How To Freeze Dry Meat At Home – You are here: Home / Food Preservation / Freeze Drying / How to freeze dry food at home
Freeze-dried food sounds like space-age technology, but the practice of freeze-dried food actually predates electricity. There are several ways to freeze dry food at home, with or without a freeze-dried machine.
How To Freeze Dry Meat At Home
I’ll walk you through all the options for dehydrating food at home and the pros and cons of each method.
Freeze Dried Food
More than ever, freeze-dried foods are making their way into grocery stores and home pantries. Contrary to what you might assume, most people don’t use it as a camping snack, and most average suburbanites don’t store it in their back closets.
Believe it or not, most people who buy freeze-dried foods at the store only use them for everyday meals…because they’re delicious.
A few decades ago, freeze-dried food was only sold as fresh, and I remember my parents buying me freeze-dried astronaut ice cream for a soccer game when I was a kid. Everyone enjoyed it, and while it was delicious, no one took it seriously.
Fast forward a few decades, freeze-dried foods are incredibly popular with regular home cooks, and parents throw handfuls of freeze-dried fruit into their kids’ lunches as a special treat.
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Trader Joes sells packets of freeze-dried goodies along with dried banana chips and raisins. Most grocery stores sell freeze-dried strawberries, raspberries, and other fruits because so many bakers use them these days.
Freeze-dried food holds its shape and rehydrates quickly without losing the flavor, texture, and appearance of fresh food.
On the other hand, dehydrated food loses its shape and develops a chewy texture that doesn’t rehydrate as well. Because it’s heated as it dries, some of the sugars caramelize in the fruit, and the meat, cheese, or egg protein changes, meaning it’ll never be the same again.
While freeze-dried food is delicious and easy to have in the pantry, whether for everyday or emergency cooking, it can be expensive. I’ll walk you through different ways to freeze dry food at home, from traditional methods used in the Andes to freeze-dried potatoes to homemade options and finally, mini freeze-dryers for home use.
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I’ll be honest, using a real freeze dryer is by far the best option, and while it’s an investment, they should pay for themselves in less than a year of regular use.
Freeze drying is a method of drying foods at low temperatures. In a home freeze-dried machine, the food is frozen and then a vacuum pump reduces the pressure in the chamber. At low pressure, ice turns into a gas in a process known as sublimation.
At the beginning of the process, the ice acts as a scaffold to help the food maintain its shape and texture during the freeze-drying process. Subsequently, once all the water has been removed, the food still retains its shape, size and texture.
In the Arctic, animals like seals and penguins that die naturally are sometimes dehydrated, as Arctic winds first freeze and then slowly dry the meat. It is an archaeological phenomenon, but the conservation process works the same way and the specimens are kept indefinitely.
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Humans also freeze dry food, and the tradition dates back to pre-colonial times in the Andes, where potatoes have been frozen for at least a millennium.
Because freeze-drying works at lower temperatures, the sugars and proteins in the food remain unchanged. Add water and it will rehydrate easily and the food will taste much the same as it did before freeze-drying.
Dehydration depends on the evaporation of water by means of heat, and that heat changes food in the process. The sugars in the fruit are slowly caramelized, the proteins are slow cooked (or overcooked if already cooked), and the food contracts and takes on a chewy texture.
Some foods rehydrate well after dehydration, such as dried carrots. Other foods don’t dry well and will never be the same.
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On the other hand, freeze-drying works well for almost any food. Anything from freeze-dried meat to freeze-dried fruit, even freeze-dried cheesecake…they’re all delicious.
The only things that don’t freeze and dry well are foods high in fat or sugar that are still low in moisture. Things like peanut butter, chocolate and honey. These products have a long shelf life on their own, so freeze-drying isn’t necessary anyway.
While dried foods tend to last at most two to three years, freeze-dried foods maintain top quality for decades. When stored correctly, dried food should remain unchanged for 25-30 years, possibly longer.
I had a chance to try this when I bought some “antique” cans of freeze-dried food from an estate sale. when i opened n. Box of 10 freeze-dried apple slices were absolutely delicious after 17 years of storage.
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It was as good as the day it was stored, and I rehydrated it and made an apple pie that cheated on my husband. He honestly thought I made it with fresh apples, and the freeze-dried version was hard to spot in a blind taste test.
If you’re curious and haven’t tried freeze-dried foods before, I suggest you try freeze-dried foods before trying to make your own. You can sometimes find freeze-dried foods in the grocery store next to dried fruit; At least, that’s where it’s saved in our local stores. I’ve actually found that the quality is really variable with commercial freeze-dried foods, which makes sense…it’s only as good as the food that goes in it.
Unripe or tasteless freeze-dried fruit, and that’s how they’ll come out. The best freeze-dried foods I’ve had have come from Valley Food Storage, and I actually did a blind taste test with my kids. They can choose freeze-dried fruit from the Valley Food store every time.
If you’re curious, I’ve done a comprehensive review of the best emergency food companies on the market in 2021, after the 2020 crisis really changed the market. Most everyone makes freeze-dried foods for convenience, flavor, and long shelf life. While the freeze-drying process is the same, some foods are much better than others.
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Whether you want to freeze dry at home or buy ready-made freeze dried foods, quality matters. The result is as good as the food that enters the freeze dryer.
The oldest documented use of freeze-drying for food preservation comes from South America, specifically the Peruvian Andes. The potatoes are harvested in late autumn when temperatures in the high mountains drop below zero.
The potatoes are left to freeze overnight, then dried during the day under very high sun. They use a freeze-thaw cycle somewhat similar to the snow-thaw cycle we see here in Vermont during maple syrup season, with freezing temperatures overnight followed by warm, sunny days.
After 3 days of freezing overnight and then thawing during the day, local barefoot women “dance” on the potatoes. This helps loosen the potato skins and squeezes out moisture. The freeze/thaw cycle continues for another 7 days, the potato is walked/danced in the sunlight each day and refrozen naturally at night.
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From start to finish, the process takes about 10 days. The final product is known as Chuño and will keep for decades without further storage. (Just like modern machine-processed freeze-dried foods.)
A woman from the Andes makes a chuño. She walks barefoot over potatoes frozen the night before, to encourage them to expel the water to speed up the freeze-drying process.
I lacked suitable autumn weather, so I decided to try this method during my spring freeze-thaw cycle in March.
Potatoes freeze overnight and then thaw during daylight hours. I gave them a quick (and cute) barefoot dance every day and even put a box fan on a nearby extension cord to encourage good airflow. Unfortunately, no luck. There will be no Vermont-made Chuño anytime soon.
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After doing some more research, I learned that a Peruvian variety of potato is used, so that may be a factor. But I’ve also found that they do it with other roots and tubers, the Lilly variety of tubers that are edible in their area. This means it can work with other types of starchy vegetables.
In addition, they have low pressures at high altitudes which can also help freeze and dry the tubers, acting in a sense like a vacuum chamber. It is traditionally done at elevations of around 15,000 feet on the Andes Altiplano. The temperature cycles are also more intense there than here.
“The diurnal temperature cycle is very broad, with highs in the range of 12 to 24°C (54 to 75°F) and lows in the range of -20 to 10°C (4 to 50°F). “
This may be a case where specific environmental conditions allow for freezing and drying, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in other places. As I said before, it occurs naturally in the Arctic. They use a similar process in Norway to preserve the mass of the fish by drying it slowly even in the winter months.
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I honestly think this process needs more testing,
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