This freeze dryer Q & A will be so helpful to you if you've ever thought about getting a home freeze dryer.
It's an investment, but worth it for many reasons:
- So you can easily bring along special diet-friendly foods when traveling.
- For camping or hiking because freeze dried food is light and so handy!
- If you're into gardening/food preserving and want to retain the most nutrients vs. other methods.
- For preparing/storing up shelf stable food in case of emergencies.
- Many freeze dry their pet food.
- Or if you are just plain running out of room in your freezers!
Recently I had a long conversation with my friend who LOVES her freeze dryer, and thought I'd share that with you here…
Jump links if you're in a hurry:
- How and why did you become interested in freeze drying?
- How big are they, and where do you keep yours?
- What can and can't you freeze dry?
- How do you know how to reconstitute the food (add moisture back) when you're ready to eat it?
- What does the food taste like after being reconstituted?
- How long does freeze dried food keep? Is there a chart to tell you how long each food can last?
- What's the best way to check the food for moisture?
- Can you tell me about the maintenance required on freeze dryers?
- Did you have to add storage so you had room for all of the foods you were freeze drying?
- How did you decide which freeze dryer to get?
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #1: How and why did you become interested in freeze drying?
My journey started 8 years ago. I was always interested in food preserving, and when I heard how freeze drying preserves nutrients better and can travel easier, I knew I wanted one. However at the time it was cost prohibitive, so I got an envelope, and if my Mom gave me birthday money or I sold stuff on Facebook marketplace, I just kept adding to my envelope. It took me a while, but finally I had enough and got one during their Black Friday sale (up to $500 off depending on which size, and a free $795 pump).
Here you can see how freeze drying is better than canning, freezing, or dehydrating:
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #2: How big are they, and where do you keep yours?
They're about the size of a mini-fridge, a little taller. Ours is in our basement–placement is key. A cool spot in your house is best so it doesn't have to work as hard or take as long for each run.
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #3: What can and can't you freeze dry?
You can freeze dry almost everything! Not just individual foods, but things like casseroles too or even liquids like milk. The only thing to remember is that freeze drying removes water, but with things like butter or peanut butter that are oil-based, there’s no water to remove, so those won't work.
Meat can be freeze dried, but it has to be lean–a marbled steak won’t work as well because fat will remain and could go rancid. Chicken does well, salmon does too, especially wild caught that is more lean.
The resources below are full of great videos showing you exactly how to freeze dry different foods.
How do you freeze dry milk?!!
You siphon off the milk under the cream, then weigh the tray before and after freeze drying–keep notes so you know exactly how much water to add back. A good log book is essential for all of this!
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #4: How do you know how to reconstitute the food (add moisture back) when you're ready to eat it?
What I tell people is when you decide what food you're going to freeze dry, go to the resources below and search for that specific food so you can find out best-practices for each. There are videos galore.
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #5: What does the food taste like after being reconstituted?
Food tastes the same as the day you freeze dried it. One video showed how in a blind taste test people didn't know the difference between a fresh steak and a freeze-dried steak!
(This is Kelly: she gave me some bananas to try and they are so good!)
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #6: How long does freeze dried food keep? Is there a chart to tell you how long each food can last?
I guess I’ve never looked for a chart. I just learn from what other people's experiences have been (see resourcces below) and the wisdom of those who have been doing this for many years. I once did a personal experiment with nuts, vacuum sealing, and oxygen absorbers. I just opened a mason jar of raw walnuts from 2015. Astonishingly, they taste just like fresh, zero rancidity at all!
Just remember that food can go bad and/or lose nutrition with 3 things: moisture, light and oxygen.
- For moisture: the freeze drying takes care of that part.
- For light: mylar takes care of that or if you're using glass, store in a dark place. (Note that the clear front mylar bags are meant to be consumed within month or so, people use them for selling candy, etc.)
- For oxygen: the little oxygen absorber packets take care of that in mylar, and a vaccuum sealer is used for glass. And personal preference: I still use oxygen absorbers even though I vacuum seal the glass jars. It’s probably overkill, but I don’t trust my vacuum sealer to get out all of the oxygen. Technically, you could probably skip vacuum sealing jars and just use the oxygen absorber alone. But the more oxygen I can remove mechanically, the better I feel about the effectiveness of my oxygen absorber. The oxygen absorbers are game changers.
- QUESTION that came in later: “Are there any health concerns with the mylar bags?” My friend replied, “I have not been able to find much information on safety. I do know mylar is a type of polyester, made by Dupont. I tried to see if it’s anything like PFAS, but I couldn’t find much information. The clear mylar film is what lines the bags and touches your food. The aluminum, or metallic, layer does not touch your food, though. It is mostly to keep light out and for durability. And for what it’s worth, I really like to mostly use mason jars, vacuum sealed, and placed in a dark area. I reserve the use of mylar for when I need it to be portable and lightweight.”
FYI: You do still have to be mindful of botulism…
Especially when using oxygen absorbers, as botulism thrives in anaerobic environments, but it also needs moisture. Eliminate the moisture, and you eliminate the risk of botulism. That’s why it is imperative that you check your freeze dried food for moisture level before packaging it.
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #7: What's the best way to check the food for moisture?
I had a moisture meter first, but later learned you can miss some spots if you aren’t systematic about where you're probing the food on your tray. It only gives you a reading for exactly where you stick the probes in.
Then I learned about the other method of checking the temperature of the food with this infrared scanner–it can scan the whole tray more efficiently by moving it back-and-forth, checking the whole surface of the food on your tray.
The third and most reliable way, but also the most expensive, is by using a FLIR Thermal imaging camera. I just use the infrared scanner for now.
Expect there to be some fails along with trial and error, that's part of learning…
Once I freeze dried raw eggs. I scrambled the eggs first and poured onto the freeze dryer trays, but I used the wrong setting so they didn’t freeze dry solid by the time the vacuum kicked on. So the center was still liquid and that part boiled from the vacuum and expanded causing a HUGE mess to clean up. I should’ve set the freeze dryer temp lower and gone longer, to be sure it was frozen solid before the vacuum kicked on. I learned from it, so it'll never happened again!
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #8: Can you tell me about the maintenance required on freeze dryers?
It’s a big investment so you definitely want to take good care of it.
You can get the kind with an oil-less pump so you don’t have to do oil changes, but you have to package it up and send the pump back for maintenance after certain number of runs. (And you pay shipping on the heavy pumps!) This is new though and I don't trust it yet for the extra $1000.
So I just do the oil changes, and it's super easy.
There are two pump options: the premier pump, which is the next grade down from oil-less. You do oil changes every 20 or so runs (the machine tell you when), and this is what I have. (This pump is worth $795 and you get it free if you buy before the end of 2022.)
Then the basic one, which requires oil changes every 6-10 runs, and is more work obviously.
Note that I point a fan on the pump while it’s running because it gets super hot–this increases the life of the pump, along with keeping it in a cooler environment as mentioned above.
Also after each run, I wipe it down well, especially after freeze drying raw food. I wash the trays with soap and water and disinfect them. Not with bleach as some suggest, because bleach reacts with stainless steel and can remove its coating and will corrode. Instead I buy the big Costco vodka, put it in a spray bottle and then dry with a paper towel. I also pour some down into the drain tube with the valve shut, then open and drain into a bucket.
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #9: Did you have to add storage so you had room for all of the foods you were freeze drying?
I already had a lot of storage space, but did add some. We were in the process of reorganizing the pantry anyway, so we bought a couple gorilla shelving racks to make a middle aisle.
How to organize is a whole other topic.
Some use totes to separate the different foods, or shelves like we got, etc. You also need to keep in mind rodent-proofing your storage. I've read sad stories of mice getting into someone's totes and eating through their mylar bags, after all that work! I use both the mylar bags and mason jars, and we use those things that plug into outlets and emit a current (or whatever it's called) to repel mice, or you could just get mousetraps.
~~Freeze Dryer Q & A #10: How did you decide which freeze dryer to get?
Harvest Right is the only player in the residential/home freeze drying game… until just recently. (A new brand just came out, but I don’t know much about it yet.)
Check out the freeze dryers and learn more here. (Get up to $500 off through the end of 2022 and get a free $795 premier pump that she mentioned.)
Favorite resource links:
- Live. Life. Simple. (Reitred at 40 guy)
- Rose Red Homestead (search for her Freeze Drying videos)
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