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So what is the big deal about freeze dried food for long term storage? I have been skirting around the edge of this issue since early summer, when I had my first taste of some prepackaged, freeze dried food from a #10 tin. Oh sure – it all sounded good. After all, it was roast beef and for a meatasaurus like me, how bad could it be?
While not to disparage one brand over another, the roast beef from Thrive was, well, the word that comes to mind is vile. I tried it plain and I tried it hidden in the rich broth of homemade soup. Your mileage may vary but it was bad. Really bad.
Did you know that there is even Freeze-Dried Ice Cream?
Update: In all fairness, the other products from Thrive are excellent. The only “bad” product to my taste is the roast beef.
So back I went to the drawing board. I thought if I could learn about the science behind freeze dried food, I might be able to make better choices going forward.
How does freeze drying work?
Freeze-drying works by putting food into a state of “suspended animation”. Provided the food is of good quality to begin with, it gets freeze dried where it can stay, under proper storage conditions, for 20, 30 or even 40 years. When you get around to eating it, you add some warm to hot water and the food comes back to life, supposedly ready to eat with the same taste and texture it had to begin with. That is the theory, anyway.
In the most simplistic of terms, freeze drying removes all water from food. This performs three important functions:
- Removing water eliminates the spoilage that can occur when microorganisms (such as bacteria) feed on the food causing decomposition, disease, or a completely benign but utterly disgusting bad taste.
- Removing water also puts a stop to naturally occurring enzymes in food that react with oxygen to cause spoiling and ripening.
- Freeze-drying significantly reduces the total weight of the food, making it lighter and easier to carry and to package.
But what about dehydrating food?
Dehydrating or drying food is not all that difficult. All you need to do is set the food out in a hot, arid area, and, given enough time, the liquid water inside will evaporate. If you do the job right, this will eliminate about 90 to 95% of the water. Not bad.
But the problem with this method is the heat. Heat will change the shape, texture, taste, smell and appearance of food. Now when you are cooking something for dinner tonight, that is not necessarily a bad thing. But to eat 10 or 20 years from now? Probably not.
How is freeze drying different?
Freeze drying, on the other hand, locks in the original composition and structure of the food by drying it without heat. Instead of using heat, the water is converted to ice and then to a vapor or gas using a special machine. This vapor is allowed to evaporate out and when the food has dried completely, the process is done and you have a perfect freeze-dried food.
It is then sealed in a moisture-fee package, typically a Mylar pouch. a bucket or a tin, along with an oxygen absorbing material., Then, as long as the package is airtight and secure, the food can sit on a shelf or in a pantry for years and years without degrading. Ultimately, it is re-hydrated to its original form with warm water and you are good to go.
But How Does it Taste?
Okay, so I already told you that the roast beef was terrible. If all this freeze-drying science is true, how could that be? Honestly? I don’t know. What I do know is that since that day in July, I have tried some other freeze dried products and they are darn good. Better than good as a matter of fact.
For example, a few days ago we flipped open the top of another Thrive product, the Ground Beef. After hearing about my complaints about the Roast Beef, Misty Marsh at Your Own Home Store offered to send me some samples, convinced that I should give freeze dried meats another try.
In the picture below you will see the ground beef from can to pan and ultimately in my bowl of homemade chili. Now doesn’t that look good? And the taste? As good or better than the real thing. Wait! I checked the can. This is the real thing! So a big thumbs up to Misty, her sample, and the Thrive roast beef.
A couple of things: Misty kindly sent the samples to me but she did not ask for a single thing in return. But let me tell you a little bit about her. She is an authorized independent Shelf Reliance consultant who became interested in Thrive food a bit over a year ago when she lost hundreds of dollars of food from her freezer when her family had to move due to a job loss. Real meat, cheese, and produce with a 25 year shelf life – she became hooked as did her family.
So now I was 1 for 2. Time to try something else.
My next venture into the world of freeze dried foods was some good old fashioned scrambled eggs with sausage. This time I chose a Saratoga Farms product. Now I must tell you that I am not much of a breakfast eater – a double grandee latte about does it for me – but I do enjoy making breakfast for Shelly, the Survival Husband.
The first thing I noticed was that there were no foul orders when I opened the can. I also noticed how real those little nuggets of eggs looked. (Hey, they were real – just freeze dried). The only thing that I questioned was the size of a serving at 1/2 cup. So, just to be safe, I doubled the quantity and got started by pouring some warm water over the dried egg and sausage mixture. At the end of 7 minutes, we did a taste test and decided that warmish eggs were not too appetizing so we threw the mix in a small skillet and heated them up for about 5 minutes.
The result? Well, after the first few bites S.H. gave them a 6 on a one to ten scale, ten highest. But he kept eating . . . and eating . . . and before he was done he proclaimed that this was and 8 or 9. The exact words were “addictive”. Here are some pictures:
The Final Word
Way back when I wrote about common food storage mistakes, I noted that a common goof is to purchase products you either don’t enjoy or don’t know how to cook. The rule to buy what you like most certainly applies to freeze-dried foods. Many companies offer single or double meal pouches or a sampler sized tin that you can use to try a product before buying in huge quantity. I recommend that you take advantage of these convenient, pantry sized products before committing to the larger sizes that you will store for the long term.
Bargain Bin: Here are some of my favorite food storage items. Whether you are just getting started or a seasoned pro, here are the items you will need when purchasing food in bulk for the long term, SHTF needs. And to help with your food storage questions, coming soon, my new eBook: The Preppers Guide to Food Storage.
Mylar bags & Oxygen Absorbers: What I love about Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers is they protect against every single one of the food storage enemies. Prices do vary but for the most part, they are inexpensive and easy to keep on hand. And while you can seal them up with a FoodSaver, some tubing and a common clothes iron, I find it infinitely easier with a cheap hair straightening iron.
60 – 300cc Oxygen Absorbers: This is one area where you want to make sure you are getting a quality product.
Mylar Zip Seal Food Storage Bags: These are the zip seal bags that I used to package up my spices, herbs and butter powder. These are extra heavy, 5 mil bags. I found that the zip feature made packaging extra easy although I still seal the bags with my hair iron.
FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer: As long as the unit has an accessory port (and this one does), and inexpensive FoodSaver will work just as well as the fancier models. That is my two cents, at least.
FoodSaver Wide Mouth Jar Sealer: Already have a FoodSaver? If so, check out this jar sealer which can be used to vacuum seal your Mason jars. This is a great option for short to mid term storage of items such as beans, rice, sugar, and salt. Store your jars in a cool, dark place and you are set with the added advantage of removing a small amount for current use without having to disrupt your large Mylar bag or bucket of food. There is also a version for regular sized jars.