In recent years, there’s been a lot of buzz among preppers on social media about a new kitchen gadget. People have been curious about whether it’s worth the price and how well it works for the average prepper.
A few months ago, I took the plunge and invested in a home freeze dryer. Now, I want to share my thoughts on whether it’s a good investment and provide some quick tips to help you with your journey towards food security.
I was initially hesitant to buy a freeze dryer, especially considering the starting price of $2,500 for a small model. This is a significant expense for most families. With two kids and frequent visitors at my place, I thought a medium-sized machine would be a better fit, and so far, it has proven to be a wise choice.
The medium-sized freeze dryer I purchased comes with four stainless steel trays, each capable of holding up to 2 pounds of food. You can often find freeze dryers online at special rates, or you might come across commercial or pharmaceutical-grade machines for sale. However, for the average consumer, the standard home variety is the most suitable. You should select a machine based on your cooking habits and family size. If you’re not used to preparing large quantities of food at once, dealing with a big machine can be frustrating.
According to Harvest Right, with the medium-sized machine, you can freeze-dry about 312 gallons of food per year. To put that in perspective, that’s equivalent to 62 five-gallon buckets. Achieving this output is feasible if you’re willing to run food batches on a daily basis.
Finding Reliable Freeze-Drying Advice
Before you take the plunge into the world of freeze-drying, you might feel tempted to join social media groups to gather insights into the pros and cons of this process. However, I’d like to suggest an alternative approach. Instead of diving into those groups, look for a trustworthy YouTube channel dedicated to freeze-drying, and consider exploring Harvest Right’s official channel.
I personally advise against Facebook groups on this journey. Many of them can be disheartening, and you’ll often encounter harsh criticism for asking questions that have already been addressed within the group. I myself joined several prominent groups before purchasing my freeze-dryer, and the overwhelming number of complaints I came across nearly convinced me to cancel my order.
Once I finally made the investment, my anxiety about the issues discussed in these groups kept me from even turning on my freeze-dryer. I contemplated returning it for a while. In fact, I went two whole months without using the device.
Eventually, I decided to give it a shot before my warranty expired. To my surprise, I discovered that every problem discussed extensively in those groups boiled down to user error. Over the course of 18 months, my machine has functioned flawlessly, except for occasional temperature warnings, which were due to my using it in an outdoor building.
Exploring Freeze-Drying Options
When it comes to freeze-drying, the possibilities are extensive, with over 100 types of food that can be processed (excluding dry goods). If you’re looking to freeze-dry meats, there’s a key tip: trim the fat. Foods rich in fats, high sugar content, and oils don’t freeze-dry effectively, especially for long-term storage.
The magic of freeze-drying lies in its ability to remove up to 98% of the moisture from foods, ensuring the longest possible shelf-life while preserving their original nutritional value. Whether it’s cooked or raw foods, drink mixes, butter, eggs, or even indulgent treats like ice cream and yogurt, freeze-drying is a versatile method.
Beyond the benefits for long-term food storage, freeze-drying can also open up income opportunities. Many entrepreneurs have tapped into this by creating freeze-dried candies like Milk Duds, Skittles, gummy worms, and Jolly Ranchers. These candies can be transformed into crunchy treats by applying heat under vacuum pressure, and they tend to sell exceptionally well at farmers markets and boutique shops.
Freeze-drying can be used to preserve a wide range of foods, including some unusual items that you might not immediately think of. Here are a few examples of unconventional foods that can be freeze-dried:
Cheese: Cheese can be freeze-dried to create crunchy cheese snacks or used as a flavorful addition to soups and sauces.
Olives: Freeze-dried olives make for a unique and tasty snack with a satisfying crunch.
Pumpkin: Freeze-dried pumpkin can be powdered and used to add a burst of flavor and nutrients to various dishes, such as oatmeal or smoothies.
Hummus: Freeze-dried hummus can be rehydrated to make a quick and convenient dip or spread.
Pickles: Freeze-dried pickles retain their tangy flavor and can be eaten as a crispy snack or rehydrated for sandwiches and salads.
Sauces and Gravies: Liquid sauces and gravies can be freeze-dried into convenient powder forms, making them easy to store and reconstitute for meals.
Marshmallows: Freeze-dried marshmallows are a popular choice for adding a sweet and crunchy element to cereals, desserts, or hot cocoa.
Tofu: Freeze-dried tofu can be ground into a protein-rich powder that can be used in various recipes for added nutrition.
Sushi: Freeze-dried sushi ingredients like seaweed and rice can be rehydrated for a unique and portable snack.
Caviar: Freeze-dried caviar maintains its distinctive flavor and texture, making it an interesting addition to gourmet dishes.
Remember that the quality of the final freeze-dried product may vary depending on the food item and the specific freeze-drying process used. It’s always a good idea to experiment and see which unusual foods work best for your taste preferences and culinary creativity.
Choosing a Suitable Location for Your Freeze Dryer
When it comes to where you should put your freeze dryer, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the best results. First, think about noise. The machine itself is about as loud as a window air conditioner, but it gets a bit noisier when you add in the vacuum pump. So, it’s not something you’d want to have in your family room while you’re enjoying a movie night.
Good spots for your freeze dryer include basements, garages, or insulated rooms in separate buildings. For example, I created a well-insulated room in an outbuilding using 4×8 insulation panels. To keep it comfortable year-round, I installed a window air conditioner for the summer and a space heater for the winter. So far, it’s worked perfectly without any issues.
Keep in mind that if you use the machine daily to process food, your electricity bill might go up by a few dollars each month. In my rural area, where I run a few batches per week, I only noticed a small increase in my monthly bill. The impact on your electricity cost depends on how often you’ll be using the machine regularly.
Freeze Dryer Maintenance Simplified
When it comes to maintaining your freeze dryer, one of the key considerations is choosing the right vacuum pump. In the freeze-drying community, this is a hot topic. When I bought my machine, I went for the basic pump, which meant I had to change the pump oil every four or five food cycles.
Changing the oil is a quick task, taking around a minute, and it didn’t feel like too much of a hassle, especially when I considered the $700 I saved by not opting for a more advanced pump at the time. Now, Harvest Right offers the premier pump as the standard choice, an upgrade from what I have.
The premier pump still needs regular oil changes, but it comes with advantages. It’s quieter and offers a wider range of temperature settings, giving you more flexibility if you want to use the machine in a breezeway or garage. While pump oil can be a bit pricey, the good news is that you can filter and reuse it. Additionally, there’s an oil-free pump available, but it comes with a hefty $1,500 price increase.
Practical Tips for Successful Freeze-Drying
In the past few months, we’ve gained valuable insights through trial and error in our freeze-drying adventures. Here are some straightforward tips to help you get started on your own freeze-drying journey:
Control the Room Temperature: To ensure your machine functions optimally, maintain a room temperature between 45°F and 75°F. Depending on your location, you might need additional heating or air conditioning to keep the temperature within this range. Extreme temperatures can harm your vacuum pump and the machine itself.
Practice Food Safety: Keep your workspace and tools clean and sanitized to maintain the freshness and safety of your food. Avoid cross-contamination during food preparation and freeze-drying. Using precooked, homemade frozen food reduces the chances of common issues associated with home freeze-drying.
Stock Up on Supplies: Depending on your food storage plans, you’ll need various sizes of oxygen absorbers and mylar bags. Dry canning is also an option. If you choose canning jars, use oxygen absorbers and protect the contents from light to preserve their nutritional value.
Invest in a Brita Filter Pitcher: This handy tool allows you to filter and reuse your pump oil indefinitely. Use toilet paper or coffee filters to block the filter tube of the Brita to separate oil from food debris and water trapped in the oil. Many instructional videos online demonstrate this process.
Pre-Freeze Your Food: Speed up the freeze-drying process and prevent messes in your machine by pre-freezing your food. Never mix frozen and unfrozen foods in the machine simultaneously, as it can lead to explosions and messy cleanups.
Save on Costs: Freeze-dry leftovers, canned goods, and foods nearing their expiration date to save money in the face of rising food costs.
One-Pot Meals: Simplify your freeze-drying routine by preparing one-pot meals in your slow cooker or crockpot daily. This approach helps you quickly build up your supply with family favorites.
Regularly Clean Your Machine: After a few cycles, clean your machine. It’s normal to find standing water with food debris at the back of the drying cylinder after defrosting. Using a pump shim to slightly elevate the front of your machine during defrosting can eliminate this issue, allowing for thorough cleaning between runs.
Cook Extra: Plan to cook extra portions of meals like steak, pizza, or baked potatoes. These extras can go straight into the machine, providing a bountiful supply for your family during emergencies.
Keep It Simple: While you might come across software updates, hacks, and complex techniques in the world of freeze-drying, most of these are unnecessary. Focus on simplicity, building your food supply, and enjoying the process. This approach will also help you avoid inadvertently damaging your machine.
In a world where food costs are steadily rising, and supply chains can be less reliable, having a home freeze-dry machine can significantly boost your food security and independence. It allows you to reduce food waste, preserve your entire garden harvest, and store a wider variety of delicious, nutritious foods that you already enjoy for many years to come.
While a home freeze dryer isn’t the sole solution for establishing a rock-solid, long-term food supply, it’s a valuable tool in your arsenal. We’re thrilled with our decision to invest in a freeze dryer for our family, and if you decide to make the same choice, I believe you’ll be equally satisfied with the benefits it brings to your food storage and overall preparedness.
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