You may have heard the terms “freeze-dried” and “dehydrated” when talking about dried foods in general, such as herbs, fruits, and vegetables. It’s important to note that these are very unique preservation methods, although both involve removing moisture. This guide explores the differences between freeze-dried vs dehydrated foods by looking at the process involved, equipment used, food quality, and more.
What are Freeze-Dried Foods?
Freeze-dried foods are the result of a preservation method called freeze-drying, also known as lyophilization. As the term implies, freeze-drying involves freezing and drying, which lengthens that food’s shelf life and retains almost all its nutrients. These foods are high in quality. They’re very lightweight (since water is removed) and useful for traveling, as well as for emergency food supplies.
What are Dehydrated Foods?
Dehydrated foods are the result of dehydration, which is also a way of preserving food by removing its moisture. Although dehydrated foods weigh less than their original weight (think of a dried mushroom versus a fresh one), freeze-dried foods end up lighter since they’re 99% moisture-free.
Freeze-Dried vs. Dehydrated Foods
Still not sure how they’re different? For a closer look, we’ll consider the most important aspects of freeze-drying vs dehydrating below, starting with the process used to produce these foods.
Freeze-drying is new compared to dehydrating food. There’s evidence showing that dehydration has been practiced as early as 12,000 BC. People also built still houses in the middle ages if they didn’t have enough sunlight to dry their herbs. Freeze-drying, on the other hand, was introduced in the 1950s-1960s [*][*].
To freeze-dry food, you’ll need a special machine called a freeze-dryer. If you’re just preserving foods at home, a home freeze-drying machine will suffice. It has a smaller capacity and is easier to use. Commercial freeze dryers are also available for manufacturers in the food and pharmaceutical industries. These machines are bigger, more complex, and able to handle large volumes at once.
Dehydrating food can be accomplished using various methods — laying food in a sunny area, oven-drying, and placing food in an electric dehydrator. Among these drying methods, the electric dehydrator offers the most convenience.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of freeze-dried vs dehydrated food is that freeze-drying provides more variety. This means you can freeze-dry almost anything. You’re not just limited to veggies, fruits, and herbs. Others include coffee, dairy, eggs, meat, full meals, grains, and pet food. In fact, pharmaceutical products can be freeze-dried (antibiotics, vaccines, cells, tissues, etc).
Dehydration also covers a lot of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, sauces, syrups, fish, and meats. However, note that certain foods do not dehydrate well. Avoid avocados, peanut butter, and fatty meats since fat can go rancid.
Tate is undoubtedly one of the biggest considerations in product development. Freeze-drying doesn’t change the taste of food, whereas dehydration gives food a more concentrated, stronger flavor.
For example, you could freeze-dry a pasta and beef meal for a camping trip. When you’re ready to eat it, simply add hot water. It will taste as good as it did when it was newly cooked.
There’s a noticeable difference in texture with dehydrating vs freeze-drying. When you touch the surface of a freeze-dried piece of fruit, an apple slice, for example, it feels airy and porous. But once rehydrated, freeze-dried foods regain their original texture.
Dehydrated foods have crunchy and wrinkled textures. They also look shrunken. Furthermore, rehydrating these foods can take longer than freeze-dried foods, which makes freeze-dried products almost ready to eat.
Both preservation methods will end up slightly changing a food’s nutritional value, although freeze-drying produces better quality food because it retains 97% of the vitamins and minerals found in its original state.
On the contrary, dehydration may result in higher nutrient losses. Some sources would also mention the heat and air involved with dehydration may destroy vitamins A and C [*].
But overall, freeze-drying and dehydration produce healthy foods. They’re good choices while also having long shelf lives.
Another difference between freeze-drying and dehydrating is the shelf life. Of the two, freeze-drying offers the longest shelf life, lasting from 25 to 30 years. This will ensure that you have nutritious foods for a long time especially when you cannot access fresh foods during emergency situations.
As for dehydrated foods, the shelf life usually ranges from a couple of months to 20 years when properly prepared and stored. This is mostly true with commercially dehydrated foods. If you make them at home, be sure to keep them in airtight containers in a cool, dark area.
When it comes to freeze-dryer vs dehydrator cost, a dehydrator tends to be cheaper, ranging from $50-$600. Small freeze-dryers start at $1,995 and can handle up to 7 pounds.
If you decide to invest in freeze-drying or buy freeze-dried foods, they’re going to be more expensive — but they’re worth it.
|Process||Newer process, started in the 1950s-1960s||Older process, has been practiced as early as 12,000 BC|
|Equipment||Home or commercial freeze-dryer||Electric dehydrator or an oven|
|Foods||Wide variety of foods and drinks, including fruits, vegetables, coffee, dairy, eggs, meat, full meals, grains, and pet food||Fruits, vegetables, sauces, syrups, fish, and meats. |
Avoid dehydrating foods with high fat content.
|Taste||Maintains taste and freshness||More concentrated flavor|
|Texture||Airy and porous||Wrinkled and shrunken|
|Nutrition||Retains 97% of the food’s vitamins and minerals||More nutrients are lost, and vitamins A and C may be reduced or destroyed|
|Shelf Life||25 to 30 years||Months to 20 years|
|Cost||Can be expensive, machine starts at $1,995||More affordable, machine ranges from $50-$600|
Freeze-drying and dehydrating foods are great methods to add to your lifestyle. Whether you take advantage of them for a healthy diet, emergency preparedness, or backpacking adventures, both offer benefits. From reducing the bulk of foods to having them all year, they appeal to a lot of consumers.
Knowing their differences will help you decide which is best for you. If you’re interested in freeze-drying your food or pharmaceutical products, our facility is here for you. Learn more about our freeze-drying services and contact us today.