This article will be your guide to all foods that can or cannot be freeze-dried with a Harvest Right freeze dryer, including comprehensive lists and tips on freeze-drying and rehydrating these food items.
The foods that freeze-dry the best are those with low fat and sugar content. Foods that are high in fat simply can’t be dried without leaving behind an oily residue. High-sugar foods are hard to dehydrate because sugar binds to water, making it difficult to escape. Other than these few limitations, the sky is the limit!
What Foods Can be Freeze-Dried?
What Foods Can’t be Freeze-Dried?
- Oil-based salad dressings
- Pasta (dry)
- Peanut Butter
- Pure Chocolate
After owning a freeze-dryer for several years I’ve experimented with all types of food items. I have an extensive pantry full of freeze-dried food and believe me, I’ve had my share of mistakes too.
Below I’ll give you comprehensive lists of food that can be freeze-dried, as well as tips and tricks for getting the best product from your freeze-dryer. I’ll also tell you what foods can’t be freeze-dried (and why). Read through to save yourself time and headache as you start building your emergency preparedness pantry!
All of my experimentation is done on a Harvest Right freeze-dryer. If you’re interested in learning why I love my Harvest Right check out this article on buying a home freeze dryer.
Why Freeze Dry Food?
Freeze-drying food is perhaps the best way to preserve food with as close to its original color, texture, and nutrient content for the longest period of time. Freeze-dried food routinely retains more than 90% of its original nutrients. This is because heating food destroys the nutrients in food, but freeze-drying doesn’t involve any heat.
Plus, freeze-dried food lasts a long time; up to 25 years in the right conditions. There is a very wide array of foods that can be freeze-dried. Cooked or raw, from single fruits to entire meals, freeze-drying offers food preparation options you can’t get anywhere else.
Foods That Can Be Freeze Dried
- Meat (including fish and poultry)
- Full Meals
- Snacks (and Candy)
- Herbs and Spices
I’ll start at the top of the list with one of the most popular freeze-dried foods: fruit!
- Mixed Fruit
- Star Fruit
Fruits are excellent sources of vitamins and fiber, and they’re delicious too. When preparing fruit in general, try to slice the fruit into equal sizes to ensure equal drying time.
Tips on Preparing Fruit for Freeze-Drying
You can throw your fruit as-is into the Harvest Right freeze-dryer and experiment with how it comes out. I have a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that may save you some experimental energy though.
Apples – Try coating them with cinnamon!
Avocados, Bananas – These will brown up when they are exposed to air (apples will too for that matter) but if you toss them with lemon juice it will help keep their eye-appeal up over time. Also, be sure to remove the large pit from the avocado and slice the remaining pieces.
Stone Fruits – Pit these and halve them before freeze-drying. These include cherries, peaches, plums, and apricots.
Blueberries and Grapes – Cut these in half too as their large skin: flesh ratio makes it hard for them to properly dry out in a reasonable amount of time.
Blackberries and raspberries – These dehydrate very well as they are already small and have thin skins.
Citrus – Citrus freeze dries best when it’s been peeled and the white pith has been removed. Mandarin oranges from a can are very easy to freeze-dry for this reason. You can freeze-dry slices of citrus with the rind on too.
Mango – Mango dehydrates well. Just be sure to remove the thick skin and slice it into equally sized pieces.
Pineapple – You’ll want to cut the pineapple and get rid of all the spines before freeze-drying.
Melons – Most melons freeze-dry and rehydrate fairly well but the exception is watermelon. Watermelon can be freeze-dried (but it will be very thin–like pink jerky), but adding water back to it creates a kind of a mushy consistency. Best to eat this as watermelon jerky (it’s still good!).
Strawberries – These freeze-dry very well and are great additions to cereal or oatmeal. I slice mine in half before freeze-drying.
You can watch this short video to see how big the fruit pieces are and what they look like at the end of the freeze-drying process.
Vegetables for Freeze Drying
- Green Beans
- Kale (or any leafy green)
- Swiss Chard
In general, you’ll want to cut up your vegetables like you did your fruit, in equal-sized pieces. You can freeze-dry raw or cooked veggies. Cooked veggies make great side dishes so you can prepare them with spices already on them. Fresh veggies are more versatile and will make for good snacks.
Also, keep in mind that with your Harvest Right freeze dryer, you can freeze-dry some of these vegetables and put them in a blender afterward to make a powder. Powered veggies are great additions to soups as thickeners, and add flavor to dishes.
Not all vegetables will be reconstituted the same either. Some will need to be soaked in a bowl of water. Some can just sit out in a humid room. Write the instructions for your particular veggie on the storage box so it will be easy to remember when it’s time to use them.
Tips for Freeze-Drying Vegetables
Asparagus – This can be a little mushy once it’s rehydrated. Harvest Right recommends blanching asparagus before freeze-drying as this helps it stay less shriveled. Also, look for the thinnest asparagus spears you can find. These rehydrate without becoming too stringy.
Beans – Beans are a great source of protein and are some of the cheapest ways to get protein too. Beans can be freeze-dried raw to extend their shelf life, but I recommend freeze-drying them after they’ve been cooked. When it’s time to use the beans you may not have electricity and the hassle of soaking and cooking beans takes a lot of energy.
Bell pepper – These are great sources of Vitamin C. Nothing fancy to know here–just slice before freeze-drying.
Corn – Make sure it is off the cobb!
Celery – Like watermelon, celery has high water content. Because of this, when you reconstitute it can get mushy. This may be a good candidate for just using in a powdered form.
Cauliflower, Broccoli, Carrots, Onions – Any of these bigger vegetables will do better if cut into pieces first.
Eggplant – Eggplant is a versatile plant. It’s great on its own and the powdered form can be used as a thickener for soups and stews. You can read about more ways to preserve eggplant here.
Green Beans – Shell them first.
Kale and Leafy Greens (Spinach, Swish chard, etc) – One of the hardest things to preserve for the long term are fresh, leafy greens. Freeze-drying leafy greens will make them thin and susceptible to breaking, and I wouldn’t count on them being great for a salad, but it’s still worth prepping them as they’re such an excellent source of nutrients.
Mushrooms – Mushrooms are an up-and-coming superfood, so make sure you have some in your prepper pantry. Mushrooms should be sliced for best freeze-drying.
Okra – Okra is a great vegetable for fiber, folic acid, and vitamin B6. Okra is essential for making gumbo nice and thick, and freeze-dried okra can be eaten as-is for a crunchy snack. Just be sure to drink lots of water! I recommend slicing the okra before freeze-drying.
Peas – Like beans, these are a good source of protein and freeze-dry very well as long as they are shelled.
Pumpkin and squash – Canned pumpkin has a shelf-life of about 5 years whereas freeze-dried pumpkin will last upwards of 20 years. To prepare the pumpkin slice a whole pumpkin into even slices, scrape off the seeds and pulp, and bake the hard shell until soft. Then you can scrape off the soft flesh from the outer rind and spread the soft flesh into the freeze-drying trays.
Tomatoes – Tomatoes should ideally be sliced before freeze-drying. You can also make tomato sauce or tomato paste and freeze-dry that too.
Potatoes – Slice these about 1’’ thick for freeze-drying. This includes white and sweet potatoes.
Zucchini – Don’t we all have that neighbor with an out-of-control zucchini patch? Freeze-dry zucchini in chips, chunks, or shreds for use in stews, fritters, or muffins down the road.
Meat, Fish, and Eggs
- Bacon (lean cuts work best)
- Deli Meat
- Eggs (raw or cooked)
- Fish (Salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc)
- Ground Meat
- Hamburger or Ground Beef
- Pulled Pork
- Roast Beef
You will need to slice your meat before freeze-drying it in your Harvest Right freeze dryer. Whole steaks are sometimes just too thick to dry out in the middle. Flat steaks and thin cuts of meat are fine.
Since freeze-drying does not kill any bacteria on raw meat you need to be sure to store it with oxygen absorbers in an air-tight container and cook it thoroughly after you’ve reconstituted it.
For an in-depth tutorial on freeze-drying raw eggs, check out my video.
Tips for Freeze-Drying Meat, Eggs, and Poultry
Bacon – Make sure to get lean cuts, and I would rotate this stock out frequently.
Beef, chicken, steak, roast beef, turkey, or venison – any of these can be freeze-dried raw or cooked. Just be sure they’re all sliced into chunks or strips beforehand.
Eggs – Eggs can be freeze-dried raw or cooked, but be sure to whisk raw eggs together otherwise the yolk (which is very fatty) won’t properly dry. You can pour the raw eggs right into the tray.
Deli Meat – A single slice may come out kind of brittle and crispy. Try stacking slices together.
Fish – Fish can be a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and is easy to freeze-dry as it’s already quite thin.
Ground Meat – Ground meat freeze-dries very well and you can skim the fat off after you’ve cooked it.
Hamburger patties – can be freeze-dried in the same way. When you’re ready to use them just dunk them in cold water until they are saturated all the way through and grill them up like fresh patties. If you want to freeze-dry a whole hamburger with a bun and vegetables, I recommend freeze-drying each element separately.
Jerky – Jerky is already dried out so it lasts for a few months (maybe a year) on its own. Freeze-drying the jerky makes it last much longer.
Sausage – Make sure these don’t have thick casings on them. This will prevent proper drying.
Dairy and Eggs that can be freeze-dried include:
- Almond Milk
- Cottage Cheese
- Cream Cheese
- Heavy Cream
- Ice Cream
- Sour Cream
- Soy Milk
One tip I have for freeze-drying liquids is to pre-freeze them in ice cube trays, then pop them out to be placed in the freeze-dryer trays. This also happens to be more efficient for the freeze-dryer, but also gives you more manageable pieces to work with rather than shards of milk or whathaveyou.
Due to their overall high fat content, dairy products will last about 10-15 years (as opposed to 25 for low-fat foods).
Freeze-drying fermented dairy products (yogurt, kefir) are a great way to get probiotics during your emergency!
To Rehydrate Freeze-Dried Dairy
Simply add a little water at a time to things like milk, yogurt, and sour cream. For the ice cream (below), I recommend just eating it crunchy as adding water will make a soup that you then have to re-freeze.
For cheeses, you can bake them on top of another dish (i.e. casseroles) and they will absorb the moisture, you can lightly spray them with a little water or you can put them in a plastic bag with a moist paper towel.
Tips for Freeze-Drying Dairy
Cheese – Freeze-dried cheese comes out like little chips. You can also grate it for easy use on Mexican food.
Cream cheese – I didn’t think this would freeze-dry well, but if you slice it up it’s not bad. I use up dairy products like this first just so I can ensure they haven’t gone bad.
Heavy cream – This is a bit hard to freeze-dry because of the high-fat content. One thing you can do is add a little water to it to break up the fat molecules a bit.
Milk – Skim milk (less fat) lasts longer than whole milk.
Sour cream – Simply spread this out into the tray
Yogurt – Yogurt is very popular to freeze-dry and one technique you can do is to freeze-dry it in little drop shapes which makes these little melty yogurt treats.
Soy milk, almond milk, oat milk – Lots of people have trouble digesting dairy products and some people just don’t want to. Check out the video below to see this problem. You can pour these store-bought products into the trays.
Whole Meals That Can Be Freeze-Dried
- Beef Stroganoff
- Cheese Steak
- Chicken Parmesan
- Gluten-Free Meals
- Hash Browns
- Keto Meals
- Low FODMAP meals
- Macaroni & Cheese
- Mashed Potatoes
- Meat Loaf
- Roast Turkey Dinner
This is just a small sampling of the whole meals that can be freeze-dried. One thing I love about having our freeze dryer is that we can prep meals that follow strict dietary needs ahead of time. As someone who has had to give up things like gluten and dairy in the past, knowing I have meals that fit my sensitive stomach brings real peace of mind.
As with the liquid dairy items, I recommend pre-freezing the liquid meals (soups and stews) into either ice cube trays or larger silicone molds before freeze-drying.
Another thing to note about freeze-drying whole meals: always cut them into small pieces. If it’s a casserole, cut it up into portion sizes that are fit for a small kid.
Here’s a video that shows some whole meals and whole deserts being freeze-dried.
Deserts, Snacks, and Candy
- Gummy Bears
- Ice Cream Sandwiches or Bars
- Ice Cream Sundae (why not??)
- Lemon Bars
- Saltwater Taffy
Everyone in the emergency preparedness community knows that when a disaster hits, you want comfort food. Imagine having the power go out for a week but knowing there’s a hot cherry pie in the basement ready to be eaten. That would lift my spirits!
Freeze-dried candy has a reputation for being even more delicious than the original stuff. Skittles in particular get a lot of hype.
Tips for Freeze-Drying Desserts, Snacks, and Candy
Applesauce – I like to use applesauce as a sugar replacer in baked goods so it’s nice to have some on hand. Plus it’s a nice snack on its own.
Brownies and Cake – Slice these up (don’t put frosting on them–it won’t freeze-dry) to freeze-dry. When you’re ready to eat them wrap them in a wet paper towel and let them sit out. It can take a few hours to rehydrate all the way.
Cookies – Cookies are great as freeze-dried snacks. I don’t typically “rehydrate” them either. I may open a package and let them sit out, but they’re still good crunchy.
Cheesecake – Despite the high-fat content of cheesecake this seems to freeze-dry quite well if sliced thinly.
Guacamole and salsa – Spread these in trays to freeze-dry
Ice cream – I like to do this in small scoops, but letting it get soft and then spreading it into the tray works fine too. Rehydrating ice cream doesn’t produce a nice texture so I eat these like “astronaut food” and just have them crunchy.
Ice cream sandwiches – Cut into pieces first.
Jello – Because of the gelatin matrix that makes jello jiggly, cutting it up will help the freeze-dryer get to all the moisture in it.
Marshmallows – Freeze-dried marshmallows are a treat that goes great on hot chocolate or in trail mix to add crunch. Because they’ve been dried out, they won’t melt all the way if you use them in baked goods.
Pie – Cut your pie pieces into a thin “spear” to freeze-dry. Keep in mind high-fat pies like custard-based pies may take more time to dry out. Fruit pies work great for freeze-drying.
Pudding – Spread a layer into the tray and you’re good to go.
Saltwater taffy – Just quarter the pieces.
- Apple juice
- Orange Juice
As an alternative to coffee, you can vacuum seal coffee beans. Honestly, I think this would produce a better taste after 25 years, but the benefit of freeze-drying the coffee itself would be it would be easier to rehydrate.
Either method you choose, I would recommend pre-freezing these items in ice cube trays for easy serving in the future.
I really like the idea of freeze-drying smoothies as well because smoothies can be loaded up with protein powder, greens, and healthy fruits and make a very good, lightweight survival beverage.
Spices and Fresh Herbs
- Condiments (except ones listed below)
They say “variety is the spice of life” so don’t forget to freeze-dry spices for your future emergency! Yes, spices already are dry and don’t seem like they need much to help them last a long time, but spices lose their flavor with time. The tiny amounts of moisture in a glass spice jar will eventually cause the spices to go stale.
Freeze-drying herbs and spices will help them retain their flavor. I won’t give details on freeze-drying each herb because most of them are pretty straightforward.
Freeze-drying condiments are a little trickier but still doable. Condiments often have lots of sugar in them (even the savory ones) and they have thicker viscosities, which can be a problem for freeze-drying. If you’re interested in freeze-drying condiments check out this video.
Other Foods that Can Be Freeze-Dried
- Dog food
- Sourdough starters
- Bread, including hamburger/hot dog buns
Dog food – Don’t forget man’s best friend when you’re preparing for the future! Dog food and treats (hey, and don’t forget the cat too) can be freeze-dried. You can freeze-dry wet or dry food, and be sure to label it so it doesn’t get confused with human food in the future.
Sourdough starter – To freeze-dry sourdough starter just spoon a thin layer of it into the tray. You can also let sourdough starters dry out on their own without the freeze-drying process. Once it is completely dry just break it up and store it in an air-tight container.
Bread – To rehydrate bread simply wrap it in a moist paper towel and let it sit out. It will take a few hours to return to a fresh bread state. Obviously soaking bread in water to make it fresh again will only make it soggy.
Rice – Rice can be freeze-dried cooked or uncooked. Freeze-drying brown rice in particular will help it have a longer shelf life as brown rice has a small amount of naturally occurring oil in the kernels.
Foods That Don’t Freeze Dry Well
Foods that don’t freeze-dry well are foods high in oil and sugar but note that many foods with these components in them (in small amounts) freeze-dry pretty well. That is, if you make a meal with butter you should be able to freeze-dry it.
Thankfully many of these foods (except butter) have relatively long shelf-lives when jarred anyway.
As an alternative to butter, you could freeze-dry enough milk and salt to churn your own should you so desire! The same with jam. You’d be better off freeze-drying fresh fruit then making preserves later on if you wish.
Alcohol – Alcoholic drinks just don’t freeze-dry and some of the alcohol will evaporate off during the drying out process anyway. Plus, many alcoholic drinks are quite sugary, which is another barrier to freeze-drying.
Bones – One reason to preserve bones would be to make broth later down the line. The problem with bones is that the marrow of the bones is very well protected behind the thick calcium-laden bone, so the freeze-dryer won’t get to it easily. You’re better off freeze-drying bone broth to make a homemade bouillon.
Honey – Honey, in particular, lasts for a very long time in glass jars as it has its own anti-microbial properties. The viscous nature of honey also makes it hard to freeze-dry.
Mayonnaise – Mayo is a solid oil, therefore it won’t freeze-dry well.
Nuts – Nuts do not freeze-dry well because they have oils in them that won’t dry out, and therefore will still go rancid after some time. Keeping nuts fresh is best done in the freezer, but they should be rotated out every few years at a minimum.
Syrup – The same problem with honey arises with freeze-drying syrup. The viscosity doesn’t lend itself to drying out well. This goes for “fake” maple syrup and chocolate syrup.
Chocolate – Pure chocolate does not freeze-dry well. This may be due to the cocoa butter in unprocessed chocolate.
Tea and soda – Don’t freeze-dry well. The only thing that gets left on the freeze-drying tray is a residue that is too much work to scrape off. For soda, the sugar content makes the tray sticky.
Peanut butter – The fat content in peanut butter prevents good freeze-drying. Thankfully peanut butter, and all nut butters, have relatively long shelf-lives anyway.
Dry pasta – This is already about as dry as you’re going to get. Pasta can be freeze-dried if it’s part of a whole meal.
Water – I have to say it because I know people have tried it. Freeze-dried water is pointless because all the water evaporates.
To keep a store of water for preparedness reasons you’re better off getting a high-quality water filter.
On the Harvest Right freeze-dryer, the end of the cycle will come with a little beep. The Harvest Right is designed to sense when your food is properly dry, but I always check it myself too. Food is properly freeze-dried when there is absolutely no moisture left in it and it is not cool to the touch.
The cool feeling is an indication there may be moisture (ice) left in it. If I’m making a big tray of something (i.e. eggs) I’ll crack the sheet apart in the middle and touch the inner layer. You can even try a small piece and see if it feels cool on your tongue. After a while, you get a taste of how things should be coming out.
The Harvest Right freeze-dryer does have an option for an extra dry cycle if you need to put it back in.
According to Harvest Right, most food can be dried in 20-40 hours, depending on the food and thickness of it. Items that are already small, with little moisture content like peas will freeze-dry very quickly. Remember those very fatty or sugary items may take a long time to freeze-dry (or may not freeze-dry at all).
This is where you can help the process out in two ways. First, you can cut your pieces up (even if it’s whole meals) into small even slices. Second, you can pre-freeze your items to help speed the time up.
No! You don’t have to and for some things, it’s impractical given how cramped most people’s freezers are. The freeze-drying process works by first freezing your food down into the negative Fahrenheit range, so freezing your food first simply takes a little work off the freeze-dryer.
There are a few methods to use when reconstituting freeze-dried food. Generally, you can submerge items in water but some items are more delicate and simply leaving them out in room air will suffice.
How To Store Freeze Dried Food
To ensure your food stays preserved for the longest possible timeframe, you must store your freeze-dried food properly. This means they must be in an airtight container with an oxygen absorber. Even the tiny amount of water in the air inside the bag can be re-absorbed by your food and can cause it to spoil, so the oxygen absorber helps eliminate all traces of air.
Mylar bags are one of the most popular ways to store freeze-dried food because they are fairly inexpensive and easy to use. You just toss an oxygen absorber in the bag and seal it with an impulse sealer. A woman’s hair flat iron will work too but make sure you get your wife’s permission before you use her hair styling tools!
These are larger tin cans (pronounced 10-pound cans) that can be bought at wholesale stores like Costco. You will have to buy a tin can sealer to use these cans as an option. I have a can sealer and I use these cans. I think they’re easier to stack than mylar bags, but I use mylar bags too.
Vacuum Sealed Bags
Vacuum-sealed bags work but sucking all the air out of the bag and then sealing it tight. I have known hunters to vacuum seal their frozen meat (it still has to be kept in the freezer, of course), but Harvest Right warns not to store high protein food items in vacuum-sealed bags. Anything else is fair game for vacuum sealing though.
Glass Air Tight Jars
These are the glass jars with the lid on a hinge and a plastic gasket around the lid. These are perfectly fine for storing items you plan to use in the short term, and you don’t even need an oxygen absorber. These jars are best for snacks–fruit comes to mind, that you think you’ll use up within a few months.