Freeze Dryer vs Dehydrator: What Sets Them Apart


Freeze Dryer Dehydrators

Harvest Right freeze dryers and dehydrators can be very useful tools for storing food for emergencies. Both appliances will allow you to store fresh food for an extended amount of time. Their basic purpose is similar as they both remove the moisture from foods. But the processes and the end results of a freeze dryer and dehydrator are quite different so it is important to compare them to find what will work best for you. 

Freeze dryers and dehydrators will both remove the moisture from food in order to preserve it longer. Freeze dryers rapidly freeze food and then draw out up to 98% of the moisture while bringing the food back up to normal temperatures. Freeze-dried foods will be stiff and snap when bent and can be stored for many years. A food dehydrator will use heat and circulating air to remove up to 85-90% of moisture. The end product will be slightly flexible and chewy and can be stored for 1-5 years.

In this article, we will compare and contrast everything you will need to know about freeze dryers and food dehydrators including 

  • How both machines work
  • What types of foods you can use 
  • Nutritional value information
  • How long each process takes  
  • How to store freeze-dried and dehydrated foods
  • Purchasing options for both
  • Pros and Cons of each

Freeze Dryers

Here is a video where I show you how to use a Harvest Right freeze dryer to freeze dry raw eggs!

How They Work

Harvest Right Freeze Dryer

Freeze dryers work by using freezing temperatures and a vacuum pump to pull any moisture out of foods. Once items are placed into the freeze dryer, the machine will rapidly drop the temperature to under -30 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The chamber will then slowly raise the temperature back up and cause the foods to release moisture. Due to the freezing temperatures, any moisture that comes from the food will turn directly into a gas form from a solid form through a process called sublimation. 

A vacuum pump will then draw out the moisture in the air while leaving all the original taste, nutritional value, and texture of your foods intact. 

What Types of Food Can You Freeze Dry? 

There is a huge variety of foods that can be freeze-dried! Most fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and even entire meals can be freeze-dried. 

For the complete list, check out my post here: What Foods Can or Cannot be Freeze-Dried? (emergencyprepguy.com).

Will Freeze Drying Change The Taste of My Food?

No! When you add water back in, freeze-dried foods will return back to their original taste, freshness, texture, and nutritional value! Freeze-dried food only removes the moisture without changing the taste. Entire meals, meats, and some dairy products will need to have water added back in and cooked in order to taste the best. 

Some freeze-dried foods can also be eaten without reconstituting. Fruits, vegetables, and treats work especially well for this. The texture will be slightly more crunchy and they will generally be sweeter, but they are a great choice for lightweight, easy snacks. 

Freeze drying will protect almost 100% of the nutritional value of foods! The process does not involve heat, which is a major culprit in decreasing nutritional value. 

How Long Does it Take? 

Freeze dryers can take anywhere from 20 – 40 hours for one cycle. This is because of the sublimation process or raising the temperature to release the moisture. This is done very slowly and can take longer the more moisture that is in your food. 

Meats, corn, and some vegetables have lower amounts of moisture and will take a lot shorter cycle. While fruits and dairy products generally hold more water and will take longer. They are definitely worth the added time though as freeze-dried fruits are fantastic! 

Food Storage 

In order to maintain the freshness in your freeze-dried foods, it is important to keep the moisture out completely. Foods will need to be stored in either vacuum-sealed mylar bags or sealed cans once it is freeze-dried. When sealed correctly, freeze-dried foods can last for many years and maintain their original taste, texture, and appearance once water is added back in!

Freeze dried foods can last up to 25 years when stored properly. Keeping the sealed containers in a cool, dry location will help preserve them for use in your food storage for any emergency that may come. 

Purchasing Recommendations

The best, and really only, home freeze dryer on the market currently is the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer. They are a bit of an investment but are a great choice if you are ready to add freeze drying to your food storage options. 

Read my blog post here all about what to look for and what to consider when purchasing a home freeze dryer! 

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Maintains taste, texture, nutritional value, and appearance of food
  • Can dry any fruits, vegetables, dairy products, full meals, and much more
  • Stores well for up to 25 years

Cons:

  • Expensive to purchase 
  • Longer run time

Food Dehydrator

How They Work

Excalibur Food Dehydrators

A food dehydrator removes moisture from foods by circulating warm air around them to dry them out. In comparison to an oven, a dehydrator will use lower temperatures for longer times and include a fan to move the air. 

Dehydrated foods will have anywhere from 5-20% of their original moisture, which will leave them still slightly flexible. 

What Types of Food Can You Dehydrate? 

Foods that work best for dehydration are fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs, and homemade pasta. Some of the most common foods to dehydrate include apples, mangoes, onions, garlic, jerky, and almost all herbs. These foods can be reconstituted before eating, or eaten dehydrated! 

Will Dehydration Change The Food? 

Yes! Due to the heat used during the dehydration process, foods that are dehydrated will have a slightly bendy texture and have a more potent flavor. Adding water back into dehydrated foods will bring them back to their original flavor, but the texture will not be quite the same. 

Reconstituted foods are great for cooking or combining with other foods due to the change in texture that could take some getting used to. 

Nutritional value will also take a bit of a hit, as does any food that has been heated. Dehydrated food will only hold on to about 60-70% of its original nutritional value. 

How Long Does it Take? 

Dehydration takes anywhere from 2 – 40 hours depending on what you are dehydrating. Fruits and meats will take the longest because they have much more water in them. Herbs and nuts dry out quickly as there is little water in them to begin with. 

Food Storage 

Dehydrated foods should be stored in a sealed container to keep any excess moisture out. Vacuum sealed mylar bags, sealed cans, or glass jars work really well and are easily accessible.

Dehydrated foods can last up to 5 years in a sealed container stored in a cool dry place.  Depending on the food and how thoroughly it was dried will change how long it will last. 

Pros and Cons:

Pros: 

  • Relatively inexpensive to purchase
  • Quick run time

Cons: 

  • Limited variety of food options
  • Shelf life of 1-5 years
  • Cannot be returned to it’s original taste and texture

Compare and Contrast 

FREEZE DRYERFOOD DEHYDRATOR
Process Uses cold temperatures and sublimationUses warm temperatures and air circulation
TemperatureColdWarm
Time20-40 hours2-40 hours 
Moisture removed98%85-95%
Nutritional Value Remaining97-100%60-70%
LimitsCannot dry anything high fat or high sugarCannot dry anything frozen, dairy products, or complete meals
Appliance cost $2,400 – $5,000$200 – $500
Storage Life of Food20-25 years1-5 years

General Takeaways: Freeze Dryer vs Food Dehydrator

Freeze dryers and food dehydrators can both preserve food, remove moisture, and add more options to your food storage. They are both useful tools especially when used along side a garden, canning, or other food preservation techniques to extend the life of your food and save you money. 

Freeze dryers are great for creating shelf stable foods that will last up to 25 years. You can freeze dry your favorite snacks as well as full meals for lightweight, easy to make foods for camping, hiking, road trips, emergencies, or every day use.

A freeze dryer is a definite investment up front, but can be hugely beneficial as you can reconstitute foods to their original taste, texture, and nutrition.  

Food dehydrators are also a great way to add food to your food storage or just prolong seasonal items. Dehydrators are relatively inexpensive and quick to use, so you can go from garden to dried in just a few hours. 

Dehydrated foods may take some adjusting to really enjoy their texture and flavors, but are easy to mix with water and add into favorite recipes. 

Consider purchasing a freeze dryer if: 

  • You regularly dehydrate food and want to expand your options
  • You enjoy dehydrated foods and are confident drying, eating, and cooking with them
  • You are looking for ways to expand your food storage, meal options, or emergency preparation items
  • You want to dehydrate and store fully prepared, ready to eat meals
  • You are financially able to invest in a freeze dryer

Consider purchasing a food dehydrator if: 

  • You are new to drying food and are interested in trying it out
  • You want to dry fruits and vegetables only
  • You want to make your own dried herbs 
  • You are not financially able to invest in a freeze dryer but still want to add more to your food storage options

David

Hi! I’m David. For most of my life I have been interested in emergency preparedness. Over the many years things have changed a great deal. From freeze dried food, to LED lanterns, preparing for an emergency has never been easier. The continual research I have done over the years have become the basis for this website. Now it is one of the most trusted sources to learn about emergency preparedness. Read More

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