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Home freeze drying has a scientific term – Lyophilization. The process is complex, but the results are worthwhile. Freeze drying involves three steps, and it requires a special vacuum unit to complete the process.
- The first step is to freeze the food.
- The second is sublimation or drying of the food.
- The third step is desorption which is a second form of drying the food.
Sublimation is a chemistry term that means a substance passes from a sold to a gas without ever becoming a solid. Water, for example, is a solid when frozen, a liquid when melted, and gas when heated. Under the properties of sublimation, water would go from its solid or frozen state to a gaseous state without passing through the liquid stage. That is important because if you were just to remove the water in its liquid state, you would remove much of the flavor or cause changes to the texture of the food.
Desorption is the opposite of absorption. When something, such as water is absorbed the substance passes through a barrier, such as a cell wall and the cell would then be, in the case of water, hydrated. The cell would absorb the water. When desorption occurs, the substance passes through a barrier and out of an object. If the case of a hydrated cell, the water would pass through the cell wall and the cell would become dehydrated or lose its water.
When this process occurs under a vacuum the liquid in food becomes a solid (it freezes), and then sublimation occurs whereas the frozen water becomes a gas rather than a liquid. When that happens, desorption allows the water vapor to pass through the cell walls of food, and then the vacuum removes the water vapor. What is left is freeze-dried foods. The process is complicated, but there are home units that help you to freeze-dry your food. This blog looks at the pro and cons of freeze-drying your own food at home.
Cost as a Consideration of Value
The price for a home freeze dryer ranges from a few hundred dollars for a very small unit to around $3,000 for a medium-sized unit (you can check out Harvest Right for an idea). If you are planning on freeze drying on a regular basis, then you should expect to spend anywhere from $1,500 – $3,000. The commercial varieties range above $10,000 and can be several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Pro is that if you can afford to buy a unit, then the cost is well worth it. Many emergency food sites offer a year’s supply of food for $5,000-$8,000 and higher depending on the brand. Being able to freeze dry your own food helps to reduce the cost of purchasing emergency food stores.
Time Investment for Home Freeze-Drying
Depending on the model of home freeze dryer that you purchase and the size of a load of food for drying, expect to invest somewhere between 20-40 hours. Some models require more time and others less. Once you load the machine, you are not a slave to it. It does the entire process once you start the cycle.
What you will have to do is to package the food once the freeze-drying cycle is complete. That process is not as difficult as it might sound. You can store the food in canning jars with air-tight lids or vacuum seal it into bags with a vacuum sealer. Other options include canning the food, but that will require special tools if you plant to make your own home version of #10 cans.
Overall, 20-40 hours per batch is what you will need to invest in each load of food. The time frame is not bad considering that in less than two days you can freeze-dry about 10 pounds of fresh food.
Foods That Do Not Freeze-Dry
Foods that are high in fat or oil do not freeze-dry very well. The problem is that oil does not freeze well, so it does not conform to the steps in the freeze-drying process. Foods that are mostly sugar do not freeze-dry well either. For the same reasons that fatty foods do not.
The problem with both food types is that they do not completely dry. The long shelf life of freeze-dried food is strictly to do with how you store it and its’ moisture content. Both fatty foods and foods that are high in sugars are a gateway for harmful pathogens and food spoilage. Freeze dried foods must be dry.
Special Conditions or Equipment to Support a Home Freeze-dryer
Most models available are plug and play. You don’t need any special equipment to install most home freeze-dry units. The units are not very big, and they tend to weigh between 100 and 200 pounds, most are in the 100-pound range.
It is a good idea to have a plan for the water drain since the process involves frozen water and vapors. The home units run on 110v electricity, so you don’t even need a special electrical outlet. It is handy to have an outlet that has its own breaker or fuse to protect your unit from brownouts or power surges.
For heavier models, a stand that supports their weight is ideal and to have them at counter height is a boon to the user. It helps both with the loading and unloading to sit the unit on a counter that will support its weight.
Can I just Use a Food Dehydrator?
Yes, but you will not obtain the same results. Freeze-drying is like food dehydrating. In fact, freeze-dried food is dehydrated, but the two are still not the same. It is sort of like saying that a Ford F-150 and a Ford Ranger are both the same since they are both trucks.
A food dehydrator does not dry the food as much as a freeze-dryer. That is why freeze-dried food has a much longer shelf life than foods that are dehydrated. Homemade jerky has a shelf life of a few months when processed in a dehydrator. Freeze dried meat in at #10 can, can last 15, 20, or even 30 years depending on the brand.
It is safe to say that freeze-drying is a more thorough preservation process than is dehydrating food and that has to do with how each process removes fluid from the food.
Will Freeze Drying Food at Home Cause the Food to Taste odd?
Most brands of home freeze dryers are pretty good at just removing the water or liquid and leaving the taste behind. This means that the food, once rehydrated, is very similar to what it was before. A change in the texture of food is what people notice most.
Of course, how you store food, how long you store food, and how you process food all impact how food tastes. Whether you mix different food types during the freeze-drying process can also impact how food tastes. While many manufacturers encourage you to freeze-drying mixed food batches in the dryer, you will risk cross contamination of food tastes. In short, the freeze-dry method should not alter the taste of food very much. However, other factors can impact that quality and taste of your home freeze-dried foods.
Can You Mix Food Types in the Freeze Dryer?
Yes. Most of the home-based models are shelf systems. You can add one type of food on the top shelf and another type on the middles shelf and still a third type on the bottom shelf. You want to be careful how you mix food in the freeze-dryer as the flavors and odors can mix and cause one food to taste like another.
If you do mix food types, make sure to do so carefully and always keep notes about what works and what does not. A good trick is to keep a recipe box of freeze-dried load companions. Doing so allows you to mix and match with more confidence and with greater results.
If you are considering adding a freeze-dryer to your home-food-preparedness toolbox, consider:
- Cost: how much you want to spend (here’s a good source on various models)
- Location: where the unit will sit
- Frequency: how often you plan to use it
Fortunately, the prices for home freeze-dryers have come down as more brands enter the market and as technology helps to improve the process. While still a small investment, the cost is affordable if you put the unit to work helping you to process and store food for the long-term.
Another positive is that the size of home freeze-dry units is smaller. They are more manageable, and they take up much less room without all the fuss over special space, etc. The ability to mix food types in the freeze-dryer is also a plus. This means that you can overplant your garden and still process full batches of foods if you are conscientious of the types of foods that your process together.
Are you ready to add a freeze-dyer to your home food production arsenal? Stay tuned as we will publish a review and comparison blog that helps point out the pros and cons of several home freeze-dryer brands.
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11 Responses to “Should You Freeze Dry Your Own Food? Pros and Cons to Consider”
This is the only comparison on freeze dryers, I can find so far. I am retiring this year at age 59, I know that early, but it has been the plan for years. I want to do something that is in line with my home needs, like growing vegetables, fruit,meat,herbs & honey. The Elderberry, ginger, turmeric,garlic,rosemary,rose hips, mushrooms are medicinal plants, that I want to grow & sale, freeze drying may make that a better way to store medicinal herbs & plants. Thanks for the article.
Wait, in what universe is a ford ranger a truck?!
dmwalsh568 is correct in the comment he made. You can easily tailor your food storage to your dietary needs. It is important to feel good in times of trouble, not just surviving.
I don’t understand why so many people leave comments that try to convince you NOT to buy a freeze dryer. Let people get informed with real info, don’t try to sabotage what others are doing.
The costs for operating a freeze dryer are low. I can freeze dry a #10 can of Ground Beef for $10-$15…including the costs of operating. Maintaining the machine takes 15 minutes once a week (if you run at least 5 cycles). Loading and unloading the machine takes about 15 minutes for each. I have organic food with no MSG, Autolyzed yeast extract, High Fructose corn syrup, or other additives you get with prepackaged food.
You can get with others in your group and pool resources to get one.
AMAN! If I am going to store food it should be what I like,the way I like. My family was canning & freezing food harvest in the 1940-2020, so it is a way of life for me. I do not trust big religion, government, corporations, so I will grow, harvest & store my food for as long as I am able. Yes I use the grocery store & eat out sometimes, but for long term storage I like to know what in my food & I may have to repeat this growing thing to survive.
Yes there are costs, but on the plus side you’re drying and packing food that caters to your tastes and dietary needs. Gluten intolerant? Not a problem. Want lower sodium? Easy.
Just wish I had the budget to get one…
gluten intolerance is a fallacy..wake up. humans have eaten gluten forever, and suddenly within the last 20 years half the population of America is intolerant, while not so in say, japan or china? Think people…use your brains.
While I’m sure a bunch of folks are just following the latest fad in diets, there definitely are people that are intolerant of, or even allergic to wheat proteins. It was first written about in the first century AD, and a doctor in the 19th century figured out that a change in diet was a useful treatment. Check it out at https://www.cureceliacdisease.org/wp-content/uploads/SU07CeliacCtr.News_.pdf or if you think they are biased, here is another useful link to check:
As to Japan and China? Before the end of WWII, their diet used rice almost exclusively as the main starch in their diet, and it’s still that way despite the introduction of wheat as part of the occupation immediately after the defeat of Japan.
Search engines are a wonderful tool, aren’t they? Allows us to learn all sorts of new things and not just follow “what everyone knows.” Facts are fundamental. 🙂
Full disclosure: while I stock a LOT of rice because it’s cheap and nutritious, I also stock a lot of wheat berries and have a hand cranked mill so I can make crackers, rolls, and other breads. So while I could feed someone with celiac disease, it’s not the major concern in my prepping plans. I just like to point out that some families need to plan for loved ones that aren’t perfectly healthy….
As TexasScout said, you have more than just the cost of the product to take into consideration when deciding if the investment is worthwhile. There is the cost of electric to run it, the food itself, the packaging for storage (jars, lids, bags, etc), the oil changes and other machine maintenance involved, and if you are using it inside your home there is also the extra electrical cost of compensating for the heat and moisture produced (your own AC has to run more often). As you stated, there is also the time factor. In most people’s busy lifestyle, hours mean money. To invest 20-40 hours in a batch of food, could really be a big investment when that is a big chunk of their personal time off and time they want to spend with their family, instead of working in the kitchen. My wife and I have looked at these products and found that for us, it is not worth it. We can purchase the items we want already freeze dried, packaged, and ready to store for far less than it would cost us to do it ourselves. Other’s may decide differently, but that is our conclusion.
I have read several articles about FD food. One thing I have not seen is the electricity cost. You are running a compressor (freezer) and a full time vacuum pump. These are not inconsequential operating expenses for something that’s running 24/7.
Survivalblog.com has done several posts about the Harvest Right FD. There are many advantages, however there is considerable amount of maintenance involved.
You have that cost with a conventional freezer too. If you are not caning every thing you must have a freezer, I have 3.
They were not cheap, the big 6′ X 3′ chest freezer holds a hog, 2 deer & vegetables year around.