A freeze dryer enables you to extend the shelf life of various foods from a matter of days or weeks to years or even decades. Freeze dried food has long been a staple of mountaineering and hunting. But it is only in recent years that it has begun to receive more widespread attention.
Freeze dried food is often confused with dehydrated food. But the two are actually very different, both in how they are produced, and the quality and shelf life of the finished product. Freeze dried food typically lasts much longer and retains more of the food’s nutrient profile and taste.
Recent events have caused many people to ask legitimate questions about their level of preparedness for different crisis scenarios. This, in turn, has brought a high level of focus on things like freeze drying, and whether there are any commercially available freeze dryers for home use. Fortunately, there are. Below are the best freeze dryers on the market today.
1. Harvest Right Small Home Freeze Dryer
The Harvest Right Small Home Freeze Dryer enables you to freeze dry up to 840 pounds of food per year. It has a batch capacity of up to 7 pounds, uses a standard 110 volt outlet and will not send your electricity bill through the roof. It is also the lightest of the current generation of home freeze dryers, tipping the scales at a relatively svelte 61 pounds.
The Small Home Freeze Dryer is only 25 inches high, 16 1/2 inches wide and 18 inches deep. It is the only home freeze dryer currently on the market that you can even think about setting up on the counter. It’s the perfect home freeze dryer for small homes, small condos, and cramped apartments. And it typically costs only a dollar or so in electricity to freeze dry a batch of food.
This freeze dryer is large enough to provide for your long term needs. But it can also provide you a way to safely store your homegrown fresh summer vegetables for winter use, saving you money, time and hassle. It’s the convenient, affordable, low-impact way to ensure peace of mind in an increasingly uncertain world.
2. Harvest Right Standard Freeze Dryer
The Harvest Right Standard Freeze Dryer can process up to 10 pounds of food at a time and more than 1,400 pounds over the course of a year. It is available in four handsome finishes (blue, black, white and brushed stainless steel) and comes with four trays to put the food on. At 131 pounds it is a heavy machine. And at 28 1/2 inches tall, 18 inches wide and 21 inches deep it is not small. So you will need to either find a place to install it permanently, or pick up a heavy duty cart to move it around on.
Logistics aside, this is a great choice for a couple or small family intent on being prepared. The food that emerges at the end of the process will keep for up to 25 years when sealed up properly in mylar storage bags. If you want, you can purchase an oil free pump that will negate the need for any maintenance other than cleaning.
3. Harvest Right Large Freeze Dryer
The last of our home freeze dryers is the Large Freeze Dryer from Harvest Right. And make no mistake, it is large. It sits just shy of 31 inches tall, is just over 20 inches wide and nearly 24 inches deep. So it’s not exactly a countertop unit. Still, if you have a large kitchen or utility room where you can set it up, you will be glad you have it.
The Large Freeze Dryer will freeze dry up to 16 pounds of food at a time, and more than 2,500 pounds of food over the course of a year. That is enough to keep a family of four well fed for at least six months. The Large Freeze Dryer from Harvest Right requires a 220 volt plug and a 20 amp circuit. But that is not usually an issue for any house, condo or apartment building built in the last 40 – 50 years.
What is a Freeze Dryer?
A freeze dryer is an electric appliance that removes 98% of moisture from food. Removing water in such a way makes it possible to save the freeze dried food for 20 – 25 years; sometimes longer. Freeze drying food also does a better job of preserving the character of the food and its nutritional value. With so many people today concerned about long term preparedness for themselves and their families, a freeze dryer is a simple, common sense solution.
Is Freeze-Dried Food the Same as Dehydrated Food?
Water and air are the enemies of food storage. You have seen this truth in action if you have ever watched the fruit in a fruit bowl shrivel and blacken over time. Both freeze drying and dehydration seek to remove water from food in order to ensure its long term viability. Freeze drying removes all but 2% of the water in food through a two-stage process that begins with flash freezing (1).
Once frozen, the food is then exposed to a vacuum, which pulls nearly all of the moisture from it by way of sublimation (2), which transforms the ice directly into vapor, bypassing the liquid stage. By removing all but a tiny percentage of the water in a food item its lifespan is transformed from a few days to two or even three decades. In the past, only large food processing companies had the technological ability to freeze dry food. Today, while not yet common, there freeze dryers available for home use.
Dehydrated food is a different animal. That is due to the nature of the dehydration process, which is fundamentally different than freeze drying. During dehydration, the dehydrator circulates hot dry air over the food. As a result, the water in the food evaporates and food items like raisins take on their characteristic shriveled look. In the end about 80% of the moisture is removed.
Removing 80% of the moisture does ensure a much longer life for the food (if it is properly stored). But heating the food in this fashion causes it to lose approximately 50% of its nutrient value, and changes some of the baseline characteristics of the food as well. This is one reason why the dehydrated pasta you purchase at the supermarket tastes different than the fresh pasta made in a good Italian restaurant.
How do I Store the Food Once it is Freeze Dried?
Removing the moisture from your food is only one step in assuring it will be there for you months, years or even decades down the line. The other step is storing it properly. If you don’t, moisture will seep back into the food and it will likely go bad in just a few weeks. Maybe less. So how do you store your freeze dried food once you have created it?
If you are planning to eat the food a few months or a year down the line you may be alright storing it in an airtight mason jar or some similar container. Resealable plastic bags, like those commonly used to bring lunch to work, are also acceptable for short and medium term storage. Although you should not store meat in a plastic bag because the bag will allow a tiny bit of oxygen through. And that could cause safety problems with the meat.
If you want to get the maximum shelf life out of your freeze dried foods, foil-covered mylar (3) bags, like those used for camping food, are a cost-effective option. Seal the bag using an impulse sealer (4) or use a common flat iron to seal the top of the bag closed. Just be sure to toss an oxygen absorber (5) into the bag before sealing it. Your properly sealed, freeze dried foods will ensure you are covered for the next two or three decades.
What are the Benefits of Freeze Dried Food?
Anyone who has spent time mountaineering or hunting knows the benefits of freeze dried food. To most everyone else though, the extent of their freeze dried experience doesn’t go much beyond instant coffee. So, let’s look at some of those benefits.
Freeze dried food retains its nutritional value – One of the most remarkable things about a freeze dryer and the freeze drying process is that it does not harm the nutritional value of the food. That is because heat diminishes the vitamin and mineral content of food (6). And no heat is used during the freeze drying process.
Freeze dried food retains its taste – Dehydrated food is often tough and tasteless once it is rehydrated. Food that is bought and placed in the refrigerator will also start to degrade, lose its flavor and texture, and go bad in pretty short order. Even canned foods do not retain their original texture and flavor. In each case their water content is to blame. Freeze dried food retains only 2% of its water. When stored properly, it should retain its taste for decades.
Freeze drying reduces food waste – The average American wastes nearly a pound of food every single day (7). That includes unfinished meals tossed down the garbage disposal, food left to go bad in the refrigerator, and uneaten food we leave behind in restaurants. A freeze dryer can help reduce this waste, since virtually anything can be freeze dried. Including your unfinished pork chop and that half eaten apple. If you like you can create whole meals and freeze dry them for future consumption.
Freeze drying does not require you to compromise – When you buy a frozen dinner (8) or one of those prepared meals at the supermarket they are typically full of sodium, trans fats and MSG, among other things (9). With a freeze dryer you can prepare your own healthy meals at home and freeze dry them for future use. No more compromising your dietary principles for convenience.
Freeze dried food regains its former look and texture – When dehydrated food is rehydrated it typically does not return to its former appearance, nor does it regain its former texture. When freeze dried food is rehydrated it often regains its former shape, color and consistency. Once rehydrated, freeze dried fruit, for example, often tastes indistinguishable from its fresh counterpart.
Freeze dried food lasts longer than dehydrated or canned food – While there are a few exceptions, dehydrated food will typically last 1 – 5 years, give or take. The shelf life of canned foods is approximately the same (10). Freeze dried food, by comparison, will retain its taste and nutritional value for up to 25 years. And in some cases more.
Freeze dried food is lighter than dehydrated or canned food – Dehydrated food retains about 20% of its water. As opposed to freeze dried food that is about 2% water. Canned food retains all of its moisture, and you also have the weight of the can to content with. If you are going trekking, or hunting in the deep woods, you need to be mindful of every ounce of weight you are carrying. The extra weight of dehydrated or canned food can be a deal breaker.
Freeze drying food saves space – A freeze dryer is a good idea if you want to create an emergency food bank for yourself or your family but you do not have a lot of space. Every can you put on the shelves is full of liquid, which accounts for most of its weight and the space it takes up. Freeze dried food takes up a fraction of the space of cans, and less space than dehydrated foods too.
Freeze dried food reconstitutes quicker than dehydrated food – Most freeze dried foods need only a couple of minutes before they’re ready to eat. Dehydrated foods by comparison, usually take quite a while before they have absorbed enough water to be palatable. Sometimes 15 or 20 minutes. Even then they never taste quite right.
Freeze drying is a great idea if you have a garden – Oftentimes, people with vegetable gardens produce a surplus that either goes to waste, or is given away before it goes to waste. If you have a garden in the yard keep the surplus and freeze dry it so that you have fresh tasting, home-grown vegetables during the winter months.
Is Freeze Dried Food Good to Have if the SHTF?
Recent events have got a lot of people re-thinking their notions about preparedness. Those who never gave it much of a thought are beginning to think there might be something to the idea of having an emergency stash of food on hand. Just in case. There are a couple of reasons why freeze dried food makes sense if things go south in a hurry.
In a barter economy freeze dried food would have real value – These days it is no longer too hard to imagine a scenario where people have no way to earn a living. In such a situation, many would then resort to trading things they have for things they need. And the thing they need more than anything is food. So, you could use a freeze dryer to create a large stash of emergency rations. Then at some future date, should the SHTF, you have something to trade, as well as eat.
If you have special dietary requirements, they don’t disappear if the SHTF – If you are diabetic or have other special dietary requirements, finding food that is good for you is going to get a lot more difficult if things break down. Even if that breakdown is only temporary. If supply chains are compromised it may be nearly impossible to get any type of specialty food. A freeze dryer can enable you to put aside a large stash of healthy food for yourself. That way you are covered no matter what happens.
Where is the Best Place to Put a Freeze Dryer?
Most freeze dryers for home use are not enormous. But they’re considerably larger than the average microwave, and they are not exactly whisper-quiet. If you live in a small, crowded house or apartment it may be a challenge to find a place to set it up. Some people keep theirs in the kitchen. Others put it in the laundry room, basement (if they have one) or even the garage (again, if they have one). Still others keep theirs on a cart and move it around as needed.
What are Some Considerations When Buying a Freeze Dryer?
If you are thinking of purchasing a freeze dryer there are a number of things you will want to consider. A freeze dryer is a long term investment after all, just like a washing machine or any other large appliance. Here are a few things to think about before spending your hard-earned money.
How much food you will be freeze drying – If you plan on freeze drying small amounts of food for your future personal use, then a small freeze dryer should serve you well. If, however, you are planning to create a viable long term emergency food bank for your entire family you will likely need a larger freeze dryer. Each freeze dryer will indicate how much food it can process at any one time.
Whether your electrical wiring is up to the job – The larger freeze dryers consume quite a bit of electricity and require a 220 volt plug. If you have an older house or live in an old apartment building it may not have one. Also, freeze dryers can draw as much as 16 or 17 amps at their peak consumption. So, if you do not have a 20 amp plug in your home that you can use for the dryer you will need to install one. Otherwise your circuit breakers will be tripping all the time (11). If you cannot change the system you will need a small freeze dryer. They will work with a 110 volt, 15 amp system.
How much space you have for the dryer and food storage – As we discussed briefly above, you may have to get creative when it comes to where you put your freeze dryer. They are not small. So you cannot expect to just put it on the kitchen counter and forget about it. A lot of people put them on mobile carts and move them around as needed. But whatever the case, make sure your home can accommodate the freeze dryer you have in mind.
The weight of the freeze dryer – If you have ever lifted a microwave oven you know they are heavier than they look. The same is true for the freeze dryer, except they are much bigger than a microwave. The large home freeze dryers can weigh more than 160 pounds. That is a lot of weight to move around. Which is another reason many people keep them on carts, even if they have lots of room in their homes.
Maintenance – Freeze dryers are not high-maintenance appliances. But they are not maintenance-free either. You will need to make sure you keep the dryer clean at all times and that you inspect critical aspects of it, such as the door seal, from time to time. In most cases, the freeze dryer vacuum pump needs to have its oil changed occasionally too (12). It is not a complicated process, but it does need to be done.
The Bottom Line
A freeze dryer can help you save money, prevent waste, store what your garden produces, ensure that your particular dietary needs are always provided for, and, of course, enable you and your loved ones to rest a little easier in the event of a crisis.
While they are not exactly cheap they are a one-time expense that could well turn out to be the most valuable insurance policy you have ever had. If recent events have caused you to re-evaluate your level of preparedness, a freeze dryer may be exactly what you need.
The freeze dryers profiled above represent the state of the art as far as home freeze drying technology is concerned. Use the information in this guide to help you make an informed choice about which one is right for your particular needs.