Freeze Dryer Pros, Cons, and Tips

Freeze drying is a very new form of home food preservation. Harvest Right began selling home freeze dyers in 2013 and we didn't hear about them for several years after that. To be honest we were a house divided on the topic of freeze driers. Lisa thought they were a pointless, expensive gadget. David really wanted to get one but held off because of the cost. When a friend needed to sell hers we decided to take a chance and purchase a gently used medium sized freeze dryer. It is magic.


Instead of moisture being lost through evaporation (like it is in a dehydrator) it is lost through sublimation. The food is cooled and put under pressure and the water goes straight from its solid form (frozen) to a gas. Words cannot describe how magnificent it is to be able to harness this technology in your own home. The food maintains it's original texture far better than any other food preservation method known to man. The water is more efficiently extracted (meaning the food is dryer than a dehydrator can get it) and with the lower water content comes a longer storage life. AND, if that wasn't enough, it actually retains the nutrients better than any other long term storage option. It is basically on par with frozen food which is the closest you can nutrient wise to fresh food. Not to mention it is the easiest, most hands off food processing method. After putting food on a tray you basically just push a button and walk away. No need to monitor or fiddle. Many people are wondering if a freeze dryer is worth the cost (we get it!) and if they would really get much use out of it. To help you decided we've created a list of the pros and cons as well as who we think would most benefit from a freeze dryer and some tips we've learned after having one for 6 months.


Pros

In addition to being easy to use, retaining nutrients, and preserving original texture there are some other incredible benefits to food storage. The food can last much longer because it has such a low moisture content. If you want more information on food safety and storage check out this article. Having such low water content also makes the food incredibly light which makes it way easier to store and move. An entire big box (aka CostCo diaper box) of freeze dried food weighs less than 4 quarts of peaches. That is amazing.


It also saves so much time. Unlike canning, which requires lots of preparation and hands on work, freeze drying can be done with no special preparation. You don't need special recipes to make sure the pH is correct. You don't need specific varieties of foods that can hold up to canning better. You literally can freeze dry your leftover dinner, as is, no fuss. We love to make big batches of whatever we are having for dinner and freeze dry it. We find it takes about the same amount of time to make 3-5 times the amount of food as it does to make a single batch because most of the work comes in the prep and clean up. The actual cooking is the easy part! It saves so much time because I don't have to have a set apart canning day. I can just make what I was going to make anyway and freeze dry it. Bagging freeze dried food literally takes us 15 minutes if we both work on it and the trays practically rinse clean under the faucet with no scrubbing (unlike cleaning up baked on canning goo or petrified remnants left in the dehydrator).


When you are ready to use your freeze dried foods it couldn't be simpler. You literally just add water. Some people like to calculate out exactly how much water was lost per tray and how much water per portion should be added back in but we prefer to just guess (ok, estimate sounds more sophisticated but let's be real here, we eye ball it). We find that boiling water, adding in enough to almost cover the food, storing, then letting it sit for 10 minutes works the best. Sometimes we add a little more at the end and let it sit again if it is a little crunch. Other foods require more delicate rehydration (like mushrooms or ice cream) where we just spray it with water or let it sit in damp paper towels. Other foods we just dump into a soup or sauce and let them soak up extra liquid during the cooking process. We have found some things have a slight texture difference if they aren't 100% rehydrated (fresh peppers and peas for example) but 99% of the time that texture difference isn't noticeable when the food is eaten as part of an actual meal instead of just tasted by itself.


Bottom line is freeze drying is less stress and mess than other food preservation methods and it produces a superior produce. You can store full meals so easily (which if you are in a serious emergency is just so nice because there is no cooking involved). Plus you can make and freeze dry foods you already eat and love which also gives you control over type/quality of meals in your food storage. This is great for the health conscious or those with special dietary restrictions.


We love to take advantage of good deals (ie free food) anytime we can now because it is so easy to throw food in the freeze dryer. Before when people would offer us peaches for example we'd have to decided if we really had time to devote to hours of processing bushels of fruit. Now we just spend the evening chopping up fruit and pre freeze it on trays. When the first batch is out of the freeze dryer (and we spend 15 minutes putting it in mylar bags) we dehydrate the freeze dryer and throw in the next batch. And if all of this wasn't amazing enough we also discovered you can vacuum seal mason jars inside your freeze dryer. I mean seriously, could it get any better?


Cons

Are there any besides the $3,000 up front cost? Not really. Ok, may be a couple


There is obviously an electrical cost. We have the medium so we just use a regular 110 outlet and the cost for 24-30 hours of running it is very minimal. Totally worth all the the benefits. The oil does need to be changed every few cycles. You can just filter it and reuse it and it takes about 10 minutes (most of which is hands off). It is kind of loud which is a limiting factor. If you don't have an out-of-the-way place to keep it the noise could be a problem. Its about like a quiet hairdryer at a lower frequency. You wouldn't want it in the main areas of your house or next to a bedroom. And you aren't going to want to move it around much because they are HEAVY if you are Lisa and just heavy if you are David. It's nice to just pick a place where you can keep it and leave it there. Ours is on a metal cart with wheels. The freeze dryer and vacuum pump sit on top and a 5 gallon bucket to catch water plus our other freeze dryer supplies are on the bottom shelf. You'll need to have yours elevated as well so that the water can drain out into a bucket which is something to keep in mind as you think about where you might want to keep a freeze dryer in your home.


Who Would Benefit the Most

People with Special Dietary Needs

If you have special dietary needs (Celiacs, allergies, Crohn's, diabetes, vegan diet, etc) and have been struggling to figure out food storage this will be a total game changer. You can create specialty freeze dried products that you couldn't get anywhere else. I know lots of people with diabetes struggle with creating a less carb centered food storage. A freeze dryer makes it possible to store vegetables in a palatable, nutritious way either alone or in pre-cooked meals. This is also incredibly helpful for people trying to eat a whole food, plant based food storage. There are some freeze dried meal options but being able to make your own is unbeatable. If you have serious allergies and you need to carefully control for contamination a freeze dryer should also be unbeatable.


People with a Garden

If you have a garden and are overwhelmed by traditional food preservation a freeze dryer is unparalleled for allowing you to keep food in your garden from going to waste. I've even seen people convert an entire freezer to hold dozens of cookie sheets so they can freeze produce when it is at its peak and just cycle it through the freeze dryer throughout the harvest season and beyond. Our freeze dryer has run for 3-4 months pretty much without stopping and had no issue. If you want to enjoy the harvest of your hobby or homestead garden without having to take up additional (time consuming) hobbies of canning, dehydrating, or fermenting you'd love a freeze dryer.


People Overwhelmed by Canning

If you are overwhelmed by canning and other food preservation methods freeze drying would be a great option. It is so simple and the dividend are so great. It is so quick and easy to start preserving your own food. Especially when you have a young family and/or full time jobs and other demands on your time it can be hard to set aside an entire day (or several weeks) for canning. Freeze drying takes all of the intimidation and work out of preserving your own food. You'll feel like a pro in less than a week.


People Who Cook from Scratch

If you are already in the habit of cooking from scratch on a regular basis a freeze dryer would be revolutionary for you. You can crate your own food storage or convenience produces for so cheap using basic ingredients you already use every day. It is so easy to just thrown in a batch of whatever you recently whipped up that week because you are already in the kitchen so regularly. Make a little extra dinner and throw it in the freeze dryer. Now you've got a meal (way better than a freezer meal) for a busy night. Making some yogurt in your Instant Pot Duo? Add some sweetener and quickly make some yogurt drops to have for a snack on the go. Or just freeze dry the whole batch to save space in your fridge. It is hardly any work at all to throw in a batch of whatever you've got going on in your kitchen and it will save you so much stress down the line when life gets hectic and you don't want to swing by Little Caesars pizza.


People Who Hunt, Camp, Backpack, or Prep

If you do any of the above owning a freeze dryer is the easiest, cheapest way to make camping meals/ MREs. You can freeze dry anything you want to take with you. You can control the portions (because who wants to open a pre-packaged meal only to discover the portions were made for your 90 year old grandmother and you are a 225 pound man). You can create better quality food; food that you are already used to eating. Because take it from a dietitian, sudden dietary shifts are not your friend. No one wants at sudden shifts in their bowel moments at 10,500 feet and 15 miles from the nearest flush toilet or during a major natural disaster (that would be crap literally hitting the fan I think).


Tips

If you are ready to get a freeze dryer (we'd really appreciate it if you'd use our affiliate link to help support our content at no extra cost to you) here are some helpful tips to get you started.

  • Have 2 sets of trays so you can have one in the freeze dryer and the other pre freezing.

  • To process large amounts of food pre-freeze your prepared for on regular cookie sheets with silicone mats. When you are ready to put it in the freeze dryer it is easy to transfer the pre-frozen food to the Harvest Right trays with a spatula.

  • Foods that brown (like bananas or avocados) should be put directly into the freeze dryer, not pre-frozen, because they will continue to brown in the freezer.

  • Vegetables to be added to soups (like carrots or celery) are best freeze dried raw and cooked in the soup; if you pre cook them they will be mushy.

  • You can reuse your mylar bags. Either wash them out well and dry completely or, if the bag didn't really get dirty (for example peas don't leave a residue in the bag), just shake out any crumbs and reuse.

  • Get silicone mats or parchment paper for freeze drying sugary foods like bananas and grapes.

  • For making yogurt drops don't use low fat, no sugar, or Greek yogurt. Yoplay yogurt consistent works the best.

  • Filter your vacuum pump oil with a beretta water filter using a roll of toilet paper as the filter.

  • Streaming, spritzing, or a we paper towel work best for reconstituting foods that you don't want to be wet or soggy like mushrooms or ice cream.


If you have any questions about our Harvest Right freeze dryer experience please contact us. We'd love to hear from you and help you get started.