After a few years of research, I finally decided to purchase a freeze dryer. It was one of the best purchases I have ever made. The only regret I have is that I didn’t buy one sooner.
My teenage son has Celiac Disease, which means his body cannot process gluten. Unlike with many food allergies, if a person with Celiac Disease consumes gluten, it will do permanent damage and can lead to cancer. Once we received my son’s diagnosis, I started researching to learn what he can and cannot eat.
Unfortunately, most pre-made foods, foods from restaurants, and many other foods contain gluten. My son is extremely sensitive, meaning if he consumes gluten he becomes ill and it lasts for days. More often than not, accidental gluten consumption means he loses about 5 pounds, which he can’t afford. Due to the potential of cross contamination, we don’t feel comfortable eating at most restaurants, which makes things tricky when we travel.
The Celiac diagnosis was the real catalyst that made up my mind to purchase a freeze dryer. I can now freeze dry my son’s favorite homemade gluten-free foods as well as a few pre-made gluten-free foods that are safe. We can take these meals with us when we travel as well as when my son goes on Scout camp outs or activities with his friends. Buying a freeze dryer has made life a lot easier for our family.
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Common Questions about Freeze Drying Gluten-Free Food
Here are some questions about freeze drying and our answers according to our own experiences.
Can you take freeze dried food on an airplane?
Yes! We have loved being able to pack freeze dried meals, milk, raw eggs, etc. with us on vacation. Make sure you are taking your food in mylar bags. Out of caution, I have only ever taken mylar bags in a checked bag and I’ve never had a problem. I know of people who have taken them in carry-on bags as well without issues.
Recently we took a trip to Hawaii. After doing some research, I found a few restaurants that I was fairly confident would be safe for my son. However, I also knew how expensive even regular groceries are in Hawaii, let alone gluten-free food. We packed freeze dried milk and cooked chicken strips as well as an assortment of snacks. One checked bag was dedicated to food, and it traveled very well.
Can you ship freeze dried meals?
Absolutely! That’s one of the benefits of freeze dried food–it’s lightweight so it’s easy and inexpensive to ship!
When my son goes to college in a few months, we will send him with many freeze dried meals and continue to mail them to him as needed. Most colleges don’t have safe gluten-free options, and while in an ideal world my son would be able to cook all his own food, I know that’s not practical or likely. Freeze dried meals on hand are an easy way to keep from being cross contaminated at the cafeteria!
Can you put both gluten and gluten-free items in a freeze dryer?
Theoretically, you could use the machine for both gluten and gluten-free foods. However, we choose to put only gluten-free items in our freeze dryer to avoid any potential cross contamination. If you have gluten sensitivity and not Celiac or a gluten allergy, you might be ok with gluten and gluten-free in the same machine.
How does a freeze dryer do with dairy substitutes?
In addition to Celiac Disease, my son has developed a lactose intolerance, which is common among people with Celiac Disease. We live in a small town, and there no lactose free dairy products in our grocery store. That has lead to me making my own lactose free Greek yogurt and freeze drying it to use for yogurt and sour cream for my son. We also freeze dry lactose free milk for traveling or for any other time we need it. It reconstitutes very well.
You can freeze dry soy and almond milk as well as most non-dairy yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese substitutes. This has been especially helpful in avoiding food waste, as my son is the only one who uses the non-dairy substitutes, and he rarely is able to finish them before they go bad. I just throw them in the freeze dryer for him to eat later.
I take trips to larger stores to stock up on gluten-free and lactose free staples. Then I can use those to make meals or freeze dry the individual components. Not only does this save time and money, it saves the headache of trying to throw together a last minute meal if we are in a hurry. And again, it cuts down on food waste.
Can freeze dried food be used on holidays?
We love to get together with family during the holidays. Our family is massive and my son is the only one who is gluten-free. Although our family members are sympathetic and want to be accommodating, they don’t always realize that gluten is in found in more than just bread.
I want my son to have great meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas, just as the rest of us do. And it’s not feasible for me to cook the entire meal for a huge crowd. Nor is it affordable for all of our extended family to eat gluten-free for the holiday meals. This challenge has been easily remedied with my freeze dryer.
No longer do I have to ask what every ingredient is in each dish. And I don’t have to ask for the sour cream to be left out of the mashed potatoes. I can take a meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and yams that I freeze dried throughout the year. Then I just have to take rolls and a gluten-free pie for my son. It’s much less stressful on everyone, and my son doesn’t feel that he’s being deprived of having traditional holiday foods.
How can freeze dried foods be used at social events?
My son is a teenager who is starting to date. He was asked to a school dance last year and the group ate dinner at someone’s house. The host of the dinner contacted me to find out what would be safe for my son to eat. I asked her what she was planning to serve and offered to bring something similar for my son so she wouldn’t have to worry about accommodating him. She said she didn’t want me to have to make food.
In truth, I was also really worried my son would be cross contaminated and end up being sick for a week. The hostess was insistent on making something he could eat and I finally relented. Needless to say, he ended up being very sick from the food.
What I should have done was just sent a freeze dried meal that would take me 3 minutes to rehydrate and he wouldn’t have to be stuck in the bathroom for days on end. Lesson learned!
By this point, most of my son’s friends know about his dietary restrictions and it doesn’t bother them. My son takes rehydrated freeze dried meals to school banquets and to other social gatherings. In fact, my son’s friends often comment that they wish they could have his freeze dried meals rather than whatever they are eating!
Does freeze drying save money?
Freeze drying definitely saves my family money. We have a lot less food waste because leftover food can be freeze dried for later use.
I also love finding clearance deals on produce and other items. My family is no longer surprised when I bring home piles of produce, meat, cheese, or whatever else I find a deal on. Although the machine itself is a bit pricey, I am saving money by buying in bulk or on clearance, and I am able to store food for when we need it later.
What are the benefits of a freeze dryer?
Freeze drying is a great way to preserve food for short term or long term storage, up to 25 years. Unlike canning or dehydrating, freeze drying retains 97 percent of the food’s nutrients. Freeze dried food also tastes more like fresh food than canned or dehydrated foods.
Making food in your own freeze dryer is less expensive than purchasing it commercially. You can purchase food in bulk and freeze dry it for later. With the current high food prices (which could easily continue to skyrocket), it’s nice to buy in bulk or on clearance to save money.
We have a large vegetable garden, and I love that I can pick something and freeze dry it right away. I know where my food comes from and how it was treated. This gives me peace of mind in knowing I am feeding my family healthy food.
A freeze dryer can be used to preserve entire meals, making it easy to build up a supply of emergency food or just have meals on hand that can quickly be re-hydrated and eaten. Freeze dried foods are great for camping, backpacking, traveling, or for easy meals for elderly people, students, or kids. It’s easy to store in small portions so you can just re-hydrate as much as you need.
What is the difference between a dehydrator and a freeze dryer?
A dehydrator dries food by using heat only, while a freeze dryer uses both cold and heat. Dehydrated food still has moisture in it and works for short term storage only.
A freeze dryer freezes food at -30 to -50 degrees Farenheit. Then it gradually heats up the food so the water evaporates. Freeze dried food has all the moisture removed from it, making it shelf stable for many years.
How should freeze dried food be stored?
The enemies to freeze dried food are moisture, oxygen, and light. Ideally, the food should be stored in a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber. The bag should be heat sealed to keep air from getting in. For best results, use a mylar bag 7 millimeters thick.
For shorter storage, a glass canning jar can be used. It’s best to vacuum seal the jar to keep oxygen and moisture out. Keep jars in a dry, dark place. Avoid using zip top bags, as too much air will get in even if it is securely zipped.
How long does freeze dried food last?
The longevity of freeze dried food depends on the what the food is and how it is stored. When stored in a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber, many foods can last up to 25 years. If stored in a glass mason jar with an oxygen absorber and a vacuum sealed lid, food can last about 5 years.
Foods that are higher in fat will likely last 3 years or less.
What foods can be freeze dried?
Most food can be freeze dried with the exception of foods that are high in fat or sugar. For example, butter, shortening, and cooking oils don’t work (you can buy “freeze dried butter” and shortening, but they have additives). Honey cannot be freeze dried either.
Most dairy products freeze dry quite well. I love freeze drying milk. I measure the milk, pour it on the trays, and process it. Then I package either in a canning jar or a mylar bag, depending on how soon I will be using it. Then, when I reconstitute, I add back the same amount of water to equal the total amount of milk I originally processed. For example, if I processed 4 cups of milk, I add to the milk powder enough to equal 4 cups. I prefer to use an immersion blender for the best consistency.
Sour cream, cottage cheese, and regular cheeses freeze dry well, too. Whether it’s as separate components or as a full meal, dairy products are a good choice for freeze drying.
Yogurt tastes great freeze dried, but know that Greek yogurt doesn’t do as well. We like to make yogurt bites by freezing yogurt in molds, removing from molds, and then freeze drying. They are fun and easy to eat no matter where you are.
“Astronaut” ice cream is a fun treat to make and is so easy. Just scoop ice cream onto the trays and freeze before processing.
Freeze dried foods are delicious by themselves or powdered and used in smoothies or baked goods. I have found I can freeze dry apple slices, powder them, and add a little water to make applesauce. It’s a lot easier than making applesauce in a traditional way.
Foods with lots of seeds can be freeze dried but usually take longer. That’s because the seeds hold moisture. If you’re processing strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, tomatoes, and kiwis you’ll need to add extra time. I like to add at least 12 hours when processing these foods.
Powdered bananas can be used in banana breads. We like using powdered fruits to flavor cakes or frostings.
One of my favorite things to freeze dry is vegetables. It’s so easy to put them in soups or casseroles. Once onions or garlic are processed, they are great to add to food. And they are so much more flavorful than what you buy at the store. Again, I like to powder vegetables and use them to thicken soups. My family doesn’t even recognize when I add powdered zucchini to spaghetti sauce!
Lean meats work very well. Meats can be freeze dried either raw or cooked. If you are processing beef or pork, be sure to remove as much fat as possible first. For ground meats, it’s a good idea to cook and then drain off as much grease as possible. I like to rinse ground meat before putting it in my machine to get rid of even more fat.
You can choose to season meat either before or after the freeze drying process. I prefer to season cooked meats before processing and leave raw meat unseasoned. Then the meat can be seasoned later before it’s cooked.
Raw eggs freeze dry very well. I like to crack them into a bowl, whisk them, and then freeze them solid before freeze drying. To reconstitute, use 2 tablespoons of egg powder and 2 tablespoons water to equal one egg. Use them in an recipe or scramble them up. They taste delicious.
Cooked eggs can be freeze dried, but they tend to be rubbery when reconstituted. If you want to freeze dry cooked eggs, I recommend slightly undercooking them and then rehydrating them with boiling water. It will finish cooking them without making them rubbery.
I love freeze drying soups, casseroles, pasta dishes, meat with potatoes, and rice dishes. It’s great to have in pinch or when you are traveling. If you or a family member has Celiac Disease, you know it’s not easy to come up with a last-minute meal. My freeze dryer has made this so much easier!
There is nothing better than fresh herbs! And freeze drying herbs makes them taste so close to freshly picked. I love growing my own herbs in my garden or countertop herb garden and then freeze drying them. They process quickly and are easy to store.
My gluten-free boy loves freeze dried cereal yogurt snacks. I keep the crumbs from the bottom of the cereal boxes until we have enough to make a batch of yogurt squares. I pour the cereal onto the tray and add sliced fruit (strawberries, peaches, bananas, etc.).
Then I blend 1-2 cups lactose free milk (or any kind of milk–almond, rice, soy, regular cow’s milk, etc.) with a few tablespoons of protein powder and a cup of flavored yogurt in a blender. Pour it over the cereal and fruit. Freeze solid and then freeze dry. To make perfect squares, use silicone molds or tray dividers.
We also like to freeze dry gluten-free sweet breads and muffins. Slice bread or muffins and freeze dry it. Then to reconstitute, simply wrap it in a wet paper towel and leave it in the fridge overnight or put it in the microwave for up to 30 seconds.
One of our favorite things to freeze dried is our homemade salsa. It tastes much more like fresh than it does when canned. It reconstitutes very quickly and is delicious to eat as a dip or added to spaghetti sauce. We also like to sprinkle it on popcorn.
Candy is a favorite freeze dried food for many people. Candies including taffy, some gummy candies, Jolly Ranchers, Skittles, Milk Duds, and others work very well. Freeze dried Skittles are a favorite in my family. They end up with a crunchy texture. Other candies have a crunchy exterior and an airy interior.
How do you reconstitute freeze dried food?
The easiest way to reconstitute food is with water or broth. I like to weigh my trays before processing them. Then I write the weight and the name of the food on a piece of masking tape and put it on the front of the tray. After it’s processed, I weigh the tray again and subtract the ending weight from the beginning weight. That tells me how much water to add for reconstitution. I like to write on the mylar bag or jar lid how much water to add so I don’t have to guess when I am ready to reconstitute the food.
Typically, boiling water is best. Pour it over the food, cover it, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. If you are trying to reconstitute a cut of meat, it can take longer depending on how thick the cut is. You can leave meat covered with boiling water in the fridge overnight. For salsa, reconstitute with cold water and let sit 5 minutes.
For milk, sour cream, and yogurt, I reconstitute with cold water and an immersion blender.
If you want to make a smoothie, simply throw in your freeze dried ingredients with water, juice, or milk and blend.
Does freeze dried food have to be reconstituted?
Depending on how you want to use freeze dried food, it doesn’t have to be reconstituted. There are some freeze dried foods I like to powder in my blender or food processor and then add to other foods. These powders can be used in smoothies, soups, and baked goods.
Be aware that it is very important to drink liquids when eating freeze dried foods that haven’t been reconstituted. The bathroom will become your best friend if you don’t stay hydrated after eating these foods!
I love adding powdered vegetables to soups to thicken them. It’s a great way to add nutrients without anyone noticing! You can also use powdered zucchini as a substitute for flour in baked goods; substitute 1/3 of the flour with zucchini powder.
How should food be prepared to be freeze dried?
The smaller pieces you have, the faster the food will process. For liquids, you want to avoid putting too much liquid in one tray. That also goes for dense foods like mashed potatoes. Liquids or soft foods can be put in silicone molds and frozen. Then pop them out of the molds, put them on the freeze dry trays, and put them in the machine when it’s ready.
Meats can be processed either raw or cooked. Thick cuts will take a long time to process, so consider thinner cuts or cutting the meats thin yourself. Just be aware that raw and cooked meats will come out of the machine looking the same so be sure to label your packages.
Hard foods should be blanched before processing. Harder vegetables including carrots, broccoli, green beans, and similar vegetables should be blanched before freeze drying. Potatoes are best if cooked first.
For pasta dishes I recommend slightly undercooking the noodles. Otherwise they will be mushy once re-hydrated. This is especially true for gluten-free noodles, as they have a tendency to become mushy easily.
Fresh herbs freeze dry very well. Simply wash, pluck the leaves, and pile them on the tray. Then freeze before freeze drying. They come out tasting the same as fresh herbs.
I recommend always freezing your food before putting it in the machine. It makes the processing time faster, which means less wear on the machine. If I am preparing fruit, I typically slice it and put it on a baking sheet. I will place a piece of parchment over the baking sheet and add another layer of fruit. After it is frozen solid, the fruit can be taken off the tray and placed in freezer bags if needed.
How long does it take for a freeze dry cycle to complete?
The length of time on a freeze dry cycle really depends on a few factors including what food you are drying, how much weight there is, and whether or not the food was pre-frozen. Pre-frozen food takes less time to process since the machine doesn’t have to completely freeze the food. Your climate (humidity and temperature) can also affect the cycle length. My average load takes around 24 hours, but it can be significantly longer.
Trust the machine. It will let you know when it thinks the food is done. Once the cycle has finished, you can check the food to see if it is completely done. If so, you can remove it from the machine and package it. If the food isn’t done, you can add time.
Why buy a freeze dryer instead of buying foods that have already been freeze dried?
This is a question that each person will have to decide for themselves. For me, it comes down to a few factors. First of all, there aren’t many gluten-free options in commercially freeze dried food. Secondly, commercially freeze dried foods are expensive to buy. (I know, the freeze dryer itself is expensive to purchase, but hear me out). If you calculate the amount per ounce, you will realize how much you save buy freeze drying the food yourself.
Thirdly, I like to know what is in my food. When I process my own food, I know what is going in it. Also, I like to grow my own produce so when I freeze dry that, I know exactly where my food came from and how it was grown. Some commercially freeze dried foods contain preservatives.
Another reason to buy a freeze dryer instead of already freeze dried food is that you can choose to freeze dry whatever you want. We preserve our favorite foods, which means I know my family will eat them when it’s time to break them out, whether that’s for a camp out, family vacation, or the apocalypse.