Believe it or not, you don’t need one of the big fancy freeze-drying machines to make your own freeze-dried food. Instead, there are two popular methods for how to freeze-dry food without a machine, which we will talk about below.
But first, you should understand that freeze-drying food at home comes with a few caveats that are worthy of consideration.
Let’s discuss the realities of freeze-drying food at home, then talk about two ways you can freeze-dry without an expensive specialty machine, all from the comfort of your home.
Homesteaders and preppers love to plan. Part of their planning is considering how they can store delicious and nutritious food for a long time. As a result, they often resort to popular food preservation techniques, such as canning and pickling.
Nowadays, however, more and more people are becoming curious about how to freeze dry foods at home without investing thousands of dollars into a purpose-built machine.
It is possible. However, it may not always be your best choice. We have three pieces of important advice to consider before attempting freeze-drying at home:
Below we will talk about the difference between freeze-dried and dehydrated foods. We will also share two methods you can try to freeze dry food without a machine.
It’s not uncommon for people to accidentally use freeze-dried and dehydrated interchangeably when talking about dried food. The reason this mistake occurs is probably that the end result of the two processes is so similar.
Freeze-drying and dehydrating food creates shelf-stable and nutritious food that lasts upwards of two decades. However, the processes for how the food is dried are quite different.
Dried food encompasses the two categories of freeze-dried and dehydrated foods. Simply put, food is considered “dried” when the food's water content has been removed or significantly reduced.
Therefore, freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are both considered dried food. However, not all dried food is freeze-dried or dehydrated.
Freeze-Dried Vs. Dehydrated Food
Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods differ in four important categories:
Commercial freeze-drying operations use expensive machinery. However, you can freeze dry at home using the freezer you already have—or even simpler, a cooler and some dry ice.
You might assume that freeze-dried and dehydrated foods have the same texture. However, that would be incorrect. Despite the two processes rendering a similar result, the texture of the two is different. Dehydrated food is chewier, whereas freeze-dried food is firm and crunchy, because it contains even less moisture than that of dehydrated foods.
Both freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are nutritious. Neither of the two processes eliminates the nutritional content—vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs—of the food being dried.
However, because freeze-drying eliminates more water from the product than dehydrating, freeze-dried food typically has a longer shelf life.
Yes, in most cases, freeze-dried foods are more expensive than dehydrated foods. Typically, freeze-dried foods come with a more expensive price tag because the process is more involved.
For example, commercial freeze-drying operations utilize expensive equipment for upwards of 40 hours to dry a single batch of food. To purchase the equipment and do it yourself would also be expensive.
On the other hand, should you need a bulk amount, there’s nothing better than the easy-to-use pre-packaged survival food bucket; they are much more affordable.
One misconception about freeze-drying is that it’s a massively complex procedure, but in reality, you can do it in your home freezer. That said, the process takes an extended amount of time.
To freeze dry with your freezer at home you will need a few items.
To freeze-dry food at home, the first task will be to prep the food you want to freeze. Before cutting, it’s essential to wash the food you want to freeze to eliminate any dirt or contaminants. Next, we recommend cutting your food into small slices or chunks to facilitate the removal of moisture.
After that, simply place your sliced food onto a cookie sheet or tray and place the tray in your freezer. In an ideal scenario, a deep freezer works best, but your normal freezer will work too.
The food will start to freeze in the first few hours. However, it's important to note that the drying process will take weeks before you'll have the freeze-dried food you want. The process through which food freeze-dries is known as sublimation. Sublimation is what differentiates freeze drying from simply freezing food inside sealed bags or dehydrating food.
After a few weeks, it will be time to check the food you have freezing. The best way to check how the food is drying is to remove a frozen piece and set it aside to let it come to room temperature. If the food turns dark or black, it means the drying process is still not complete.
On the other hand, frozen food that doesn’t change color has been freeze-dried thoroughly.
Once that has been achieved, you can store the freeze-dried food in air-tight ziplock bags. Remember, freeze-dried food should be kept in storage that stays under 75 degrees.
As you get started, it is important to note that starting out with simple foods that have a high water content is recommended. These foods are the easiest to freeze-dry. Try fruits like apples, berries, and bananas, or vegetables like broccoli and peppers.
Freeze-drying animal products gets a little trickier. If you want to avoid freeze-drying animal products at home, you can check out our freeze-dried meat selection.
Properly making freeze-dried food in the freezer is more of an art than a science. It may require some trial and error, but eventually, you will refine your process.
The next at-home freeze-drying process we want to discuss does not require special machinery either. Similar to the first method, you will only need a few important items:
Because dry ice lets all moisture from food evaporate very quickly, this method is much faster than the first one, unless it is incredibly humid where you live.
In an ideal scenario, we recommend starting the freeze-drying process on a day or time of year when the humidity level is low, if not zero. The reason is that the more moisture in the air, the longer the freeze-drying process will take.
To begin your freeze-drying process, place the food in the cooler. We recommend using a container at least double the size of the food you are freezing. That way, you can freeze-dry large amounts of food at one time using ample dry ice. Also place the food in a plastic bag so it’s not in direct contact with the dry ice, but leave the bag unsealed so that moisture can escape.
Next, completely cover the food with dry ice. For best results, we recommend using a 1:1 ratio—one pound of dry ice for every pound of food you want to freeze-dry.
At this point, we want to remind you not to seal your cooler or container completely. In sealed containers, dry ice can create high enough pressures to rupture or explode.
For that reason, if you have to use a lid or an improvised container like a plastic tote, make sure to drill holes. To avoid drilling holes in your cooler, we recommend leaving the lid propped open.
Lastly, let the process take its course and wait until there is no more dry ice in the container. At this point, the container is now full of carbon dioxide and free from any moisture.
Wait to remove the food until you are ready to place it in bags immediately.
We suggest using high-quality freezer bags to store your food. As you transfer your freshly freeze-dried food into bags, take your time and pay attention, making sure no moisture enters the bag—that will ruin all your hard work! For best results, we recommend using a vacuum sealer.
Have more questions? Fantastic! We have more answers.
It depends on the method you are using. In general, freeze-drying food takes a long time. With a specialty machine, freeze-drying can take upwards of 20 hours, or longer. With a standard freezer, the process can take as long as a month.
How long the process takes also depends on the type of food you are freeze-drying. Foods like corn, peas, and slices or chunks of meat dry quickly. However, other foods like squash and watermelon take longer.
The thickness of the food slices will also affect the drying time. Typically, the thinner and smaller the food can be, the better.
We have good news. Most types of food can be freeze-dried. However, freeze-drying food with dry ice works best with fruits and vegetables. But that doesn’t mean you cannot try other foods too. You can try freeze-drying meats, desserts, and dairy.
With that being said, there is a short list of foods that we do not recommend you freeze dry. This includes food like syrup, jam, honey, butter, and pure chocolate.
Some types of freeze-dried food can be enjoyed without rehydrating. However, some foods, like freeze-dried meat and vegetables, are better if you rehydrate them.
To rehydrate your freeze-dried food, add hot water to the food item and let it soak for several minutes.
If you are dead set on doing your freeze drying from home, the two methods from above could be great options for you instead of spending $3,000-$4,000 on Harvest Right Freeze Drier. However, if you want to freeze dry on a budget, you’ve now learned about the best ways to freeze dry without expensive equipment.
If freeze-drying at home sounds incredibly time-consuming, you can always contact us. Here at Valley Food Storage, we do all of the hard work for you. You can simply enjoy the farm-fresh flavor of our freeze-dried fruits and vegetables as they arrive on your doorstep.
Thank you for reading this article. For more helpful information, visit our Practical Prepper Blog. We have a great bug-out bag checklist, some tips for the best survival food to store, and some tips for getting started prepping.