WHAT IS FREEZE DRIED FOOD?
Freeze drying, also called cryodesiccation, is a process of freezing food and extracting the moisture without it ever going through the liquid phase. This freezing, then drying process helps the food maintain its integrity in size, shape, and nutritive value. Traditional dehydration on the other hand is the process of removing moisture from food with heat. Though dehydration does have its place and is useful, the resulting food product does not store as long and loses some of its taste and nutrition.
The freeze drying process was invented in 1890. It found more use on the combat field in the early-to-mid 1900s. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that it became a more mainstream process for preserving food. NASA and the military have taken a keen interest in the process to try to pack as much nutrition and portability as possible into soldiers’ and astronauts’ meals.
WHAT IS THE FREEZE DRYING PROCESS?
Food undergoes four main stages in the freeze drying process.
- PRETREATMENT – The pretreatment stage involves any treatment of the food prior to the actual freezing stage. Concentrating the food, adding anything to the mix to help it store longer or better, additives to maintain appearance and color, are all considered part of the pretreatment stage.
- FREEZING AND ANNEALING – When the food is frozen, it is cooled to a temperature below its “triple point.” (The triple point is the lowest temperature at which the gas, liquid and solid phases of the food can coexist.) This is done so that when the food is dried in the next step, no melting can occur. The slow-freezing process creates large ice crystals which can be removed through a process called sublimation. The annealing component of this stage is the process of raising and lowering the temperatures while freezing. The freezing and annealing stage is the most important to the freeze drying process as it makes the biggest impact on the final product’s ability to reconstitute, store well, and lock in the desired nutrition.
- PRIMARY DRYING – While the food is still frozen, precise amounts of heat are added in order to sublimate (remove) the ice crystals. In this step, about 95% of the water is removed from the food. This stage is often taken low and slow to ensure the integrity of the food. A vacuum is utilized to support the hastening of the sublimation process.
- SECONDARY DRYING – During the secondary drying phase, a little more heat is added to remove any remaining lingering water molecules. At this point, the food only has about a 1% – 4% water content level and it is ready to be stored. The vacuum seal is released and the freeze dried is sealed in its package.
WHY IS FREEZE DRIED FOOD SO EXPENSIVE? The above process should give you insight into why freeze dried food can run at what might seem to be premium prices. In short, freeze dried food ain’t cheap to make, and it takes a good long minute to make. However, it’s really not thaaat expensive. You easily pay 7–10 bucks for a hot meal regularly. Buying freeze dried meals now is just banking those hot meals for a time when you will appreciate them more than ever.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FREEZE DRIED FOOD?
SHELF LIFE – This is truly one of the most extraordinary benefits of the freeze drying process. Properly freeze dried food can store on the shelf at room temperatures for 25 years or more. Think about that for just a moment. We’re not talking about a dry wheat berry or rice grain here. Tasty and complete meals that only require the addition of water can store completely safely for over a quarter-of-a-century in your pantry, basement, or go bag! Compare that to your bag of trail mix or jerky which will only have your six for about a year. The shelf life of freeze dried food makes it a staple prep you can count on.
GREAT TASTE – Almost no flavor is lost in the freeze drying process. If anything, it can intensify the flavor as it is the water has been removed. Go try a freeze dried raspberry if you haven’t had the pleasure before. Other food preservation processes can dilute and cook out the flavor of food. These various food preservation processes definitely have their place in a prepper’s repertoire, but none of them match the flavor saving prowess of freeze drying. Don’t think that flavor is important in a life and death situation? Have you ever seen the effect a tasty meal has on a grumpy spouse or child? A great meal drives away the dreary wearies and elevates morale. Yes, It’s important.
PACKED WITH NUTRITION – When it comes to nutrition, freeze dried food is the closest thing you can get to fresh, ripe food. Do you know why the bananas at the store are green when they first show up? Transportation. Those oranges you buy at the grocery store in Wisconsin were not grown there, my friend. And neither were those pineapples. Almost all the produce you buy at the store had to be transported there over great distances. In order to make that trip without spoiling, much of the produce was picked early (before ripe and optimally nutritious). And in many instances, your “fresh” produce at the store is lacking the dense nutrients it would normally have if picked and eaten when ripe.
PORTABLE – The freeze drying process removes water from food. Guess what usually accounts for most of the weight in your food? Yup. Water. When the water is removed from food via the freeze drying process it reduces the weight of the food by 70 to 90 percent. Is it any wonder that freeze dried food is so popular with backpackers then? From an emergency preparation standpoint, you should realize freeze dried food gives you the ability to carry 4 – 10 times more food without adding any pounds to your pack out. Yes, please.
REAL FOOD – When it comes to food storage, water is your mortal enemy. This is the reason so many common food products on the store shelves are riddled with unpronounceable names in their ingredients list. Almost all of those canned and boxed goods are counteracting the diabolical spoiling efforts of water with chemicals and processed ingredients. Freeze drying stops that fight before it begins. The result is pure, minimally processed food. Often very little, or no preservatives or chemicals are needed in those delicious freeze dried meals.
BUG-FREE – BONUS! Because the freeze drying process removes most of the water, almost all microbiological issues are eliminated as well.
HOW MUCH FREEZE DRIED FOOD SHOULD I STORE?
We at Equip 2 Endure view freeze dried food as a great bug out and backpacking food option. Having a two-week supply of freeze dried meals for each member of your family is a solid food “insurance” plan to cover you in emergencies. Because of the tremendous long-term benefits of freeze dried food, you may want to expand your storage if you can afford it. You won’t be mad at your self if you can add tasty and fresh fruits and veggies to your meal plans in an extended grid-down/TEOTWAWKI situation.
WHAT FREEZE DRIED FOOD DOES EQUIP 2 ENDURE RECOMMEND?
Our team can’t claim to have tried every option out there, but of those we have had, the clear favorite is Mountain House. (https://www.mountainhouse.com) Check out our video at the top of this page to see how Mountain House stacks up against another popular option—ReadyWise.