a hard time wrapping their heads around the difference between freeze-drying and dehydrating. While they both remove moisture from food, freeze-drying does so in a vacuum at extremely low temperatures.
Dehydrators usually use a low amount of heat and air to dry out food for preservation. Temperatures anywhere between 95°F to 155°F help remove moisture from foods within the dehydrator.
Freeze dryers take the food to a super cold temperature of about -30°F, which changes the liquid in the food to ice that is then vacuumed out as vapor without ever moving into the liquid phase.
Different Amount of Time
Some homesteaders can dehydrate a tray of fruit in as little as 6 hours. However, due to the extreme temperature of the freeze dryer, the process of freeze-drying usually takes around 13- 24 hours. There are different cycles within the freeze-drying process, which is why it takes so much longer.
Different Price Points
Dehydrators are usually the first appliance that homesteaders purchase because they are easy to find and aren’t that expensive. You can usually find a decent dehydrator for about $50-$100.
However, freeze dryers start at about $2,000 for small models, and larger models cost even more. While freeze dryers are more expensive, people usually purchase them when growing a lot of food in the garden or when they want to get serious about their emergency stockpile.
How Do Freeze Dryers Work?
Freeze-drying, also known as lyophilization, removes water from a product after it is frozen and in a vacuum. There are three main cycles of freeze-drying.
The first part of the freeze-drying process is taking the air down to sub-zero temperatures. Every freeze dryer model is different, but most of them get down to -30°F to -40°F inside the chamber.
Once completely frozen, the freeze dryer unit then uses a strong vacuum to lower the pressure within the chamber. It is vital that the unit is completely sealed and is paired with a strong enough vacuum to suck the air out of the chamber.
Once the pressure is removed inside the unit, the temperature will slowly rise back to normal. The frozen water within the food is then drawn out of the food directly into water vapor without ever passing through the liquid state. This process is called sublimation and makes freeze-dried food look, feel, and taste the same as it did when it contained moisture.
How to Choose a Freeze Dryer
Ready to take the plunge into freeze-drying your own food? Learn how to choose a freeze dryer for your home that fits your needs.
Choose a Manufacturer
While commercial freeze-drying has been around for decades, it is a relatively new idea for personal use. Harvest Right is the main manufacturer of smaller personal use freeze dryers, although pharmaceutical and commercial options are available.
When selecting a home use freeze dryer, Harvest Right is the usual choice.
Choose the Right Spot
While these freeze dryers are meant for personal use, they still require adequate space to work effectively.
Most personal freeze dryers can sit either on a countertop or table surface without any issues. The larger models will require more room, and it is common to elevate the unit so that the water can drain properly during the drying process. Each unit will have an insulated chamber as well as a pump and hoses that hang outside of the unit.
While freeze dryers aren’t particularly noisy, they do make enough of a sound that you may want to put them somewhere behind closed doors. Some homesteaders use them in a basement or garage. Remember that freeze dryers run for a longer amount of time, usually about 24 hours, which can be annoying if in a commonly used part of the house.
Most personal freeze dryer units can easily run off of a 110-volt outlet. However, if there is another large appliance on the same breaker, you may run into issues. Consider dedicating a breaker to the freeze dryer unit so that you never worry about power issues during the drying process.
Choose the Right Size and Cost
While industrial-sized freeze dryers can cost around the price of a house, we will only go over those sizes that most people would consider. Harvest Right is the main manufacturer offering freeze dryers suitable for the home. There are three main sizes available for personal use: small, medium, and large.
Small Freeze Dryer
The small Home Freeze Dryer from Harvest Right is the perfect starter unit for anyone new to freeze-drying or smaller households.
- Overall Dimensions: 16.5” W x 18.5” D x 25” H
- 3 trays that measure 7.75″ W x 14″ L x 0.75″ H
- Can dry 4-7 pounds per batch
- 840 pounds of freeze-dried food capacity per year
- Unit weighs 61 pounds with an additional 35-pound oil pump
- Available in Black or Stainless Steel
- Includes 50 mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and impulse sealer
- Basic Price: $2,195
Medium Freeze Dryer
The next size up is the Medium Harvest Right Freeze Dryer that features more space for a slightly increased price.
- Overall Dimensions: 18” W x 21.25” D x 28.5” H
- 4 trays that measure 7.5” W x 18″ L x 0.75″ H
- Can dry 7-10 pounds per batch
- 1,450 pounds of freeze-dried food capacity per year
- Unit weighs 112 pounds with an additional 35-pound oil pump
- Available in black, white, or stainless steel
- Includes 50 mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and impulse sealer
- Basic Price: $2,895
Large Freeze Dryer
For those serious preppers and homesteaders wanting the most capacity, the Large Harvest Right Freeze Dryer is a great choice.
- Overall Dimensions: 20.25” W x 23.75” D x 30.75” H
- 5 trays that measure 9″ W x 20.5″ L x 0.75″ H
- Can dry 12-16 pounds per batch
- 2,500 pounds of freeze-dried food capacity per year
- Unit weighs 138 pounds with an additional 35-pound oil pump
- Available in black, white, or stainless steel
- Basic Price: $3,595
Choose a Pump
Freeze dryers must include a pump that creates a vacuum seal inside the chamber to work properly. The basic units come with a standard oil pump, but upgrades are also available.
- Standard Oil Pump
- Must filter the oil every 4-5 batches
- 64 decibels
- Premier Oil Pump
- Must filter the oil ever 20-25 batches
- Requires special oil
- 52 decibels
- Costs an extra $695
- Oil-Free Pump
- No oil changes needed
- 62 decibels
- Costs an extra $1,495
Build Your Own DIY Freeze Dryer
For those homesteaders who don’t want to invest in a new unit, there are others who have tried building their own DIY freeze dryer using standard supplies. While every DIY freeze dryer will be different, it is crucial to ensure that the unit is well sealed and has a strong enough pump and freezer to reach the normal standards.
How to Freeze Dry Food at Home
Once you have decided on a freeze dryer, it is easy to start preserving food for your emergency food storage.
When freeze-drying food, it is important to make sure everything sits in a single layer. The space between trays isn’t large, so you’ll need to cut the food into slices or bites to help ensure that the food is completely dry at the end of the cycle.
You can freeze dry a huge variety of food, including fruits, vegetables, desserts, meats, dairy products, cooked pasta, and even soup!
It is important that anything you freeze-dry is ready to eat. This means that fruit and vegetables are okay, but meat and meals need to be fully cooked before being freeze-dried. The rehydration process may not be hot enough to thoroughly cook the food before consumption, so make sure everything is ready to eat when it goes into the freeze dryer.
Be careful not to freeze-dry foods primarily made of sugar, like jam, as sugar binds to water and traps it within the food. Foods that have a lot of fat in them also won’t dry well.
To make it easy to remove the food once dried, it is essential to line the trays with either parchment or freezer paper. You can also purchase reusable silicone tray mats that fit perfectly into the trays.
Start Freeze Drying
Slide the freeze dryer trays into the unit and make sure to close the door securely. If your unit has an insulated pad between the door and the trays, make sure to place it before closing the door as well. Double-check that the vacuum is shut, then follow the electric panel’s instructions to start the machine.
Check Food, Remove, and Drain
Once the cycle is up, the unit will state that the process is complete. Open the door and check one of the thickest pieces of food to ensure that it is dry in the middle. Food should not feel cold at this point. If food isn’t done all the way, consider freeze-drying those pieces again to make sure that they are completely dry.
Remove the trays when the food is dry and then open up the vacuum seal to drain the water from the unit. It is normal to have some ice build up on the inside of the unit. The electric panel on the unit should state how long this draining cycle will take before you can start the next batch.
Store Food Properly
Freeze-dried food left out on the counter will begin to immediately soak up any moisture within the air. It is important to store freeze-dried food either in mylar bags or mason jars with oxygen absorbers that are sealed using a vacuum sealer. Storing your freeze-dried food in airtight containers helps increase its shelf life even more.
Benefits of Freeze Drying Your Own Food
While the units are expensive, there are many different benefits of freeze-drying your own food.
Easy and Fun
Freeze drying food is easy and fun to do. It only takes a few minutes to prepare the food, then the unit does the rest of the work! You’ll quickly find that you can easily fill the trays and want extra tray capacity in the future.
When you make your own freeze-dried food, you are in charge of the ingredients. Nothing goes on or in your food that you didn’t put there yourself.
Many people enjoy making their own freeze-dried food because they can change the flavor and ingredients to their liking and dietary needs. Freeze-dried packets bought from the store often have a lot of added salt and ingredients that you may not even know how to pronounce.
Long Term Shelf Life
One of the best parts of freeze-drying food is the extended shelf life that you get from the food. The freeze-drying process eliminates moisture from the food without changing the shape or flavor of the food itself. Just add in water or pop the food into your mouth to quickly rehydrate the food back to normal.
Lower fat foods like fruits, vegetables, noodles, and meat have a shelf life of 20+ years when freeze-dried, while higher fat foods have a 10-15 year shelf life. You can quickly build up your emergency food stockpile with shelf lives that long!
Freeze-dried foods that you can pick up at the grocery store are often quite expensive. While the home use units are an investment, you’ll end up saving more money overall if you plan on purchasing freeze-dried food for your emergency stockpile.
Consider starting with a small unit to see if you like it and then upgrading in the future if you need more capacity. Other options include sharing a freeze dryer with a neighbor or another prepper to help reduce the unit’s initial cost.
Great For Outdoor Adventures
If you’ve ever gone on an overnight backpacking trip, you’ve most likely had a struggle with deciding what food to take along for the hike. Freeze-dried foods are great options for adventuring outdoors because they are lightweight, easy to pack, and don’t require refrigeration. Just add water to rehydrate the food on the trail and get back to enjoying nature!
Freeze Dryer FAQ
Still have questions? Allow us to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about freeze-drying food.
Does Freeze Dried Food Taste Good?
Yes! One of the best things about freeze-drying is the quality of the food. The texture of fruit, vegetables, and meat are light and crisp because there isn’t any moisture in the food. These kinds of foods are usually crunchy and have more of a chip-like quality.
Do Weather Conditions Affect the Freeze Dryer Time?
Yes. It is recommended to use your freeze dryer in an environment that is between 35°F and 90°F. Using your freeze dryer in colder conditions could freeze the water unit and pump, while higher temperatures will prolong the dry cycle and wear out the condenser.
Other weather conditions to keep in mind include humidity levels. The more humid the environment, the longer the drying time will be. If your freeze dryer is within a temperature-controlled room or building, you shouldn’t have many problems with these issues.
Can I Freeze Dry Different Foods at the Same Time?
Yes, you don’t have to put the same kind of food on all of the trays. However, you may have fewer issues if you do only use one type of food. Some users have had problems with flavors crossing between food after a cycle. Consider placing stronger flavor food on the higher shelves and mild-flavored food on the lower shelves to prevent this.
However, always be aware of cross-contamination with freeze-drying meat or dairy products. If you wonder about putting different kinds of food in the unit simultaneously, it is best to process just one food at a time.
How Do I Maintain My Freeze Dryer?
Your unit should come with directions regarding how to maintain the freeze dryer properly. It is important to choose a pump that is best for you. Oil pumps require some extra work that is necessary to prolong the life of the unit. Follow all manufacturer instructions regarding maintenance to keep your investment in the freeze dryer going as long as possible.
Can I Use Foodsaver Bags For Storage?
No, while food saver bags are okay for a short time, it is crucial to keep freeze-dried foods completely airtight. Freeze-dried foods can sit on a shelf for up to 20+ years, requiring no air access. Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers and airtight sealed glass mason jars are the best options for storing freeze-dried food.
Can I Make the Drying Process Any Quicker?
Yes, if you start out with food that is already frozen, the cycle will take less time as it brings the food down to the required sub-zero temperatures. Slicing food into thinner pieces will also help cut down on drying time.
Why Do I Have to Check the Food After the Cycle Is Completed?
While most units have a sensor that is pretty accurate, it is always important to double-check any food after the freeze dry cycle is complete. Not only does it ensure that there is no more moisture in the food, but it helps prevent any spoilage after the food is packaged. If your food is still cold in the middle, it is best to put it through another cycle just to be safe.
How Do I Rehydrate the Freeze Dried Food?
To eat your freeze-dried food, you just need to soak the food in hot water to help bring back the moisture. If you want to use your freeze-dried food in recipes, you can use rehydration calculations to help make your meal prep easy. It is easy to open the food and use it when you are ready to eat! You can even eat freeze-dried meat years after you store it!
Freeze drying food at home is the best way to prepare food for your stockpile or emergency food storage long term. Not only does it give your food many years of shelf life, but it also preserves the food in the same shape and texture that you are already used to eating.
When considering home freeze dryers for emergency food storage, remember all of these tips and tricks to selecting the right unit for your home and family. These personal-sized freeze dryers are changing the game for homesteaders and preppers!
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