Although the process is now used to prepare and preserve food for astronauts, freeze-drying has been around since about 1200 AD, when the Incas would take potatoes up to high altitudes, let them freeze overnight, and then allow the sun to dry them out. The process itself has evolved since the Incas, but the end result is the same: one of the healthiest, most effective ways to preserve food for years down the line.
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Benefits of Freeze-Dried Food
When it comes to long-term food storage, freeze-drying is one of the healthiest, most effective methods of preserving your food. Not only can it last for decades, it is easy to store, easy to prepare, and it retains almost all of its nutritional value.
Long Shelf Life
When it comes to shelf life, you won’t find a better alternative to freeze-drying. Because the process removes around 99% of the water inside, it is particularly resistant to bacteria, meaning it won’t spoil. The sublimation process removes the moisture without any chemical changes, and so the food is preserved in its original form, minus the water. This process extends the shelf life of your food by as much as 30 years or more, and because its chemical structure is unchanged by the drying process, it will retain its original properties when you rehydrate it even years down the line.
Easy Storage and Transport
There is a reason that freeze-dried food is often called “astronaut food.” Removing the water makes the food incredibly lightweight—even more so than dehydrated food—and easy to transport, pack, and store. Because it is resistant to bacteria and deterioration, it keeps well even at room temperature. Because of its light weight, when it’s not being stored, freeze-dried food is easy to transport, also, making it ideal for a number of activities, from backpacking to space missions.
Because the water inside is frozen and then changed directly from a solid state to a gas, it leaves pores in the structure of the food. This allows the food to keep its original shape and easily reabsorb water when you prepare it. While dehydrated food requires boiling, for anywhere from about 15 minutes to several hours, freeze-dried food can be rehydrated with hot or cold water in about 5 to 8 minutes, retaining its original shape, size, flavor, and even texture to a degree. It’s technically even possible to eat without rehydrating, though while the flavor will be the same, it would obviously be incredibly dry.
Freeze-drying doesn’t require as much heat as dehydration, meaning the food doesn’t go through any chemical changes in composition. All of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients remain unchanged. This means that when it is reconstituted, the food is just as healthy as it was when it was initially frozen. Because it doesn’t even require boiling, the vitamins and minerals that might be lost in the cooking process also remain intact.
Works on Almost Every Type of Food
Just about any sort of food can be freeze-dried, from fruits and vegetables, to meats, to dairy products, to entire meals. Even ice cream can be freeze-dried and rehydrated later. The food retains its size, shape, flavor, and most of its texture, so once you add water, you have a wide variety of delicious, healthy food available to you and your family.
How Freeze-Drying works
The backbone of freeze-drying is based on a process called sublimation. Typically, solid ice melts into liquid water as its temperature increases, then evaporates into gaseous water vapor. At especially low pressures, however, water will skip the liquid phase and change directly from a solid into a gas.
By freezing food, then placing it into a vacuum chamber and gradually increasing the temperature, it is possible to convert all of the frozen water inside directly from a solid state into a gas. The gas then flows out of the freeze-drying chamber, leaving the food itself relatively untouched.
The food is then sealed in moisture-free packaging so that no moisture can get back into the food. As long as it is not exposed to moisture, the freeze-dried food can last for several years without spoiling. All it takes to return the food to its original form is a little bit of water.