Freeze dryer vs dehydrator, what’s the difference? They are both popular ways of preserving food for long term storage. While both methods serve the same purpose, each comes with its pros and cons.
The process and the final products are pretty different. If you’re looking to find out what’s the better option for long term food storage. You’re in the right place.
In this post we’ll be doing a detailed comparison of freeze dryers vs dehydrators to determine the better long-term food storage method.
Table of Contents
Freeze Dryer vs Dehydrator: Head-to-Head Comparison
I put together the infographic below to give you a quick snap shot of the major differences between a freeze dryer and a dehydrator.
To better understand the differences between a freeze dryer and a dehydrator, let’s start off by looking at how each of them works.
Freeze Dryer: How it Works
A freeze dryer operates by dropping to temperatures below freezing point and then gradually raising the internal temperature to slowly convert solid water within the food into gas.
By doing this, it removes the moisture that promotes the survival of bacteria.
Freeze Drying Process
The process starts by choosing the type of food that you want to freeze dry.
Next, the food is stored in a strong vacuum using a good vacuum food sealer. In the freezer, the ice crystals in the food sublimate, changing directly into water vapor instead of going through the liquid state.
The food is then put in vacuum storage bags or containers and stored either in a pantry, freezer, or in an emergency kit for prepping.
Dehydrator: How it Works
Dehydrators use a completely different technique than that of a freeze dryer. They use heat, dry air, and air movement to eliminate water from food.
A dehydrator circulates air at low temperatures to remove moisture from the food, evenly drying it.
Unlike a freeze dryer that drops below freezing temperatures, a dehydrator uses warm temperatures ranging from 95°F -140°F. For commercial dehydrators, the temperature is set between 95°F -155°F depending on the type of food.
Delicate foods such as herbs are dehydrated at lower temperatures while meat is dried under higher temperatures. Vegetables and fruits are dried at around 125°F.
Nutrient Retention: which method retains more nutrients?
One of the most important things to consider when comparing a freeze dryer and a dehydrator, is how well each of these methods retains the nutrients in your food.
Nutrients naturally diminish or decay over time. Preserving foods via a freeze dryer or a dehydrator can help preserve these nutrients longer than in fresh foods.
However, even preserved foods will ultimately lose some of their nutritional value.
Freeze-drying is the better option for preserving nutrients in your food. The freeze drying process does not cause a significant change in the nutrient density.
Freeze-drying removes close to 98% of food water without using heat. Thus ensuring that the food maintains a higher nutrient content than through dehydration.
With appropriate storage, freeze-dried foods experience minimal nutrition loss for years or even decades.
Dehydration, on the other hand, has been proven to cause a higher loss of nutrients. The method involves exposing the nutrients to high heat and light.
Nutrients such as vitamin A and C tend to decrease once exposed to high heat or air.
In general, dehydrated food only retains about 80 percent of the original nutrients, while freeze-drying retains up to 97 percent of nutrients.
Taste Comparison: Freeze Dried vs Dehydrated Food
Another important factor to consider when deciding between a freeze dryer and a dehydrator, is the taste. Whatever the case the food will do the job. But wouldn’t you rather to have great tasting food, than be stuck with food you have to force down?
Using a dehydrator to preserve food results in the loss of some minerals and vitamins. Which causes the food to lose some of its flavor.
Freeze Dried Food
This is not the case with freeze drying. In fact, some of the food flavors, such as pineapple, are even sweeter and more intense in comparison to fresh foods.
This is because the water content is almost completely removed during the freeze-drying process. The water gets extracted, leaving behind the pleasant tasting natural sugars.
Freeze-drying keeps the flavors, nutrients, and color of the food intact for a pretty long time with proper storage.
This is why most nutritionists and food experts recommend freeze-drying when preserving herbs. Freeze-dried food has a more airy and lighter texture.
They experience very slight shrinkage, and they have a sweet melt-in-the mouth texture when dry and can be crumbled or crushed with ease.
On the other hand, most dehydrated foods lose some of their flavor due to the dehydration process. The process uses heat to remove moisture, resulting in the loss of smell, flavor, and the original texture.
Dehydrated food, shrink and have a leathery appearance and feel. This results in a significant reduction in flavor and taste. Although it does not occur in every food, vegetables deteriorate faster when dehydrated.
Fruits such as peaches, plums, and apricots are better freeze-dried or prepared into fruit leather on a dehydrator. Otherwise, they become bitter and hard with time when dehydrated.
But there are exceptions. Fruits such as pears, bananas, and apples taste better after the dehydration process. The process brings the fruit’s sugar to the surface, making them chewy and a delight to eat.
So whereas most freeze-dried foods taste better than dehydrated foods, you can do some individual experimenting to see how you like dehydrated vs freeze-dried foods.
Reconstituted Freeze-Dried Food vs Dehydrated Food
Most freeze-dried foods are easy to rehydrate. So, you can get a hot delicious meal in a few minutes. The exceptions to this are oily and fatty foods, which are not recommended for freeze-drying.
However, some foods such as pasta and bread are challenging to reconstitute, and while it is still possible, you need to be very patient.
The process of reconstituting freeze-dried food is pretty straightforward. You only need to ensure you add the correct amount of water to the food.
This is the tricky part for many people. A general rule of thumb, when reconstituting freeze-dried food, is to add a cup of water for every dish of food you are looking to reconstitute.
You can also reconstitute the food with steam which is even faster.
Rehydrated freeze-dried foods taste better than dehydrated food.
You can eat dehydrated food just as they are or rehydrate them with low, slow cooking and plenty of water. Rehydrating dehydrated foods does not offer a pleasant experience and tastes much better without adding any water.
For instance, it is challenging to rehydrate a cabbage and often remains tough to chew. It might even have already turned brown and black by the time of rehydration. It will hardly have any flavor or taste, which makes it pretty awful.
Overall, if you want to prepare a delicious meal from your storage, I recommend to reconstituting the freeze-dried food for the main meal and using the dehydrated food for snacks or as a soup ingredient.
Shelf Life: Which lasts longer, Freeze Drying Or Dehydrating?
Another frequently asked question is how long do these methods keep food before they spoil. Moisture content in food can have a significant impact on its shelf life.
Higher moisture content in food is sufficient to decrease its shelf life. The moisture content in freeze-dried foods varies from dehydrated foods, which brings the difference in food shelf life.
Freeze-dried foods usually provide a longer shelf life than dehydrated food because freeze dryers eliminate more water from the food.
Dehydrated Food Shelf Life
For dehydrated food, commercial dehydrators are capable of removing up to 95% of moisture content. But if you are doing the process at home, you might end up removing only 80% moisture.
So, how long does dehydrated food last? There are estimates for their shelf life all over nutrition websites. In most sites, they give an estimated shelf life of 5 years for fruits.
Dehydrated vegetables have an expected shelf life of around 5 years. 1 to 2 years for other dehydrated foods, and only 2-3 months for meats.
According to most dehydrator users, dehydrated veggies and fruits begin to lose flavor and darken after about three years.
Overall, dehydrated food only lasts between a few months to 5 years, depending on the food type. However, you can advance the dehydrated food shelf life up to 15 years using advanced dehydrating equipment.
Freeze Dried Food Shelf Life
When it comes to a freeze dryer, the shelf life of properly freeze-dried foods far extends that of a dehydrator, lasting up to twenty-five years. Freeze-drying eliminates up to 99% of the moisture, which prolongs the food shelf life.
Freeze-dried low-fat content foods such as vegetables, fruits, rice, lean meat, etc., have a shelf life of more than twenty years with proper packaging.
Freeze-dried foods with higher fat content, such as meat, have a shelf life of about 10 to 15 years. Today, some freeze-dried products claim to have more than thirty years of storage life.
So, while freeze-drying and dehydration can produce a long shelf life for foods, freeze-drying is more effective for long-term storage.
Limitations of Foods that Can be Preserved: Freeze Dried vs Dehydrated
Individuals are establishing different ways to dehydrate or freeze-dry different types of food every day. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that freeze-drying provides many more options than any other food preservation method.
A freeze dryer enables you to use almost all foods from low-water content to high-water content varieties. Hence, you can freeze-dry almost all food varieties, including fruits, ice cream, yogurt, cheese, meat, and others.
The only exceptions to this are oily foods such as peanut butter, butter, honey etc.
On the contrary, a dehydrator works better with low-water content food. This restricts you to particular vegetables, meats, and fruits.
Recommended Reading: 10 Best Canned Meats for Survival & Prepping
Use of Additives: Freeze Dryer vs Dehydrator
Another major difference between a freeze dryer and a dehydrator is the use of additives. If you tend to purchase dehydrated food from stores, you might have realized that they have very high sugar content.
The sugary taste is a result of preservatives added during storage to extend the shelf life of foods.
However, freeze-dried food has about 98% of the water content removed. This decreases the possibility of bacteria infestation, which can cause the food to go bad.
This means that additives used are fewer than those in a dehydrator, if any. The only way to keep off additives and preservatives from your stored food is by freeze-drying or dehydrating it at home.
Cost: Which Is More Expensive?
Freeze-drying seems like the best way to preserve food until you consider the cost. This technique is quite expensive, particularly in terms of power.
Freeze-dried store-purchased foods are also pricier than their dehydrated alternatives. Plus, freeze-dryers are considerably expensive compared to dehydrators.
Most dehydrator brands on the market today have lowered the price of these units lower than ever before. Today, almost everyone can afford a basic dehydrator.
Dehydrators also do not need a lot of power to operate. So, in terms of cost, dehydrators are the more affordable option.
What are the top-rated Freeze Dryers and Dehydrator on Amazon?
After doing intensive research on both dehydrators and freeze dryers, I have come up with the top picks.
When it comes to freeze-dryers, I recommend the Harvest Right Freeze Dryers. It is one of the best brands and has relatively fair prices for high-quality products.
Most people will be okay with a small or medium freeze dryer. These freeze dryers are top-rated by customers all around the various online freeze-drying forums.
For dehydrators, I recommend you consider purchasing the highly-rated Excalibur brand on amazon. Excalibur is of high quality and will ensure you preserve your food without any disappointments.
If you have a smaller family or do not have much food to dehydrate, you might be okay with a smaller model of the brand or even another brand such as Nesco Food and Jerky dehydrator, or Tribest Sedona Classic SD-S9000-B Digital Food Dehydrator.
Bottom Line: Dehydrating or Freeze Drying, Which Is Better?
Rather than competing, the two methods should complement your food storage. A freeze dryer is a large investment, but it is the best option for long-term shelf-stable storage foods.
It is effective for emergency food storage and retains most of the food nutrition. However, dehydrators are cheaper than freeze-dryers and can preserve a range of foods.
If you plan to rotate the food more regularly without preserving dairy and meat, then a dehydrator can do the job. Even so, they do not preserve as many food nutrients as freeze-dryers. For your personal use, you can now decide what method to go for.