There is a lot of buzz around freeze drying foods at home. As a primer, be sure to check out the “prequel” on the Pros and Cons of freeze drying here.
Full Disclaimer up Front: One of the major drawbacks at the moment is the high cost of such a device. At the moment, home freeze dryers are going to be out of a lot of people’s budget but some may want to keep up with what is going on with this technology. Undoubtedly the price will drop as time goes on. Remember when a new basic computer was $2000 instead of the $400 it is today? We hope that home freeze dryers will also come down like this.
As of now your main choice is Harvest Right Freeze Dryers. Units from other scientific companies and others are special order and very expensive (really meant for larger scale commercial kitchens). Harvest Right is the first one – from what I can tell – that has been made available to the public.
One way to make this affordable would be if you have a group of prepping friends that are capable of sharing like if you have a local food cooperative together. Just make sure that you can actually share. Lets compare the three most accessible models for the home freeze dryer.
The smallest Harvest Right allows for batches of food of up to 4-7 lbs which allows for up to 900 lbs of freeze dried food per year. Each batch will fill 1-1.5 #10 cans with freeze dried food. The smaller freeze dryer doesn’t take up a lot of space so you could just leave this set up on a kitchen counter in a moderately sized kitchen. It takes a standard 110 volt plug so you can use it just about anywhere.
Cost: $2,195 available here
This is a neat looking machine that is small enough to fit on a counter top and holds 7-10 lbs of food which will dehydrate down to 1.5-2.5 #10 size cans. The manufacturer says you can put back up to 380 lbs of freeze dried food in a year with this machine and that almost all the nutrients will stay sound for up to 25 years when sealed in mylar bags.
Cost: $2,495 available here
The larger version of the Harvest Right seems like a better deal. For one thing you get double the capacity for your extra $1,000. If you are already dropping serious money on a unit like this then you should just go large. With this unit you can freeze dry 670 gallons of food per year which is the equivalent of up to 2,500 lbs of fresh food.
The disadvantage is that the large model requires a 220 volt plug in so you cannot just go plugging this in anywhere you want. You get 5 stainless steel trays you can fill. The unit beeps to let you know when food is done.
Cost: $3,495 available here
How does the freeze dryer work?
- Fresh or cooked foods are put in trays and frozen to -40 F
- Freeze dryer creates a vacuum around foods and then they are warmed up a little bit causing ice crystals to vaporize and drying out the food
- Food is sealed in mylar with oxygen absorbers.
- When water is added back to freeze dried foods it regains most of its fresh characteristics.
What can be freeze dried?
Just about any food can be freeze dried. Fruits, vegetables, cooked entrees, ice cream, eggs, yogurt, sour cream, meats, etc.
Do I need a freeze dryer?
While I absolutely love the idea of people being able to create nutritious and shelf stable foods at home, the cost is pretty substantial for the average person.
At the moment standard dehydrators combined with mylar bags and oxygen and moisture absorber packets is going to be more economical in the short term for the average prepper. If the price drops on these to under $1,500, I might change my mind about this.
- If only makes sense if you are going to use it a lot
Unless you are very serious about putting back a lot of your own foods and doing all the prep work that is necessary and remember to take out batches regularly so you can keep processing, then you may want to wait as well. Again if you have a group and can share the cost and the use of the machine, this can change things a bit. These freeze dryers are wonderful machines but you need to make sure that you will use it enough to justify the cost. If you plan on putting back a lot of freeze dried foods then they are probably worth it even now.
- Long Term Emergencies or Political Turmoil
Also you have to ask yourself if you really need foods to stay good for 25 years anyway. Let’s be honest about some SHTF scenarios. If the nuclear power plants can’t stay up and cooling all that waste then a lot of us are going to be in major trouble anyway, long before we have a chance to eat a 20 year food supply. That is a doom and gloom way to look at it but I think it is worth mentioning that there are plenty of instances where you might never get a chance to use such a large food supply.
- Freeze dried foods can be a good trade item and offer the lightest load for bugging out
On the other hand having a large supply of food that has a long shelf life is worth a lot as a trade item to others. If you are planning on bugging out then freeze dried foods are going to offer you the most for the amount of weight you are carrying.
At the same time freeze dried foods retain their nutrients and keep them for several decades which is not the case with foods preserved other ways. If you have found that canning and freezing is too time consuming then freeze drying might be the way to go for you.
- Freeze Dryers Provide A More Space Efficient Way To Preserve and Store Foods
Think about how much water and fluids you are storing when you deep freeze or can foods! 100 quart jars take up a lot of space whereas freeze dried foods can be stored under more trying conditions and take up a lot less space. If you live in an apartment or other small space and want to be prepared food wise then a freeze dryer makes a lot of sense and can save you a lot of time and money while not taking up all your living and storage space.
- Having Your Own Freeze Dryer Can Inspire You To Be Creative With Foods Or Follow A Diet During A Crisis
There are some great freeze dried foods out there but they don’t necessarily follow some of the dietary guidelines that you might have to go by for your best health. Diabetes and other conditions are much more manageable if you have the right foods for example. A freeze dryer allows you to plan out a nutritious diet that you are in control of.
You can also have a lot of fun designing your own freeze dried creations. For example you might want to mix some dried mushrooms in with your freeze dried beef slices and add some freeze dried sour cream for a quick stroganoff style entree. How about a freeze dried fruit pouch that has blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and apples? The options are pretty limitless.
- Great For Small Businesses and Farmers or Homesteaders That Produce A Surplus
I have tried to weight the positives and negatives of home freeze dryers as things are now. I do think that the Harvest Right is a wonderful innovation and even with the higher price tag that it currently bears, it has a lot of potential for small businesses like farms.
Say you raise blueberries but find yourself freezing them or worse, some going to waste because you can’t sell them fast enough. With a freeze dryer you, can create a very high dollar product that will make up for what you spent and then start making you a profit. You can also take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables and preserve them without heating up your house with canning or cooking down fruits and sauces. All those things taste really good and I love to can but as a small farmer myself, I welcome the idea of freeze drying.
- Harvest Right Freeze Drying Produces Better Quality
If you are a fan of freeze dried food for prepping, camping, or backpacking then you are probably well aware of the high cost of purchasing any food that is freeze dried, especially if it came from organic sources. Harvest Right dried foods look a lot more appetizing and you can use the best quality food if you want to.
- Power Issues During A Long Term Emergency
The large freeze dryer takes a 220 volt service so you have to have an outlet that can handle that. In a grid down situation most people will not be able to find a way to use a freeze dryer. This is a tool that is to be used before an emergency but is probably not that practical for a longer one if there is a lack of power.
The small and standard size Harvest Right would be better for using during a crisis because they use a standard 110 volt plug in like that found in any home or business. Technically, you could use a solar panel and battery system with inverter to run the small and standard ones but you will probably want to use your power for something else unless you have a larger set up.
Freeze dryers are not lightweight. The smallest is still 85 lbs so you will want to keep it either in a place where you never really have to move it much or keep it on a movable cart for easy versatility. The standard size freeze dryer is 105 lbs and the large is 147 lbs.
If you opt for the stainless steel version, you can add 20% to the weights listed above. I don’t think weight is something to worry about but you need to realize the size of what you are buying. If you are using it a lot then setting it up in a permanent place might be best.
Tips For Freeze Drying
1. Choose only the highest quality produce and fresh meats
This is food that is going to be stored for a long time so the better the quality to start with the better the taste and quality over the long term. Never use produce or meat that seems to be on the downhill side of fresh. Freeze drying takes time and energy and you don’t want to waste it with poor quality foods.
2. Remove foods from freeze dryer and seal in mylar with oxygen absorbers as soon as possible when a batch finishes
If food is left unsealed, it will not keep as long. For best flavor and shelf life, make sure to seal up foods within a few hours of a batch finishing if possible. This also helps ensure that you can process more food than if you just leave it in the dryer.
3. Never overload the dryer
Your freeze dryer is only made to hold so much. Cramming too much into it will lead to unsatisfactory results and in the worst case, might cause some damage or a big mess inside your machine.
When Harvest Right Freeze Dryers first came on the market, replacement parts were a little harder to get. Now that they are more common, you can order some parts online with just a few clicks. This means it could be easier to fix things without the hassle and expense of sending a machine back. While they are not the heaviest things, they are not lightweight either and thus cost a substantial amount to ship anywhere for repairs if the warranty doesn’t cover it.
Harvest Right sells their own brand of mylar bags and heat sealers. I imaging they are very good quality but that doesn’t mean it is not worth looking at other brands. Remember that mylar bags come in different thicknesses so you need to be aware of that when comparing costs. If you are going to be storing bags in plastic totes then you may not care if your bags are not the thickest.
Remember that some foods can be a bit sharp and poky after being dehydrated or freeze dried. My husband and I dehydrate a lot of Shiitake, Oyster, and Namenko mushrooms. Sometimes when we vacuum seal them we find that if we use the thinner vacuum seal bags, the mushrooms poke small holes and allow air in so we wind up using another bag thus saving zero money.
Freeze Dried Foods Are Usually Sealed In Mylar or Kept In Jars
While many of us are used to vacuum sealing, this is not something people do with freeze dried foods that often. From what I can tell the standard practice is to use mylar bags, add an oxygen absorber, and seal with a heat impulse sealer. The alternative is to use jars and oxygen and/or moisture absorbers. The problem I have with jars is that they are more expensive and don’t provide protection from sunlight and UV rays. They also take up a lot of space on a shelf and like all glass, they are prone to breakage.
Lightly vacuum sealing will not crush foods and that seems to be part of the trick if you choose to use vacuum seal methods. Stop the suction and seal before food is crushed. This means paying more attention when sealing up bags.
Deciding What To Freeze Dry
Most people start out freeze drying basic foods like fruits, vegetables, and meats. Chopping and dicing foods to a smaller size can help decrease the amount of time it takes to freeze dry and make the foods much more convenient to use at a later time.
- Look for sales and deals on bulk meats. Cut up into cubes or strips and freeze dry for a high protein addition to any meal.
- Find fruits and vegetables that are in season at farmer’s markets and freeze dry those for use throughout the year. For example you can get 50 lb bags of Vidalia onions at the larger farmer’s market in my area for around $25.00. That is $0.50 per lb, less than half the cost at the local grocery stores. A 25 lb box of tomatoes is around $10-$12 because we live in a big tomato producing area. If you are like me and love some of the heirloom tomatoes that have to be eaten quickly or preserved promptly you can pick up a box for $25-$40 and then freeze dry them. I find the idea of eating some Cherokee Purple tomatoes in the winter time very appealing, don’t you?
Combinations of Foods and Main Courses
The advanced freeze dryer user will want to experiment with freeze dried entrees. If you have ever tried Mountain House entrees when out on the trail or during an emergency you already know just how delicious they can be.
The trick is knowing what combinations can be freeze dried together and what cannot. It is best to stick to meals that combine meat, vegetables ,and some whole whole grains. Here are some examples.
- Rice and vegetables
- Stews. For example you could make a beef, vegetable, chicken, or turkey stew, and then put it in to freeze dry.
- Ham and potatoes in a cheese based sauce
Remember that if you just throw bread in the same tray it is going to absorb liquids before it is freeze dried so it is best to just freeze dry that separately and use for bread crumbs on top of your stew.
Conclusion: It is important to make sure that you follow the guidelines that come with your new freeze dryer. Also remember to start out freeze drying some basic foods and then move on to more complicated combinations.
Freeze dried foods if sealed properly can last for up to 25 years. It is important to store mylar pouches and bags in a rodent proof container unless you plan on using your stash sooner rather than later. Once opened, freeze dried foods are subject to moisture so you will want to make sure to put a moisture absorber in the bag if you have not already done so and roll down the top and clip to seal. This will help it stay fresh for longer. You can always re vacuum seal or use your impulse heat sealer to reseal a bag after opening and using what you need.
It is recommended that you consider what portion sizes work best for you and your family. For example, some people may prefer to have vegetables packaged in two different sizes. One could be for mixing in with other ingredients whereas the other size may be larger and intended for use if it is a main side dish. The beauty of having your own freeze dryer is that you are in control of this and can create an amazing prepper pantry based on the unique needs of you and your family.
Harvest Right Promotional Layaway Plan
If you are interested in a Harvest Right, they are currently offering a plan where you can lay one away and pay no interest. They ship it to you when it is paid for. They understand that this is a large investment for many preppers and are working hard to find ways to make it easier to afford. No doubt over time we will see this technology become more affordable.
Do you have any experience with freeze drying?
Backdoor Survival will strive to keep you up to date on the latest home freeze drying news and products as they come out. If you have any experience with freeze drying at home, we would love to hear from you in the comment section below!
If you enjoyed this article, consider following our Facebook page.