If you are unsure of which will suit your needs, this article will explain the difference between a freeze dryer vs dehydrator.
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It is the end of harvest season here on our homestead, and we have been preserving food all summer! You can say that it is has quite busy. If you have been around for any length of time, you know that gardening during harvest season is a challenge for me. I have had to employ my best tricks for getting out to garden when I don’t feel like it. You can read all about how I make gardening more enjoyable during busy season here. I have been spending so much time in the kitchen canning, freezing, freeze drying, and dehydrating.
Clearing up the confusion about a freeze dryer vs dehydrator
In conversation, we have notice that there is some confusion around the difference between freeze drying and dehydrating. There are both a vital part of preserving food on our homestead, but wildly different! It’s been about a year since we purchased our freeze dryer, and are still using it often. My favorite things to freeze dry are herbs that I bottle up and make into our own herb blends and homegrown freeze dried herbs for the pantry. If you are interested in knowing how to freeze dry basil check out this post, I’ve even included a free printable that will make the container you are using look pretty!
The main similarity of freeze dryers and dehydrators is that they remove water from foods for storage and increase the shelf life. Here is the main difference:
- Dehydrators use low heat to remove about 80% of the water.
- Freeze dryers cycle between heat, cold, and a vacuum to remove about 95% of the water.
Curious to know more? Keep reading to learn more about the process between a freeze dryer and a dehydrator.
Process of Freeze Dryer vs Dehydrator
Freeze dryers and dehydrators use different processes to create a shelf stable product. Freeze dryers use a process called lyophilization while dehydrators use a process called dehydration (no surprise!)
A freeze dryer uses a repeating 3-stage process: freezing, sublimation (primary drying), and adsorption (secondary drying). While a dehydrator uses a single step: add and use constant, low-grade heat to remove water via evaporation. A freeze dryer usually takes between 20-40 hours, depending on the type of food and its quantity. A dehydrator takes between 1-36 hours depending on the type of food.
Preparing the food for the freeze dryer and the dehydrator is similar since both do well having the food cut into thin equal sized pieces. A freeze dryer can take food that is pre-frozen, though this step is unnecessary. (It important to NOT mix food that is frozen and not-frozen for the freeze dryer!) A dehydrator takes only non-frozen food. There is a huge difference in the shelf life of freeze dried vs dehydrated food.
Shelf Life of Freeze Dryer vs Dehydrator
Freeze dryers have gained in popularity due to a variety of factors. One of them is the fact that they convert fresh food into a shelf stable product for 25+ years! This is highly appealing in the wake of potential food shortages. Depending on how it is stored dehydrated food is good for 1-5 years. This contrasts huge with the 25-30 year shelf life that freeze dryers offer. If you are interested in how to store food long term properly to maximize shelf life for both dehydrated and freeze dried foods check out my post how to have long term food storage.
Food Results of Freeze Dryer vs Dehydrator
The most important food result bath I would like to point out first is the nutritional retention comparison between freeze dried food and dehydrated food.
- Freeze Dried Food Retains: 97% of its original nutritional value
- Dehydrated food retains: 60% of its original nutritional value
The second point about the food quality is the taste. In general we think that freeze dried food tastes better. Freeze dried fruits taste like candy! The have a crisp texture, and the flavor is often unchanged from the fresh version.
Dehydrated foods taste good but not every food does well in the dehydrator. Vegetables tend to deteriorate quickly when dehydrated. The dehydrator makes food’s texture chewy like jerky. Still, some foods are great in the dehydrator. Both the freeze dryer and the dehydrator have very different tastes and outcomes.
Freeze Dryer vs Dehydrator Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Why are freeze dryers so expensive?
Freeze dryers are expensive because they have a lot of moving parts. If you consider the breakdown of the parts and what they return to a household, they are actually reasonably priced. If you buy expensive store-bought freeze dried food from the grocery store, owning a home freeze dryer will pay itself back quickly by freeze drying food at home.
Are freeze dryers worth it?
Yes. We found that owning a home freeze dryer worth the cost. This answer can vary depending on a variety of circumstances, and personal opinion. If you are curious to get our honest review about the harvest right freeze dryer, (where I expose the good, the bad, and the ugly!) you can check that out here.
Can you make jerky in the freeze dryer?
No. You can freeze dry meat, but it is not at all jerky texture. Freeze dried meat is crispy instead of chewy.
Is freeze drying better than a dehydrator?
Yes. You can freeze dry a wider variety of foods and the nutritional quality remains intact. With that being said, we own and use both a dehydrator and a freeze dryer because they produce different kinds of food. Each household needs to assess which machine is best. If you are like us, both are instrumental!
Can you use a freeze dryer as a dehydrator?
No. A freeze dryer uses a process called lyophilization. Dehydrating uses a single process of removing the moisture at a slow low heat. You will need a dehydrator or even an oven set on low heat to dehydrate food.
What can you not freeze dry?
Foods that do not freeze dry well have a high fat or oil content. Additionally, sticky sugary substances like honey should not go in the freeze dryer. Do NOT freeze dry:
- peanut butter
- pure chocolate
Can I freeze dry breast milk?
Yes! Breast milk can be freeze dried. Freeze drying food preserves the nutritional integrity of food so breast milk can be freeze dried. If you are interested to know more about the process of freeze drying breast milk, check out this article explaining the process.
How long does dehydrated meat last?
Dehydrated meat lasts between 1-5 years depending on it’s storage environment. Freeze dried meat lasts between 20-25 years in ideal storage conditions. If you are interested in knowing how to store food properly for long term storage, check out this article on how to have long term food storage.
Can you live off of freeze dried foods?
Yes! You can survive off of freeze dried food, since it is nutrient dense.