You probably remember “Astronaut” ice cream, the famous freeze-dried ice cream sandwich that became wildly popular in the 70’s and 80’s. Astronaut ice cream was a groundbreaking product because it changed the way we thought about freeze-dried food. Instead of being boring, tasteless, or even downright nasty, survivalist and wilderness enthusiasts started to imagine a world where they could actually enjoy their food in an emergency situation.
Just like that, gone are the days of stocking up on canned meats and beans that weigh you down, take up space in your reserves and provide little to no nutritional value for a hungry survivalist.
Today dehydrated and freeze-dried camping food is a massive industry. In fact, recent studies have shown that the market is growing an average of 8% each year. As more and more people discover the benefits of survival prepping and emergency preparedness, new products consistently hit the shelves and snake their way into the hands of mainstream folk.
So is dehydrated camping food really the best option for survivalists looking to stock up? Read on to decide for yourself and learn the basics.
What is the difference between dehydrated and freeze-dried food?
I’d like to make an important point, dehydrated and freeze-dried foods are different even though they look the same and are both light weight.
Dehydration is the process of using heat to remove moisture from food while freeze-drying is the process of using the cold to do the same. While both techniques remove water content from your food, freeze-drying removes 98% of the water while dehydrating only removes about 70%. This difference significantly impacts the characteristics of the food, and each type has its benefits and drawbacks.
Freeze-dried food tends to last longer than dehydrated food
Higher water content means that dehydrated foods usually have a shorter shelf life than freeze-dried. Self-processed dehydrated foods may only last for a year, while commercially dehydrated foods could last up to 15 or 20 years.
There are many excellent options for dehydrated camping foods that will last, but they cannot compare to the longevity of freeze-dried food which can last for up to 30 years in proper storage.
The huge difference in shelf-life between freeze-dried and dehydrated food makes freeze-dried foods a desirable option for preppers looking to bulk up their deep pantry without having to worry about cleaning it out.
Freeze-dried food contains more nutrients than dehydrated food
Even though the products look very similar, there is a significant difference in the quality of freeze-dried and dehydrated meals. I’m not just talking about how good they taste, but about the difference in the basic nutrients contained in the meal.
Freeze-dried foods retain 97% of the nutritional value after being frozen, while dehydrated foods only retain about 60%. This nutritional deficiency is significant for survivalists who are trying to prioritize and maximize the nutrition of the foods in the stockpile. Furthermore, it is important that anyone adding dehydrated foods to their deep pantry consider this nutritional loss and plan appropriately to ensure that you and your family have access to enough nutrient dense foods in an emergency situation.
Freeze-dried food can be more flavorful than dehydrated food
It’s not surprising that the nutritional difference between the two also affects the taste, with many people reporting that freeze-dried food is much more flavorful than its dehydrated counterpart.
I tend to agree!
The process of freeze-drying food is unique and allows the food to easily maintain a “normal” shape, texture and color once it is rehydrated.
Dehydrated food often does not retain the original characteristics, like texture and shape, from before it was dehydrated. However, this makes dehydrating a great option for stews, curry and soups that combine ingredients and have a softer texture.
Dehydrated food is cheaper and more accessible than freeze-dried food
Freeze-drying is generally done in a commercial facility and is not easily recreated at home. It requires specific equipment that is expensive and therefore makes it inaccessible to the average person. While at home freeze-dryer systems do exist they are costly, often in the thousands of dollars.
On the other hand, dehydrating food is an ancient practice that has been happening for centuries all over the world. It can be done with a relatively cheap dehydrator or the old fashioned way, without any tools at all. Dehydrating some food can be as simple as letting it dry in the natural sun, think sun-dried tomatoes. This makes dehydrating much more accessible for survivalists while prepping and after a disaster.
It also makes it cheaper to purchase premade dehydrated camping meals rather than freeze-dried. If you were to fill your entire deep pantry with freeze-dried food, it would be significant financial investment compared to dehydrated meals and even other types of long lasting foods like cans and bulk dried products. While we all would like to be able to afford to fill our reserves with delicious, freeze-dried food, it is not a practical use of resources for most people.
What types of dehydrated and freeze-dried food should I keep in my survival pantry?
Whether or not you choose to stock up on dehydrated camping food, freeze-dried food or some combination of the two, you must carefully consider what meals you are choosing to include in your reserves.
In the event of a life-altering natural disaster you may not have access to any other food source. There might not be conventional stores, or you may be unable to hunt and forage. This means that your deep pantry must be able to fulfill all of your nutritional needs for an extended period of time.
You must make sure that the foods you choose to keep will provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, and enough calories to keep your family healthy and full.
Remember that if you are in a survival situation, your body is probably under stress and needs more protein and fats to fuel muscle development. Avoid simple carbohydrates, like pasta, that fail to maximize your nutrient intake during a crisis, but do not completely cut out carbohydrates as they are an important energy source.
It sounds obvious but remember to pick and choose foods that you actually enjoy, if possible. You do not want to drastically alter your diet during an emergency and add more stress to your body. If the time comes and you open up the food storage to reveal all of the food that you hate, you will not be happy.
Grains & Legumes
Dehydrated grains, like rice and quinoa, are a great way to get the essential carbohydrates and starches that your body needs to create energy. Consider dehydrated rice and bean meals that are filled with protein and all of the essential amino acids. You can also dehydrate or freeze-dry chilis, stews and gumbo which usually contain a variety of grains and legumes to fuel your survival.
One incredible benefit of dehydrating your grains is that they become lighter. If you are forced to move your food stockpile during a crisis, having dehydrated grains and legumes is to your benefit. Dry and bulk grains are cheap and easy to source, but they are inconvenient if you ever need to move shelters.
Meat and Seafood
Lean meats and seafood are an excellent choice for dehydrating and are dense enough to sustain you when everything comes crashing down. Dehydrated jerky, steaks and ground meats are great options for bulk food storage. Try to shoot for a variety of meats and cuts so that you can have some leaner and some fattier options.
Meats and fish are dehydrated after being cooked with a full meal or on their own to be added to something in the future. While we would all love to have the ability to hunt endless fresh game during a crisis, we may not be so lucky and having dehydrated meats and seafood will help to sustain you.
Spices & Medicinal Herbs
Many preppers overlook the importance of having spices and herbs in their reserves. Spices will enhance your meal during a disaster, which tastes good and increases morale. They also provide health benefits and are a valuable addition to any deep pantry.
- Thyme: has dual purposes of spicing up your food and acting as a natural anti-bacterial
- Yarrow root: can be used to stop bleeding, relieve tooth aches and aid in digestion
- Cayenne: has pain relieving, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties
- Ginger: can be used for nausea and to support immune health
Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide fiber that is essential for maintaining digestive health and regular bowel movements that clear harmful toxins from your body. Dehydrating and freeze-drying fruits and vegetables is a great way to maintain a varied diet when in a survival situation.
While most preppers are focused on more substantial food sources, like proteins and fats, to get them through a disaster, lesser-considered fruits and vegetables are still a great way to vary your diet and maximize your health.
Remember that freeze-dried fruits and veggies tend to last much longer than dehydrated fruits and veggies. This makes them a superior option for rounding out your pantry.
Some nutrient dense and versatile fruits to consider include:
- Grapes (Raisins): one of the most well-known dried fruits that provide protein, iron, vitamin C and potassium
- Strawberries: contain exceptionally high levels of antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties, plus high levels of vitamins K, B-6 and A
- Apples: known to increase heart health and regulate blood sugar levels
- Figs: an excellent source of calcium, potassium and manganese, all known to contribute to bone health
- Bananas: provide potassium which is essential for preventing muscle fatigue when the body is under stress
Other nutrient dense and versatile vegetables to consider include:
- Onions: contains antioxidants and selenium, important for eye health
- Carrots: helps to control blood sugar and contains high levels of calcium
- Broccoli: has folic acid, vitamins A, C, E, K and B
- Peppers: contains vitamin C and folate, and spices up bland meals
- Mushrooms: significant source for zinc, potassium and vitamin D
How to store freeze-dried and dehydrated camping food the right way?
It doesn’t matter if you are using primarily dehydrated or freeze-dried food, it is very important to make sure that you are storing it in the proper manner. There would be nothing worse than prepping for a disaster, realizing that your efforts went to waste and then starving.
Always make sure to strictly follow food storage instructions on any conventionally purchased dehydrated or freeze-dried camping food. Usually dehydrated and freeze-dried food needs to be stored in a cool and dry area where it is not exposed to excessive sunlight or moisture. This will help to maximize the shelf-life and prevent bacteria from growing in your reserves.
It is a smart idea to store your food in a room that has shelves so that you can avoid your food being piled up and exposed to unwelcome critters that might be lurking in the area. Some people recommend storing your food in a couple different places as an extra precaution against unexpected events.
If you dehydrate your own food, make sure to store it in airtight containers that have no moisture or place for oxygen to enter and spoil your food. Food that is dehydrated at home tends to have a much shorter shelf life than when the same is commercially dehydrated. This is because storage can be tricky. Be careful to monitor the containers regularly to prevent mold.
I personally store my dehydrated and freeze-dried camping food in airtight containers, on shelves in my dug-out basement.
My basement stays cool year round and there is no sunlight affecting my reserves. The airtight containers and addition of shelves give my food added protection from flooding, pests and animals. I check my food storage bins once or twice a year and clear out anything that is spoiled or poses a hazard. That way I am always prepared for whatever unexpected emergency might come.