Food Storage: Freeze Dried vs. Dehydrated

There are a lot of options available when it comes to long-term food storage. Choices range from heavier, bulkier wet foods such as regular canned goods and MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) to dry foods such as dehydrated grains or pasta and freeze-dried meals, and there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to each method of storage. In this article we’ll be reviewing some of the key differences between dehydrated foods and freeze-dried, or astronaut, foods.

First and foremost, dehydrated and freeze-dried foods have several things in common. Both these types of foods are known as dry foods, meaning they contain very little to almost no water content. In fact, dehydrated and freeze-dried foods both require additional water to be properly reconstituted, which is an important factor to consider if you live in an arid or desert-like area.

Both these types of emergency rations are very light-weight, as well, so you can carry a lot more food in the form of dehydrated or freeze-dried rations than in canned goods or MREs.

With comparable shelf-lives of 20 – 25 years or more, you can also store substantially more dehydrated or freeze-dried food in a smaller location, such as under your bed or in a closet. Canned foods and MREs, by comparison, are heavy and bulky as well as having short shelf-lives of only 3 – 5 years or so.

Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods do have some differences, though:

Dehydrated Foods

dehydrated foodDollar for dollar, you will generally be able to purchase more dehydrated food than you can freeze-dried food, simply because the freeze-drying process is more expensive than the regular dehydration process. So if you’re on a tight budget, or you want to set aside a substantial amount of emergency food for yourself and your family, stocking up on dehydrated food is an economical option to consider.

When foods are dehydrated, they typically lose 90% – 94% of their moisture content; it’s this lack of moisture that enables dehydrated foods to be stored for such long periods of time, often upwards of 20 – 30 years. Unfortunately, dehydration causes certain nutrients to break down, since it basically amounts to a slow cooking process as hot air is circulated over the food to sweat the water out of the fruits, vegetables or other dehydrated material.

Dehydrated foods, as a result, take on a shriveled and leathery appearance, and things like fruit are extremely tough and chewy if you don’t rehydrate them. A huge advantage of dehydrated foods, however, is that you can dehydrate your own fruits and vegetables if you have the extra produce.

This is an especially useful skill in the event of a major disaster or catastrophe where there may be shortages or interruptions of the food supply, or if you simply have a large garden that produces an abundant harvest each year and you want to save the excess.

Another aspect of dehydrated foods is that usually they are comprised of raw materials for cooking with. So you may have rice, pasta, potatoes, onions, corn and other staples, but you have each of these things individually packaged or in separate cans, and it’s up to you to combine the ingredients with water and cook something of them. Most dehydrated foods also lack seasoning, spices or herbs, so it’s up to you to add seasoning or spices to whatever you end up cooking.

In terms of prep time, dehydrated foods also take longer to cook (generally between 20 – 60 minutes or longer depending on the dish) than freeze-dried foods. Dehydrated foods typically require a larger quantity of water to be properly reconstituted, as well.

Freeze-dried Foods

frozen vegetablesBecause the process of freeze-drying allows the water to be immediately extracted from the fruits, vegetables or other food, freeze-dried foods are quite nutritious, more so than their dehydrated counterparts.

Typically able to be reconstituted with hot water in just 5 – 15 minutes, freeze-dried foods are available in several forms. Many companies sell individual freeze-dried foods, such as raspberries, blueberries, cherries, TVP (meat substitute), beef, peas, corn and a myriad of others, in #10 cans and air-tight Mylar bags.

There are a huge variety of freeze-dried meals available from various companies; Mountain House, Wise Company, eFoods, and Harmony House are just some of them. Offerings from these companies range from granola with raisins and milk, creamy pasta and vegetable rotini, beef stroganoff and teriyaki with rice to beef stew, chicken pasta and lasagna with meat. All of these meals are freeze-dried and come with 20 – 25 year shelf-lives.

On the downside, freeze-dried foods are not always the most calorie-packed, especially if you were to eat as little as 2 – 3 servings a day. Two servings of your average freeze-dried entrée, such as those listed above, will usually come out to about 500 – 800 calories. This might be enough to subsist for a short period of time, but realistically most people need far more calories on a daily basis, so you’ll either have to eat more or supplement your diet with other foods.

Ultimately, when it comes to long-term food storage it really seems that diversity is the key. If you want the lightest-weight emergency rations for hiking or in case of a helter-skelter GTFO of dodge dash for your designated bug out location, then freeze-dried foods are a great option. Dehydrated foods are also good for emergency bugging out, when weight is an important issue, and if you have a larger group or family that you need to feed, dehydrated may be best.

But if you’re stocking a pantry at a designated bug out location, or you just want to fill out your own home food storage as a hedge against emergencies or uncertainty in the food chain, a variety of different foods are best.

Traditionally canned foods, such as those you can buy in the grocery store, are usually marked with a shelf-life of 3 – 5 years or longer. A tin of peaches, a can of pineapple or even a can of baked beans can go a long way toward lifting your spirits if you’ve got to live primarily off emergency rations and other stored food for a while.

Alongside the canned foods in your storage, you can stash away extra supplies in the form of dehydrated foods like pasta, beans, bread mix or flour, rice, pancake mix and so on. Then, if your budget allows, you can invest in freeze-dried foods, ranging from individual cans of freeze-dried fruits and vegetables to complete entrees and desserts like beef stroganoff, chicken noodle soup, cheesy chicken and rice, chili ‘n cheese, and many others.


This article has been written by Gaia Rady for Survivopedia.

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3

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  • To my way of thinking, ALL of the above ways of keeping foodstuffs are viable! I myself have LOTS of wise co. foods, in addition to food “on the hoof”, as well as MRE’s, & caned (or bottled) good. Varieties of ways to keep & can ergefoods for an emergency is the way to go,(for me) at least and I would regret not having a back-up, to my back-up, to my back-up! Decrease your chances of going ‘without’ my friends!

  • Over the years we have done quite a few high altitude bird hunts in Nevada. This for us involved backpacking in with 55 # packs. So we used a well known freeze dried brand of food. We camped at 10,000 feet but good water is available for preparing those meals. 3 to 4 days of eating freeze dried food is more than enough.
    Then in August of 2012 four of us were set down on a glacier in Alaska and spent 8 days hunting Dall sheep and again eating freeze dried food. We had one of those new Jet-Boil stoves and that heated that glacier water darn quick. We had no firewood just lots of ice and rocks and snow.
    It was a once in a lifetime trip for each of us. We were each flown in one at a time in Super Cubs and had no idea what to expect as far as terrain etc. And we were limited in what we could take in those very small planes.
    The low spots of the trip were eating freeze dried food and not having any firewood.
    I’m 80 years old so I know that I am older than most of those reading this. I grew up in the Denver Co. area and we had a big garden and we had goats and chickens. My parents canned a lot of food from the garden. My mom also dried a lot of fruits. She dried them on screens. She did not have a dehydrator and I don’t recall ever seeing one till way later. The carne seca (jerky) from the goats was dried over a clothes line in the attic. Mom had a small hammer and a chunk of steel that she would macerate the jerky on and then use the shredded meat to make a meat gravy to put over potatoes or rice.
    I just recently dried a bunch of tomatoes on screens and then put the slices in quart jars.They can be reconstituted later and added to pizza or put into olive oil.
    Drying food for later use is about as basic as you can get. Drying/smoking fish is also great.
    It’s easy to learn to make bannock in a skillet next to a campfire. It’s a good heavy bread that’s simple to make and you can add dried cranberries, nuts, honey, huckleberries or whatever.

  • An easy and very cheap way to dry food is in the oven. On mine, the lowest temperature is still too hot; you want it no hotter than about 120 F. So instead of turning the oven on, I put in a cord with a 60-watt light bulb, leave the door propped open with a wooden spoon, and it stays at about 80 degrees. I got 2 extra racks to utilize all the available space. I put a piece of fabric (sheer curtain fabric works great) over each rack, secure it with clothespins and lay my sliced food out on it, and leave it in for 2-3 days. In warm weather, you can also dry foods outside on the roof. I don’t do jerky outside, because it attracts flies. But fruits and vegetables do fine. I’ve read that you’re supposed to bring the food in for the night and put it out again the next morning, but that’s extra work. I just leave it out until it’s dry. If rain is a concern, you can make a wonderful drying rack out of 2 pallet caps, some bricks and a piece of plastic or a glass window. Put your food on one pallet cap, on a piece of mesh or fabric, then put another pallet cap over it. Set them up on bricks to provide air space and to keep the food up off the roof in case it rains. Then put a piece of clear plastic (a trash bag works fine) or an old window on top, and hold it down with bricks. Works beautifully. Also, a greenhouse is a great place to dry food in warm weather; not so good in cold weather.

  • The man who received the first patent for freeze drying, Dr. Royal Lee, in the early 1930’s would not use freeze drying for his natural foods nutritional products. He determined by careful research that so many phytonutrients were destroyed by freeze drying that the products did not work very well. He used vacuum dehydration very successfully. PROPERLY dehydrated foods do not lose their enzymes or most other sensitive nutrients. The maximum dehydration temperature allowable varies for different foods.

    • Royal Lee! That Dentist was one of the smartest men on nutrition. Thanks for the great comment. It’s not just about calories…if it were, then just boil down leather and have a happy day. A new nutrient was just discovered about 10 years ago. The problem was “they” couldn’t figure out how to get it into any kind of re-sellable form (pill, powder, liquid, etc) When Dr Lee’s Multi-Vit/Min/Phytonutrient that he developed nearly 90 years ago was examined, this newly discovered nutrient was there. By the way, this super nutrient blows away everything on the market. The vitamins are real, not anti-oxidants. The kicker is…it’s also the cheapest one out there. Even if it were not, it would still be the biggest bang for your buck. FYI, it’s called Catalyn and you can read about it here: I recommend this in your daily use and food storage.

  • The ideal temperature for drying food is between 105 and 118 because it is not cooked then and retains enzymes and vitamins. I have used the excaliber dehydrator and love it although I have to set the dial at 95 cuz it heats hotter and I leave it for 3 days sometimes more if I’m busy.

  • No emergency food supply is complete w/o a few jars of honey, great sweetener and calorie booster, besides being a good antiseptic. Also a couple of gallons of apple vinegar, baking soda, baking powder, etc.

  • Life is not infinite. Of course, this is a well known fact, but do we often remember about it? How can we feel the meaning of life staying at the same place? They say if you don’t like the place where you are – move, you’re not a tree after all. By the same principle, I want to say that traveling – is an important component of fulfilling life. Let’s not waste life for nothing but explore this wonderful world! It remains to take a step, just click world’s places of interest and you will see all the riches of our world which are near to us. Very often various places for recreation are just at arm’s length, but we can’t find time for knowing the world. Start reading not fashion magazines but brochures with ancient legends. A famous poem says “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…” Let’s change our life!