If you’re thinking about taking the leap and investing in a home freeze drying unit, you may be wondering which are the best foods to freeze dry. You may also have heard that freeze dried products last a long time in storage and are healthier than something like canned foods. Today’s article will discuss which fruits and veggies are best to freeze dry, as well as general storage times and tips.
The Best Food to Freeze Dry?
It’s natural to wonder whether the benefits of a home freeze drying unit outweigh the hefty price tag. I went through that decision making process and one thing that helped me decide was learning which are the best foods to freeze dry.
If you’re making this decision or have newly acquired a freeze dryer, I hope the following information is useful to you.
General List of Best Foods to Freeze Dry:
- Dairy – milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc.
- Eggs, Meats, & Nuts
- Pre-Made Meals
- Sourdough Starter
- Treats – like candy and ice cream
It’s important to note before we continue that the best foods to freeze dry are the ones YOUR FAMILY WILL ACTUALLY EAT. There’s no sense wasting your time, energy, or capital to preserve a food that no one likes or knows how to use.
Make a list of what you actually eat from the garden and farmers market every year.
What Fruit is Best to Freeze Dry?
- Apples & Pears
- Berries of assorted varieties
- Citrus (thinly sliced and place in only one layer on the tray)
- Peaches & Nectarines
- Exotics like Bananas & Passionfruit
What Veggies are Best to Freeze Dry?
- Asparagus & Avocado – these are both amazingly preserved in a freeze dryer in both color and flavor
- Beets & Other Roots Crops – like carrots, parsnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga – radishes are adequate but tend to turn dusty because of their high water content.
- Broccoli & Other Brassicas – like cauliflower but keep the pieces very small or they turn powdery – or you can simply powder these veggies when they’re done processing.
- Corn – I do not like how dehydrated corn reconstitutes because it seems to concentrate the starches. When you chew it, it feels like it’s just getting bigger in your mouth. Freeze dried corn reconstitutes perfectly.
- Leafy Greens – like lettuce, spinach, kales, amaranth – all make great green powder for smoothies, too.
- Mushrooms – these are gorgeous
- Peas & Beans
- Tomatoes – and any Nightshade like Peppers & Eggplant – these are amazing when powdered* (see next section)
- Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes – blanche first for best results
Can I Freeze Dry Herbs?
Yes! Freeze drying is particularly well suited to preserving herbs because all those healthy components and flavors are retained. The texture and color are also retained, which makes them easy to identify once they’re in your kitchen.
I keep small Mylar bags on hand specifically to store herbs for the kitchen and home apothecary. You can choose to store them whole leaf or crush them down to save space. I rarely pre-crush my dehydrated herbs for fear of them losing their oils and flavor more rapidly.
With my freeze dried herbs, I don’t worry about it at all. The flavor and aroma is still strong even after being in storage. FYI, that’s not to say that I automatically crush all my freeze dried herbs when sealing them in their bags. Sometimes, I prefer whole leaf for various reasons.
Freeze dried herbs powder very easily, which is another bonus when including them in recipes like herbal butter or when encapsulating my own herbal supplement capsules. Bulkier herbs like rosemary and lavender will retain their structure a little more robustly than something like lemon balm.
Which makes them perfect for including in items like these:
Powdering Freeze Dried Foods
One of our favorite way to use freeze dried produce is to powder it. The produce powders can be used to:
- Flavor sauces, baked goods, smoothies, ice creams, etc.
- As natural dyes for frosting, colored sugars, and homemade sprinkles.
- *Tomato, pepper, and eggplant powder make a wonderful Italian sauce for pizza, spaghetti, and lasagna. When combined with celery, carrots, and onion powder, they all make a very fine morning vegetable juice akin to V-8®.
- I use freeze dried apples as a pectin substitute in jam and holiday cranberry sauce. It tastes so delicious and gels consistently well. (You can use dehydrated apples, too, but the resulting powder will always be finer with a freeze dryer.)
I even use tomato powder to make tomato paste by adding just enough water to reconstitute it. This prevents waste since I can make only what I need for any given recipe. Plus, homegrown tastes so much better!
Tips & Troubleshooting Freeze Dried Foods
You can pretty much freeze dry any fruit or vegetable, though you may prefer the taste or texture of certain dehydrated produce. I have a list of such foods that I prefer in our article below:
Other veggies are just problematic when freeze dried. For example:
- Celery is hard to reconstitute well because it’s very stringy. You can powder it, though, to add to soups and smoothies.
- Bread is likewise hard to reconstitute, though it can be done by slow absorption. Put a piece of freeze dried bread on a slightly damp towel in a plastic bag and it will soften up. I just don’t like to eat it, though. Bleh.
- Potatoes must be blanched before freeze drying to prevent oxidization (turning black). I hate, hate, hate blanching food (especially potatoes) but I think I’m just a baby about it. You’re probably much more mature than I am.
- Citrus can be obnoxiously tricky to freeze dry. It’s very dense and full of sugar, two things that give it a long batch time. You have to check every, single piece of freeze dried citrus looking for pockets of ice. If you find even one, put the whole batch back in to dry it some more. It’s delicious, but it can be a pain in the butt.
- Wet dairy like milk, sour cream, and yogurt are wonderful products to freeze dry – I love them! However, they are very powdery and flighty when you’re trying to get them out of the trays and stuffed into a Mylar bag. The particles fly around and then cling to everything, including the inside of your nose. Use a flat spatula to remove large chunks, if possible.
- Freeze dried onions are also super powdery. I still preserve them this way but I usually powder them once they’re dry.
My Family’s Favorite Best Foods to Freeze Dry
Pretty much every food that is preserved this way is the best food to freeze dry. The results achieved with a freeze dryer are almost magical. Here are some of our favorite foods preserved in a freeze dryer:
- Apples, Strawberries, & Peaches – these make an amazing snack and can be powdered for flavoring and natural food coloring; powdered apples make a natural pectin substitute
- Avocados & Mushrooms – these are amazing because the color is completely preserved and they taste true to form
- Hash Browns – I love my dehydrated shredded potatoes for hash brown quite a bit, but freeze dried is equally awesome
- Milk, Eggs, & Cheese – also sour cream, cottage cheese, paneer, block cheese – these are wonderful products to have on hand
- Salad Topping – one of my favorite ways to preserve and use random bits and bobs from the garden
- Pre-Made Meals
- Meats – both raw and pre-cooked
- Radish, Beets, Rutabaga, & Other Root Crops – these have better flavor, color, and texture than dehydrated (though dehydrated versions of these veggies are still good)
- Veggie Chips – these have better flavor in the freeze dryer in my opinion, but I like the texture better when they’re simply dehydrated because they’re crunchier
- Ice Cream
Overall, the freeze dryer is great for extended shelf life, nutrient preservation, powdering ability, and reconstituting back to original form and flavor.
How Long Do Freeze Dried Foods Last?
Freeze dried fruits and veggies can last upwards of 25 years if dried and stored properly. That’s much longer than dehydrated and canned foods combined! As an added bonus, freeze dried foods are extremely light and portable.
However, you should remember that some freeze dried foods simply taste extra delicious and so they don’t actually last long because your family eats them down so quickly. In my house, these items include:
- Strawberries or Any Berry
These all make fantastic snack foods that are healthy and delicious. Plan to preserve extra of these items.
Are Freeze Dried Veggies & Fruits Healthier Than Dehydrated?
The freeze drying process causes very little damage or diminishing of the original food so it retains most of its nutritional value. And flavor!
A home freeze dryer also allows you to store food without preservatives like added sugar or salt. People who follow special diets or who find packaged preserved foods to be too unhealthy can really benefit from freeze drying their own foods.
The cost is also something to consider. If you have a home food storage program, you probably already know that keeping it stocked with packaged foods can get quite costly, especially if you want to buy freeze dried foods.
Harvest Right has a cost analysis between home freeze dried foods and commercial in their article “6 Frequently Asked Questions About the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer.” This article was written in 2020, so figure that the costs have risen with inflation, especially this year (2023).
What Are the Main Disadvantages of Freeze Drying?
- The cost of the unit and equipment is the first roadblock. Besides the unit itself, you need Mylar bags & Mylar bag sealer, as well as oxygen absorbers, and boxes in which to store the food. If you purchase the standard pump, you will also need oil to perform regular maintenance.
- Freeze dryers require a 220 volt plug and a 20 amp circuit. I’ve had to have this installed twice now, since I’ve moved that many times since I’ve owned my freeze drying unit.
- Home freeze dryers run a long time – anywhere from 24 to 36 to 60 hours! That’s a lot of electricity.
- The motors on the freeze dryers are very loud because of the hard work they do creating a vacuum, freezing, and otherwise preserve your food safely and effectively.
- There’s a learning curve to using a freeze dryer and because this piece of equipment has a computer, it can have software issues that require calls to customer service to fix.
Can I Use a Dehydrator as a Freeze Dryer?
Absolutely not! A home dehydrator unit is a relatively simple machine that speeds along the natural dehydration process by applying a range of warm temperatures and a fan.
A home freeze drying unit is a complicated jungle of vacuum seals, powerful motors, mTorr regulating, and pressure valves. The process is basic, but not something that can be done in a dehydrator.
Here’s a brief explanation of how a freeze dryer works from Utah State University:
Freeze drying is broken down into two simple processes: freezing and vacuum drying. Foods are first frozen to well below 0°F. The colder the freeze the more efficient the next step will be. Once frozen, foods are subjected to vacuum drying. The air and water vapor (gas) are removed from the food processing chamber using a vacuum pump. This includes removing the water vapor that was once inside of the foods. When these two steps are properly completed, the food is dry enough to allow for safe storage at room temperature.