It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s the world’s tiniest washing machine…
Nah, it’s actually a home freeze dryer. Although I’m pretty sure the friends and family who’ve walked past the robin egg blue machine in our basement the past few months have silently wondered, “What the heck are these strange people up to now??”
You see, it started out with an email from a company called Harvest Right… that I almost deleted.
I get pitched a lot of different things from a lot of different companies, and I turn down 99% of them. (Like the email I got the other day from a company asking me to promote their real human hair wigs… Um, NO.) So when the email from Harvest Right came asking me if I wanted to try one of their home freeze dryers, I wasn’t interested at first.
(This post contains affiliate links)
I’m no stranger to food preservation. I already water bath can, pressure can, freeze stuff, dehydrate stuff, and ferment stuff. It almost seemed a tad redundant to have another way to preserve food. But after a quick phone call with their Operations Manager, I decided to give it a try. The main aspects of the Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer that piqued my interest were:
- It is the ONLY freeze dryer on the market designed for home use. All other units are for commercial use, are ginormous, and cost tens of thousands of dollars.
- Freeze dried food tastes better and lasts MUCH longer than canned, frozen, or dehydrated food.
- You can easily freeze dry small quantities or portions– even things like leftover meals can be preserved, which has the potential to reduce a lot of food waste.
- If freeze-dried food is a part of your emergency preparedness plan, in the long run you’ll save a whole bunch by doing it yourself, versus buying freeze-fried food.
So here it came… In a big ol’ box, delivered by a big ol’ truck. And to be honest? I used it a couple times and wasn’t super impressed. But then I kept using it, and fell in love. I’ll tell you what changed my mind, but first, some specifics:
The Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer
How It Works:
First off, let me clarify– this is NOT a dehydrator. It is a different machine entirely. It works by first freezing the food (to at least -40 degrees Fahrenheit) and then creating a powerful vacuum seal which vaporizes the ice crystals entirely and leaves you with a thoroughly dry, extremely shelf-stable food. Freeze-dried food keeps much, much more of its texture, nutrition, and taste than canned, dehydrated, or frozen food. Freeze-dried food can be eaten as-is, rehydrated, or saved for later. (Like 25 years later!)
How Big is the Home Freeze Dryer?
It’s smaller than a dishwasher, but larger than a microwave. It’s dimensions are 30″ tall, 20″ wide, 25″ deep, and it weighs in at slightly over 100 lbs. It has a detachable vacuum pump that sits to the side of the machine and the pump weighs about 30 lbs.
How Long Does it Take to Freeze Dry a Batch of Food?
It depends on the foods, but usually anywhere from 20-40 hours. However, that period is entirely hands-off– you don’t have to do anything or babysit it. We also found keeping our freeze dryer in a cooler place (our basement) slightly shortened the time, as compared to having it outside in our hot shop during the summer.
What Can You Freeze Dry?
Oh man– everything! Fruits and vegetables are the primary things I’ve been freeze-drying, but you can also dry meats (raw and cooked), dairy products (cheese, yogurt, etc), whole meals (to be rehydrated later). The biggest things you can’t really freeze-dry are straight fats (like butter or coconut oil– although you CAN freeze foods that contain butter or other fats) and bread. Well, you *can* freeze-dry bread, but it doesn’t work to rehydrate it with water, because it just gets soggy and gross.
How Do You Store Freeze Dried Food?
For short term shortage, I’ve been putting mine in tightly sealed mason jars (because it looks pretty). However, to make the food last for years, you’ll want to keep it in something like a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber. When exposed to air, the dry food will soak up moisture and won’t last as long.
How Long Will Freeze-Dried Food Last?
No, the real question is: how long can you stave off your family from eating it all? If you can master that skill (I had to threaten my children with severe punishment just in order to have enough yogurt drops left for these photos!) properly contained freeze-dried food can last as long as 25 years.
How to Freeze-Dry Food
It’s so easy it almost doesn’t need a tutorial. But I’ll walk you through the process anyway.
- First off, chop/shred/etc your food in semi-uniform pieces. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you want it to dry evenly.
- Arrange the food on the trays.
- Place the trays in the machine and place the black circle pad thing (that’s the technical term) over the opening.
- Push start, make sure the drain valve is closed, and let ‘er rip.
- Once it’s done, the machine will chirp at you to check it. If it needs more dry time (you can check this by breaking a piece of food in half and seeing if there are still any icy/frozen bits in the middle. If there are, add more hours to the dry cycle.
- Once the food is completely dry, remove from the machine, allow the machine to defrost, and package your food in jars or bags. (Or just set it out on the counter and the children will make short work of it…)
It’s amazing how little the freeze dried food changes. Check out these freeze-dried mushrooms– they look like they are fresh:
What I’ve Freeze-Dried So Far:
- Bananas (a definite favorite)
- Raw steak chunks
- Green beans
- Yogurt drops
- Shredded cheese
- Chicken broth
One of the coolest things I freeze dried was homemade chicken broth. As crazy as it sounds, I simply poured liquid broth on the trays, and let the machine do its thing. It came out looking like a cross between cotton candy and fiberglass insulation (super appetizing description, eh?). But it tasted and smelled just like broth should– I crushed it up and have been reconstituting it in water or adding it to recipes for extra flavor.
What I’m Freeze-Drying Next:
- Applesauce drops (for Prairie Baby)
- Whole meals (excited to play around with this)
- Cooked meats to add to stews/soups later
- Lots more fruits/veggies, especially since everything is in season right now.
- Homemade ice cream (Yes, really. Not that I need to preserve ice cream, but more because it makes a fun treat.)
What I DON’T Love About the Home Freeze Dryer:
This isn’t something you’re going to keep on your kitchen counter… It’ll need to go in a separate room or in your garage. Another option is to keep it on a small cart and wheel it around when you plan to use it.
Not like jackhammer-loud, but it’s louder than a dishwasher for sure– especially when it’s on the drying cycle and the vacuum pump is running. We are keeping ours in our storage room in the basement, and I can still hear it humming when I’m upstairs.
It Takes a While
As amazing as the machine is, it’s not instantaneous. It takes 20-40 hours to freeze dry a batch of food (depending on the food…) Thankfully, you don’t have to sit there and babysit it the whole time.
There’s a Learning Curve
When we first pulled the freeze dryer from the box, it was pretty intimidating… It took me a good couple cycles before I figured out my sweet spot with the machine, and the vacuum pump does require a bit of maintenance (simple oil changes). However, no part of it is difficult– just expect to take a little time learning about the machine. Come to think of it, most food preservation requires a bit of a learning period, so I suppose this is not too much different in that aspect than canning or fermenting.
What I LOVE About the Home Freeze Dryer:
The Food is Much More Nutritious
Unlike canning or dehydrating, the home freeze dryer does not use high temperatures. This enables up to 97% of the nutrients in the food to be preserved. And you might be surprised to hear me say this, but as much as I love canning, if I had to choose between canning a batch of food and freeze-drying a batch of food, I’d pick freeze-drying. Not only because I like the end result better, but also because it’s easier and I don’t end up with a hot, sticky kitchen.
Freeze-Dried Food Lasts Forever
If you properly package and store your freeze dried foods, you can expect 20-25 years of shelf life from them– that’s pretty darn impressive if you ask me… Plus it’s easier to move around/store freeze-dried foods, as compared to jars of heavy canned foods.
It Reduces Waste
One of the ways I’m finding I’m using my machine the most is to take care of random leftovers. If we have a serving of this or that lying around, I throw it in the freeze dryer, whereas before, it likely would have been forgotten about and accidentally left to spoil. The pigs (our homestead garbage disposals) aren’t super happy about this, but they’ll get over it.
The Food Tastes Awesome!
Whenever I pull a new batch of food out of the freeze dryer, I have hoard of hungry vulture-children circling the trays waiting to sample the latest creation. The freeze-dried fruits and veggies make excellent snacks– they are flavorful and crunchy, with no junk added.
It’s Easy to Get Help/Education
I’ve found Harvest Right to be excellent to work with– they are extremely fast and professional, and have been willing to help me with any questions I had. Their website is also full of recipes and tutorials, and you can even download their full Home Freeze Drying Guide for free here. (Scroll down that page a bit, and then enter your email for instant access.)
If you’ve researched home freeze dryers in the past, you know they aren’t cheap.
When I first saw the price tag ($2995) I cringed a bit. However after seriously evaluting this machine for four months now, while I believe it’s NOT for everyone, I am confident in saying if you are serious about preparedness or food preservation, this is a good investment.
First off, if you are currently purchasing freeze-dried food for emergency preparedness (which is smart because it lasts so much longer than anything else), there is a hefty chunk of money to be saved on that end. Take peaches for example.
The approximate cost of a #10 can of commercially prepared freeze-dried peaches is around $43.
If you freeze-dry your own peaches, you would pay approximated $6.93 for the fresh fruit, $1.80 for the electricity to run the freeze-dryer, and $0.75 for the mylar bag and oxygen absorber. That comes to $9.48 total– a savings of $33.52– just for one can of peaches. You can imagine how fast that adds up if you’re frequently purchasing commercial freeze-dried food.
Also, the machine is a workhorse. If you are using it steadily, you can squirrel away a LOT of food. As I was chatting with Harvest Right, they shared this:
“It’s not uncommon for customers to preserve 1,500 lbs of food in a year with their freeze dryer. This amounts to roughly 350 #10 cans of food which would easily cost $10,000.”
To sum it up? If you’re a fan of food preservation, a prepper, or just a homestead geek like me, I think you’ll REALLY enjoy this machine, and I believe it is absolutely worth the investment. And even if you’re just curious, or need more info about home freeze drying in general, you’ll really enjoy the Harvest Right Website— I spent several hours looking around there.
Do any of you have a home freeze dryer? What’s your favorite thing to freeze-dry?
(Disclosure: Harvest Right sent me a freeze dryer to try (but not to keep) so I could share my thoughts and experience with you here. All opinions are purely my own. The links shared in this post are affiliate links. This means if you decided to purchase a freeze dryer after reading this post and clicking on one of these links, I will get a small commission that helps to support this blog. So, thanks!)