So, you’re thinking about getting into freeze drying.
This is a great idea. Did you know that freeze dried foods can last as long as 25 years? They don’t even have to be stored in a freezer. Once the freeze-drying machine has done its work, these packets or jars of food can be put into pantries, larders and storage boxes, kept for emergencies or times of lean food supply.
But it’s not a cheap hobby to plunge into without serious thought.
Freeze dryers are some expensive pieces of kit. By now you’ll have discovered this, if you’ve been doing your research into the wonderful world of freeze drying. For many people, it’s simply not worth the money. After all, a good-quality freeze dryer could easily set you back a few thousand dollars.
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That kind of cash could get you a second-hand car, or a brand-new wardrobe. It could furnish a room, kit out a kitchen, or get you a high-quality computer. Surely you could think of a heap of things to spend that kind of money on.
So, why should you consider investing in a freeze dryer? And are they worth the cash?
Worried About the Future?
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen plenty of things that have made us stop and think about stocking up on vital, long-lasting items that could see us through times when resources are scarce.
Whether you’re a subscriber to the global warming theory or not, the weather’s been pretty crazy lately. From the hurricanes of 2019 to the nor’easter that swept its way in from the mid-Atlantic in 2020, we’ve had to hunker down across the country. After all, when it snows in Texas, something’s not right.
And as for the virus-that-shall-not-be-named, well, that’s another story completely. Panic buying led to supermarkets running out of vital stocks of food and other items, and we all felt a little as though the world was coming to an end.
Thankfully we’re coming out of it now, but it’s made us think twice about how well prepared we are for when things get tough.
But preserving food is something we’ve done for thousands of years. It’s nothing new. Our ancestors would freeze, dry out, or even bury everything from mammoth meat to whale flesh in order to see them through the lean times.
This was a tough thing to get right without electricity, but they must have done it well enough for humans to continue to exist today.
In more recent times, we’ve been blessed with all manner of inventions that have made preserving our food so easy we don’t even think about it. When we go to the grocery store, we find milk in the refrigerator section that lasts for a week or so, and then we can find milk in cans and cartons that can last for months.
In the freezer we find meat, vegetables and ice-cream that can last for a year or more, and other canned items that don’t have to be eaten for the next couple of years, at least.
Long-life items are the kind of food that are the first to go when people begin to worry about scarcity. All it takes is talk of a blizzard or a lockdown and these preservable items are the first to disappear from the shelves. It’s obvious that the longer we can get food to last, the more prepared we feel for times of trouble.
There Are Plenty of Reasons to Preserve Food
We don’t have to want to preserve our food only because we’re concerned about the future. It doesn’t take the stress of a hurricane or potentially deadly virus for us to want to make our food last longer.
Below are the top reasons why owning a freeze dryer makes sense:
- Emergency Preparedness
- Better Than Canning
- Healthy Living
- Camping and Hunting
- Create Pet Food
It makes good sense to try and keep even the freshest of foods for as long as possible. That’s the great thing about freeze drying as opposed to dehydration. Dehydrated foods such as fruits or vegetables might last a year or more, but they lose most of their nutritional value.
Vitamins A, B, and C, along with thiamine and other minerals, all but disappear along with the water that’s lost in the dehydration process.
Freeze drying is a process that happens so quickly and efficiently that the food and all its goodness is preserved at a rate of over 90%. It also means that when it comes to eating the food once more, reconstitution takes very little effort.
And yet, as you’ll know by now, it’s not an inexpensive hobby to get into. Freeze drying equipment will set you back a good couple of thousand dollars before you’ve even begun.
Why Freeze Dryers are So Expensive
Freeze dryers aren’t expensive simply because they’re a luxury, designer item that manufacturers feel they can charge the earth for. Instead, they cost so much because the technology inside these machines is fine-tuned to do some pretty incredible stuff to your food in a short amount of time.
Freeze drying, or lyophilization to give it its proper title, isn’t like putting some food into the freezer for a while and waiting for it to go very cold. Instead, it involves freezing it super-quickly before an incredibly strong vaccuum forces the ice to be removed by a process called sublimation.
What’s essentially happening is that water becomes ice, and then vapor, without going through the liquid phase. And to do that, a freeze-drying machine has to reach temperatures of -80 degrees Fahrenheit, or -62 degrees Celsius.
If you’re wondering how cold that is, imagine that a deep freezer only reaches around 0 degrees Fahrenheit, or -18 degrees Celsius.
So, a freeze dryer is working at the kind of temperatures we can’t even really fathom. After that, it needs to create a vacuum that’s so strong it removes 99% or more of the now-frozen water content, sucking it out as a vapor.
Between the flash freezing and the super-strong vacuum technology, a freeze dryer packs a heck of a punch in a piece of machinery that’s only about as large as a small washing machine.
Are Freeze Dryers Worth the Price?
When we think about the value of an object, we measure it in its utility.
This means that much of a product’s value is about how much it means to us. We’ve established that the technology inside the machine is reasonably priced when we consider the job that it does, but as for whether it’s worth paying that kind of cash, only the buyer can decide.
If you have a large family and can see everyone wanting to use your freeze dryer, you might find it’s a small price to pay for food that lasts literally for years.
It’s a particularly sound investment if you live in a place where foods are seasonal, or if you grow your own produce and don’t want to waste a single bit.
Freeze dryers can handle meat, fish, bread, eggs, fruits, vegetables and a whole lot more. The speed at which the food is freeze dried means that it’s not only the nutrients that remain, but the flavor, too. Food prepared five, ten or even fifteen years ago tastes like it did the second before you put it into the freeze dryer.
It’s not only that it makes sense to buy a freeze dryer because of the machine’s capabilities, but that you could see it as an insurance policy. We don’t think twice about paying for insurance for our homes, our car, or our electrical items. We take out life insurance, holiday insurance, and other kinds of insurance that give us peace of mind.
A freeze dryer does the same. It’s a one-off investment that assures you and your family can keep yourselves fed for a decade or more, with a little preparation. It’s not fun to dwell on what might happen, but it doesn’t hurt to prepare for an uncertain future.
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Not only that, but you’ll cut down on everyday waste.
Going on holiday and won’t eat all this fruit? Freeze dry it and eat it when you’re back. Sick of eating turkey after Christmas? Freeze dry it until you feel like a turkey pie in a couple of months’ time. Thinking of going on a diet but want to keep some treats in for emergencies? You know where this is going.
For some, it’ll always be a pointless investment, but for others, it’s the kind of thing that will help them sleep at night. Some would say that there’s no such thing as being too prepared, and if you’re one of those people, then a freeze dryer might be just what you need.
Foods that Don’t Freeze Dry
This really is a wonder machine that will have you freeze drying everything you can get your hands on, at least for the first few weeks. It’ll be a case of trial and error for a lot of foods, and some freeze dry better than others. Not all foods do well in the freeze dryer.
Peanut butter is one. In fact, most high-oil or high-fat foods do poorly in such a machine. So chocolate, coconut oil and olive oil are all foods that won’t freeze dry. Foods that are high in sugar are similarly poor at being freeze dried, including honey and jams.
This isn’t really a problem, though because if you think about it, these are foods that last for years in jars. Freeze drying is all about preserving foods that wouldn’t otherwise last in their natural state, but the above foods will already do perfectly well in jars on the shelf for a couple of years anyway.
Freeze Dryer Guidelines
Now you’ve committed to buying a freeze dryer, it’s important that you know how to use it, and how it works. This is important so that you know what to expect, and how to maintain it. Each dryer will be a little different, depending on the make and model or your machine, but the process itself is essentially the same:
- Prepare your food and place it in the freeze-dryer
- Turn it on and the temperature in the machine plunges to as to flash-freeze the food
- A powerful pump then creates a vacuum inside the machine
- The machine gently warms, and any water, which became ice, now becomes a vapor, which evaporates
- When the food is completely dry, the machine lets you know the process is complete
Buy a Machine That Works for Your Needs
There’s no need to get an industrial-sized freeze dryer if it’s only being used for two people. Research the volume of food that will be made per batch. For home kitchens, a freeze dryer will come in either a small, medium or large size.
A small freeze dryer for personal use will usually freeze around 5-7 pounds of food per batch, a medium 8-10 pounds, and a large 12-16 pounds. This should give you some idea of the size of machine you need.
Remember that the larger the machine, the pricier it will be, and the heavier it will be, too. A large freeze dryer will weigh about 150 pounds, so you’ll need help moving it.
Don’t Rush the Process
It seems like freeze drying takes forever just to do one batch but it’s important you don’t rush it. Each cycle has to fully complete before moving to the next in order for the process to work correctly and for your food to freeze dry properly.
It used to take up to 24 hours per freeze, but modern machines are much faster, completing the batch in almost half the time. If you’re concerned it’s using a lot of power, just think of it as using power for 13 hours every couple of days, whereas your deep freezer has to be switched on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for life.
Watch Your Oil
The refrigeration mechanism is pretty easy to operate and doesn’t require any regular maintenance. The vacuum pump, on the other hand, takes more care and attention. The pump requires oil for it to work. Without it, you’ll be unable to operate the machine.
The best kind of oil to use is the kind you’ll likely find in farming machinery stores, where they sell oil for milking pumps. Change the oil when necessary; this can be as often as every batch, or as little as every 10 batches, depending on the make and model of your freeze dryer.
You can also now purchase oil-free vacuum pumps for some machines, but these will, of course, cost you more.
Be Careful About Mixing Foods
Some might say you can put in completely different kinds of food on the same trays but it’s not advisable. There’s the chance the flavors will mingle. To avoid this, put stronger-flavored foods higher up in the machine, and those with milder flavors on the shelves toward the bottom.
Store Your Finished Food Properly
If you store your freeze-dried food incorrectly, it’ll spoil and the whole process will have been a waste of time. Use mason jars and even vacuum packs if possible, although this will add to the cost. Add an oxygen absorber too, which helps remove any last trace of moisture.
Freeze dried fruits, vegetables and meats rehydrate easily, usually working fine after being soaked or boiled in water. But be realistic about reconstituting freeze-dried food. Last year’s pizza or that burrito from ten years ago won’t do well rehydrated. You’ll need to warm it slowly in the oven with some steam but be prepared for the results.
The taste will be almost perfect, but the texture might not be what you were expecting.
Tips and Hacks
Get the most out of your freeze dryer by taking note of the following tips:
- Get a moisture meter. For about the same price as a couple of steaks, you can cut down on foods that might be wasted. Check the amount of moisture in your food with the metallic prongs and you’ll know when the process is finished.
- Punch holes in fruits and vegetables before they go in the freeze dryer. This will help moisture escape quickly while still preserving the shape.
- Crush freeze dried fruits and herbs into fine powders to use for cooking, making smoothies, and other uses. It’ll save on space and works in exactly the same way as it would if you added them to recipes whole before blending.
An Investment That Pays Off
If you’re half-hearted about the idea but love gadgets, you’ll find a freeze dryer to be an expensive toy that you lose interest in very quickly. But if you’re serious about food preservation, whether that’s because of seasonal shortages or the worry of an impending disaster, it could be an incredible buy that you won’t regret.
Anything that gives peace of mind, reduces waste, and saves you money, in the long run, can only be a good thing, and many freeze dryers swear they couldn’t do without this magical piece of kit!
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