When it comes to long-term food storage, the choice between dehydration and freeze-drying is not an easy one to make. There are many factors involved in the decision-making process:
- Shelf life
A good starting point is to understand the difference between dehydration and freeze-drying.
The process of dehydration involves the removal of moisture to retard the growth of microorganisms like toxin-producing bacteria and mold. It is one of the oldest food preservation methods known. During ancient times, native Americans, and other cultures would use the sun as a dehydrator to preserve seeds, fish, meat, and grains.
Electric home dehydrators are an inexpensive way to facilitate long term food storage. However, without the use of preservatives, dehydrated food will require refrigeration or freezing.
Residential food dehydrators use a heating element and fan to push hot air through vents and food trays. The hot air, which is circulated either horizontally or vertically, results in moisture release.
Many dehydrators come with stackable trays that are adjustable and may rotate. Trays are circular or rectangular, depending on the model. They allow for different types of foods to be dehydrated simultaneously, regardless of the size or type of food.
As a general rule, most foods must reach temperatures between 95℉ and 145℉. The recommended temperature setting for meat (including jerky) and fish is around 160℉.
The setting for fruits and vegetables is around 135℉. 95℉ is the recommended setting for herbs and spices. Nuts and seeds are good-to-co around 95℉.
There are tons of different types of foods you can dehydrate at home. They include:
- Meats (seasoned jerky from turkey, buffalo, venison, beef)
- Herbs & Spices
- Fruit roll ups
- Sauce roll ups
When food is flash frozen and placed in a reduced pressure environment, it is called freeze-drying. Freeze drying (lyophilization) is a much more expensive process for home use, but retains more nutrients, and is more shelf-stable.
You will find most freeze-dried foods sold and marketed to backpackers, hunters, the military, and preppers.
The great thing about having a home freeze dryer is the options it offers in terms of the types of food you can freeze-dry. Your selection includes dairy, meat, produce, and complete meals. And the food tastes great when eaten months or years later.
Pros & Cons of Dehydration
- Simple process
- Facilitates bulk buying
- May require refrigeration or freezing for long term storage
- Can be nutritionally inferior
- Time-consuming process that can take several hours
- Fruits and vegetables change character (i.e. grapes become raisins, discoloration, etc.)
- Limited versatility
- Alters color, shape and weight of food from original state
Pros & Cons of Freeze Drying
- Superior taste, flavor, and freshness
- Long shelf life (up to 25 years
- Retains 97% nutritional value
- Versatility (good for dairy, meat, produce and complete meals)
- Friendly to heat sensitive food items
- Rehydrated meat retains properties of fresh meat
- Very expensive
Which is Better?
I recently purchased a Nesco 5 Tray Dehydrator. I like that Nesco is a well established US brand and it was simple enough to use for a newbie like me. It was easy to unpack and assemble. The enclosed recipe book has everything you need to get started. I have included pictures of my first dehydrating session using the Nesco below. I will be writing about that first experience soon on my blog.
However, if I had to choose between using a dehydrator or a freeze-dryer, I would pick the freeze-drying process.
Home freeze dryers cost more but will pay off in the long run if your goal is long-term emergency food storage. Freeze-dried food also tastes great. But if you’re like me and don’t have deep pockets, then an inexpensive dehydrator will be fine. You will just have to take care to label everything (by date) when storing it away.
Dehydration also has a learning curve attached to it. It is trial and error until you get the hang of it. Just be sure to read the instructions that come with your unit carefully before you begin. Later on, you may also want to look into home canning, vacuum sealing, and other methods for long term food storage.