Stocking freeze-dried foods is a basic strategy of many preppers’ long-term food storage plans. The threat of pandemics, civil unrest, economic collapse, and other SHTF scenarios that might mean little-to-no food on grocery store shelves keeps people looking for foods that have long shelf lives. Nothing has a longer shelf-life than freeze dried foods as the typical expiration date is around thirty years from the date of production!
Food storage should really be one of your main priorities these days. One of the best ways to preserve food is freeze-drying. It’s an expensive process (hence the retail prices). However, these days you can find quite a variety of these foods at discount stores and online. Shop strategically for sales and deals and you can extend your purchasing power.
A Brief History of Freeze-Drying
Freeze drying (scientifically called lyophilization) is a food preservation process practiced by the indigenous people in the Andes mountains as far back as 15th century. Chuño is a type of small potato that is portable, retains high nutritional content, and is edible decades after it has been processed. It was a staple of the Incan soldiers for centuries and continues to be a popular food choice in certain regions. To achieve a freeze-dried effect, they would place the potato on stone slabs high above Machu Picchu. The cold mountain temperatures froze the potatoes, and then it would dehydrate during the next day’s sun, evaporating the frozen water. This created a “mummy” potato.
Industrial freeze-drying was first invented in 1890 by Richard Altmann but did not gain popularity until the 1930s. Interest peaked during World War II when it was discovered that penicillin and blood plasma could be freeze-dried which kept them chemically stable in areas where refrigeration wasn’t an option. Beginning in the 1950s, freeze-drying began being used in food preservation as well. The process for food preservation crept into households through novelty items, mainly the freeze-dried ice cream used by NASA astronauts. The industry for freeze-dried food has expanded exponentially since then to where it is today – available for purchase online and in big box stores.
The Modern Freeze-Drying Process
“Freeze drying” is – at its most basic level – a water removal process. When it contains no water, food lasts significantly longer.
Modern freeze-drying has three steps: freezing, primary drying, and secondary drying. After the food has been frozen, it is put into a low-heat vacuum chamber. The frozen water crystals evaporate in a process called sublimation. A second drying process is done with marginally higher temperatures. The food is then nitrogen sealed.
Freeze-Drying is Better than Dehydrating
Freeze-drying removes about 98 percent of the water content. Dehydration only removes about 80 percent. This difference results in a longer shelf-life for freeze-dried foods. Dehydrated foods typically last between one and five years while freeze-dried foods can last between 20 and 30 years.
Freeze-drying has less of an effect on the taste, smell, texture, and nutritional value than dehydration. Freeze-dried berries, for example, retain about 90 percent of anthocyanins which is thought to prevent cancer. Vitamins C, E, and folic acid do tend to become depleted through freeze-drying. Comparatively, dehydrated foods lose about 50 percent of their nutritional value during the drying process. Dehydrated food is also chewier and loses some of the original color and smell.
Freeze-dried food rehydrates more quickly than dehydrated food. Dehydrated food takes between 10 and 20 minutes to rehydrate with boiling water. On the other hand, freeze-dried food typically takes less than five minutes to rehydrate in either hot or cold water.
What Foods Can Be Freeze-Dried
Small fruits and vegetables are the easiest food items to freeze-dry. Olives, water chestnuts, corn, beans, tomatoes, peas, lemons, berries, pineapples, and oranges are easily freeze-dried. Small chunks of crab, lobster, beef, shrimp, and chicken can be freeze-dried. Coffee is the most common liquid that is freeze-dried in the form of instant coffee.
Benefits to Freeze-Drying
Shelf-Life. Freeze-drying extends the shelf-life of food considerably while maintaining most of the nutritional value and flavor. Because of the low-temperature processing and sublimation, the food does not deteriorate, brown, or lose its nutritional content.
Most freeze-dried products have a shelf-life of at least several years. Some are still edible decades later if the packaging is not compromised. Many companies that specialize in freeze-dried foods sell their products in one-gallon nitrogen-sealed cans which prolong shelf-life to about 25 to 30 years unopened. Preppers also often buy what is known as #10 cans of freeze-dried food. These cans make up the bulk of many freeze-dried food products that get stored for uncertain times.
Better Retention of Food Qualities. Freeze-drying allows for nearly full re-hydration of the food. It makes it an excellent option for ready-to-eat instant meals. It also means the aroma, texture, and taste are very close to fresh, unprocessed food. The majority of nutrients are never lost.
Drawbacks to Freeze-Drying
Nothing is perfect, and freeze-drying is no exception. It has many benefits for preppers, but also comes with a few drawbacks.
Energy Intensive. Industrial freeze-drying is extremely energy-intensive when compared to other types of food processing. For example, freeze-drying takes about 1.2 times the energy of canning and 1.7 times more energy than basic freezing. The energy use drives up the price of freeze-dried products. So, if you’re prepping for climate change, you’ll have to balance your desire for freeze-dried products against the need to decrease energy use.
Bacteria. Even after freeze-drying, some microbial organisms remain. After all, freeze-drying is one method scientists use to preserve bacteria. If the freeze-dried product is not properly packaged and moisture is able to build up, organisms that spoil food can reproduce, rending it inedible, and potentially deadly.
Silicone Oil. Another hazard in the freeze-drying process is silicone oil contamination. Silicone oil is often used to cool and heat the shelves of the freeze-dryer. It’s possible that over time, the hose may wear out, allowing the silicone oil to leak into the product.
More Water Storage. The other drawback to freeze-dried foods – from a prepper’s perspective – is the need for water to re-hydrate the food. Many people, in their long-term preparedness plans, fail to account for the water needed to re-hydrate large stocks of freeze-dried foods. They account for drinking and hygiene needs, but may overlook how much water they will need for food re-hydration. Long-term preparedness plans that include many freeze-dried food products must account for a higher use of water.
Best Places to Buy Freeze-Dried Foods
Although you can get freeze-dried products on sites like Amazon, you will almost certainly get more options at better prices if you order directly from the company website. This is especially true if you watch for sales. Here are some companies that include freeze-dried food products in their offerings.