Freeze-Dried vs. Dehydrated Foods

What is the difference between freeze-dried and dehydrated foods? Awesome question!  Before I seriously started working on our “home store,”  I had no clue there was a difference!  But it turns out that there are a lot of differences and those differences turned out to be incredibly important to my family.  In fact, many of the problems I had with “food storage” were solved when I discovered freeze-dried foods.  Suddenly “food storage” was healthy, tasted good, and could be easily rotated in my everyday recipes!  I was excited.

I’ve learned a lot about dehydrated and freeze-dried foods since early 2008 and I occasionally hold cooking classes to teach others what I’ve learned.  During each and every cooking class I hold there are numerous people who use the words freeze-dried and dehydrated interchangeably.  Based on that, I’m guessing there are a few of you….maybe lots of you….who are just like I was: surprised to find out there is a difference between freeze-dried and dehydrated foods and curious about what the difference is.

Freeze-Dried VS. Dehydrated Foods

The difference is actually pretty big!  And it is very important to understand the difference when building a home store for your family.  Over the last few years, I have consulted with many people who have had to throw away thousands of dollars in unusable food because they invested in the wrong thing in the first place.  Don’t let that be you!

I have chosen to store nearly all freeze-dried foods in our family’s “home store” due to their greater versatility, nutrition, better taste, and usability.  Use the chart below to determine what you feel would be best to store for your family:

 Freeze DriedDehydrated
ProcessThe product is frozen, then placed under a vacuum which allows the water in the product to vaporize without passing through the liquid state. About 98% of the water is removed.The product is heated and water is removed through evaporation. It is impossible to remove all the water. Depending on the process about 5%-30% of the water remains.
Shelf Life
Very long (20-30 years) because of the lack of water left.Shorter (1-8 years) because there is always some water left in the product.
Since there is no water left in the product, no additives at all are needed in single-ingredient cans. For example, a can of peaches will have nothing but peaches in the can. When you start combining ingredients (as in freeze-dried just add water meals), additives and preservatives are needed.Sugar, salt, or other preservatives are usually needed to maintain the shelf life because there is always some water left in the product.
Retains all nutrients. Thrive freeze-dried product is naturally ripened and then flash frozen within hours so it can actually contain even more nutrients than artificially ripened produce found at the grocery store.Many nutrients (up to 50%) are lost because of the heat applied during the dehydration process.
Color, Taste, Texture
When hydrated, the color, taste, and texture are all very similar to the original product. Without hydration, the product is dry and can easily be crushed to powder.Most dehydrated foods look and taste different from fresh product. (Beef Jerky vs Roast Beef or Raisins vs Grapes). They are pliable, stretchy, or chewy.
Very easy to re-hydrate in cold or hot water. When hydrated they are just like the fresh product would be after being frozen and thawed.Difficult to re-hydrate (try turning a raisin into a grape or Beef Jerky into Roast Beef). For products that can be re-hydrated, it must be done with hot water and requires far more water than a freeze-dried product. Since the water must be hot, re-hydration requires fuel (which would be precious in a true emergency situation).
Use in cooking/baking
Very easy to use in cooking and baking. Products are precooked and cut so all you do is add water. Little to no change in the end product vs using fresh ingredients.Some products can be used in cooking or baking, but because of the change in texture caused by dehydration, not with as much ease or the same quality results as freeze-dried products.
What Products
Almost anything can be freeze-dried including Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Cheese, Yogurt, and even Ice cream!Mostly fruits and vegetables. Some meats.
Best Use
Hydrated in place of a fresh product in any recipe. Fruits and some veggies and even cheese are also fantastic as snacks.Snacking

The Difference Between Freeze-Dried and Dehydrated Foods in Pictures

A picture really does say a thousand words.  Here are a few pictures that say far more than I ever could about the difference between dehydrated and freeze-dried foods.  Especially note the differences in color and texture!

Freeze-Dried Foods Vs. Other Products

Comparing Freeze-Dried to Canned

I know some people also consider canned foods for their food storage.  Well, canned is for dehydrated like dehydrated is freeze-dried.  Canned foods have lots of heat applied, few nutrients, lots of additives, and very short shelf life (usually 1-3 years).  Personally, I avoid them whenever possible.

Comparing Freeze-Dried to Grocery Store Produce

Many people ask how freeze-dried produce compares to the fresh produce they might buy at the grocery store.  This graphic should answer that:

Where to Buy Freeze-Dried Products:

My favorite place to purchase freeze-dried produce is Thrive Life as their food has the most color and flavor, but you can also find freeze-dried food at Emergency Essentials and Augason Farms, and Honeyville.

So there you have it!  The difference between freeze-dried, dehydrated, canned, and “fresh” produce!  I’d love to hear about your experience or answer any questions you have.  Just leave me a comment below!

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Becky is a wildlife enthusiast and pet and livestock care expert with a diploma in canine nutrition. With over a decade of experience in animal welfare, Becky lends her expertise to Simple Family Preparedness through insightful info about pets, livestock, bee keeping, and the practicalities of homesteading.

53 thoughts on “Freeze-Dried vs. Dehydrated Foods”

  1. I have a Harvest Right freeze dryer and have been using it to preserve my garden this year. Usually I can or freeze everything, and let me tell you THAT is a lot of work! Hours and hours at a hot stove in July and August, not to mention the electric bill skirting $400 bucks a month. I have found that mylar bags thru Amazon.com and the oxygen absorbers are really no more expensive than the bags I use with my vacuum sealer to freeze plus add in the cost of running three large freezers for a year. So even though the medium size freeze dryer I purchased cost around $2,700 dollars I will be able to recoup the cost in about 2 years. I also won’t have to toss anything because of freezer burn or out dated as the freeze dried products last 20-30 years

    • I agree that canning is a LOT of work! I have serious respect for those that do so all summer / fall! And there certainly are some benefits to freeze drying instead! Thanks for your input!

  2. Hi I am confused now about what is freeze dried vs frozen? Are freeze dried items kept in the freeze? I have been dehydrating herbs with a dehydrated to save the delicious taste and flavor of garden herbs. I would like to save some. Summer corn on the cob. What way is best? Your site is so interesting. Thank you!

    • Hi Gloria! Freeze dried food is food that has been flash frozen and then had the water removed while it is frozen. It is shelf stable and does not need to be kept in the freezer. You can learn more about the various types of food storage (canned, frozen, dehydrated and freeze dried) here: Which type of food storage is best? For corn, I’d probably go with freezing it or canning it. Most people don’t freeze dry at home. There is only one machine for in home use and it costs thousands of dollars. Most people (myself included) who use freeze dried food buy it already freeze dried. I hope that helps!

  3. My husband and I just finished enjoying a freeze dried “Stroganoff Skillet” which I put on the table in 25 minutes. I didn’t have to stand and fuss in the kitchen…no chopping, no browning meat. I just poured the contents from the meal in a jar recipe I put together into a pot with some water, brought it to a boil and let it simmer. He even remarked on how good it smelled while it simmered!

    This was my first time using freeze dried food products and you made it a great experience for us…Thank you so very much! Yes, I was a little overwhelmed at first. But, by selecting 3 recipes and organizing my first order around those recipes, I was prepared to put together 12 meals in mason jars which I completed in a couple hours while sitting at my dining room table. I knew I needed to pre-sterillize the jars and lids to prevent mold growth. Using the Kraft Food method, I sterillized everything in a 225 degree oven for 10 minutes, then kept everything in the oven, with the heat turned off, until needed so they would stay warm. Yes the rubber on the lids was kept safe using this method. Of course everything was washed before going in the oven. All in all, the whole procedure was easy and fun…which I need since I’m 68 years old! I did the “ping” test on the lids and all but one of my jars sealed. No problem…I just used a different lid and resealed the meal in a jar after putting in a new oxygen absorber on top of the contents.

    While I’m planning on keeping some of my meals in a jar for emergencies (our power goes out quite frequently during storms), I will be pulling from my stash when I’m not up to cooking from scratch. I made cute little tags with cooking instructions and tied them on the jars to give some as gifts for our neighbors who live in our 55 and over highrise. I know they will be greatly appreciated.

    It was so hard not to keep from snacking on the green peppers and mushrooms while I put the jars together. You are correct…as soon as I pulled the seal off the Thrive products, I could smell the freshness which matched the taste.

    I’m in the process of converting some of my personal recipes and looking forward to fresh scrambled eggs tomorrow morning with freeze dried sausage bits, green peppers, and onions covered with “Thrive cheese blend” as a sauce. Unfortunately, I ran out of mushrooms or I would add them, too.

    This will really work well for us…and I’m thinking I need to talk to you about the benefits of a minimum $50 Q order each month.

    Again, I can’t thank you enough. Just by taking the manageable steps you’ve outlined in the preparedness printables and with the worksheets, we feel more secure than we have ever felt and we have learned to much. We don’t have it all together, put we are working on it little by little.

    • The Harvest Right is the only one I know of Dee. I’ve studied up on it quite a bit and while I’m very interested, it just isn’t worth my money (yet). I figured out how many cans of food I could reasonably freeze dry each year (50-60 since it takes 24-72 hours per can and I won’t be doing it all day every day or as much in the winter as the summer) and then I added in the cost of the cans, equipment, oxygen absorbers etc. and compared that to the cost of buying it pre-canned and found it would take 4-6 years to make my money back. Plus, a lot of work and time washing, cooking, peeling, chopping etc. I don’t mind hard work at all, but my time is limited and right now, that time can be better spent earning money (I make more per hour than I would save), so for me, I will wait until the price comes down and the warranty (currently only one year) goes up!

    • I have a HarvestRight freeze dryer. They aren’t cheap but if you grow your own produce, herbs and/or livestock it can be a benefit. They are not as easy to run as their website gives you the impression. They are noisy and can be messy if the vacuum pump sprays out oil. So it should be done in an room like a garage or barn etc. I sure couldn’t keep this beast working without my mechanically talented husband. I’d suggest you wait till they get more bugs worked out but it’s a good learning experience

  4. Hi Misty, I loved your title of “Your own home store” – I do not like to go grocery shopping … LOL and thought I’d check you out. What little I’ve looked at so far really has me intrigued and I will definitely check out your whole site. Do you, or is there a site with a chart comparing Dehydrated foods with fresh foods as far as equivalent volume? I hope you understand my question … LOL Ex. 1 onion fresh with 1 onion dehydrated. what is the compared volume difference.

    • I don’t know of an online chart, but Thrive Life has a guide which includes such a chart. Most of their food is freeze dried, not dehydrated (but I prefer that). The guide also includes tips for cooking with each item. YOu can find it HERE.

  5. Hello,
    My name is Lee Baggett & I’m very interested in having food for emergency use & I started thinking about every day life. I thought about mre’s like the military gets & how they live off the land in Alaska & many places. I have a really bad diet, basically because I’m alone & I see no need to cook 1,2, or 3 times a day & difficult to cook for 1. I’m living with cancer (just finished 8mos of chemotherapy) now it’s showing up in new places, like my lungs, bones & not sure if I’m up for more chemo now. I thought I could eat cheap & easy this way because I need nourishment now more than ever! But it seems very expensive, surprised when I looked it up, like $280 for 184 meals or 20 days of 2k a day diet. That’s $14 per day. I need help & I have absolutely no one to call on really not 1. I’m to blame I guess bc I’ve isolated myself, staying at home. In today’s world I’m finding that good honest men are taken advantage of & I end up getting used or rejected I’ve gone to churches only to be rejected bc of mental problems & anxiety (I guess) but not imagining, it’s really been hard so I isolate, makes it more difficult to get back into “life” again. I’m on S.S.D.I. & make $1370 a month. I’ve bought a travel trailer & moved to the woods where I feel at home & LOVE nature! Anyway I’m sorry to talk so much but just wanted you to know where I’m coming from. Thought maybe you can help me locate & buy the right items. I would really like to be prepared for 4-6 months & don’t know where to begin! I would appreciate any advise I can get & you seem to have it figured out, can u help please?
    Thank you for reading & putting up w/my ramblings. L. B.

    • Hi Lee! I think that the single ingredient (not the MRE type) freeze dried foods actually SAVE me money most of the time. For example, instead of buying a full thing of celery and then only using 2 Tablespoons in a soup and tossing the rest, I can use just 2 Tablespoons from my can and the rest stays good for a year. I’ve found this works really well for those who live alone and / or don’t want to cook much. There is no washing, peeling, chopping, browning etc. It is just scoop and dump. But it is extremely healthy! Thrive is my favorite brand. You can find their food HERE. You can also find a bunch of videos with tips for using it HERE. I hope that helps!

  6. Hi Misty,

    Great post! You provided just the information that I needed, and in fact you inspired me to take it one step further…I went over to the Harvest Right website to purchase my own in home freeze dryer. I love all the freeze dried foods I have tried so far, but some are rather expensive. I always thought that buying my own freeze dryer was something that would too incredibility expensive to be realistic. Nevertheless, after reading this I thought it couldn’t hurt to just search and get an idea of the cost. Well, just a few moments ago I found out Harvest Right has a layaway plan. Which means a $3000 machine is suddenly attainable. I happily put the required $250 down to secure their current sale price. Now I can pay as it suits my budget. As much as you and your family love freeze dried foods it maybe worth checking out the possibility of owning your own machine.


    • I’ve studied up on the Harvest Right and while I’m very interested, it just isn’t worth my money (yet). I figured out how many cans of food I could reasonably freeze dry each year (50-60 since it takes 24-72 hours per can and I won’t be doing it all day every day or as much in the winter as the summer) and then I added in the cost of the cans, equipment, oxygen absorbers etc. and compared that to the cost of buying it pre-canned and found it would take 4-6 years to make my money back. Plus, a lot of work and time washing, cooking, peeling, chopping etc. I don’t mind hard work at all, but my time is limited and right now, that time can be better spent earning money (I make more per hour than I would save), so for me, I will wait until the price comes down and the warranty (currently only one year) goes up!

  7. You said you give cooking classes on how to cook using freeze dried products. Do you know anyone in the Fort Worth area that gives classes?

  8. Thank you,
    The article was perfect!!, It cleared up quite a few questions that other articles did not

    Thanks again

  9. Some of those are not true -for example Vit. C has significant losses in freeze drying. Proteins seem to be also changed to the point, where our body can’t assimilate them well. Very often commercial freeze dried food makers use irradiation as well. Also texture -come on -it has texture of Styrofoam, haven’t you ever tried some freeze dried berries? Read reviews on amazon, where people say that entries taste really badly. A far as heat goes, if I dry myself, I can set my dehydrator to very low temperatures. I am not sure, what temperatures freeze drying uses to evaporate water after vacuum stage.

    • I’m not sure where you’ve gotten your information Daiva, but my information comes from food scientist hired by Thrive Life to test their food. I’ve met them personally and know their research to be sound. They’ve tested the amounts of various vitamins before and after freeze drying and while there is some loss in certain vitamins it is usually far less than what is lost when that same food is picked before ripe, sits on a truck for days, then in the grocery store for days and then in your home for days. I’ve also never heard (in 6+ years of using, researching and meeting with these scientists) that our bodies can’t assimilate freeze dried proteins well. I eat them most every day just fine. And yes, I’ve tried freeze dried berries….almost daily. They are delicious. I’ll assume you meant entrees, not entries and I would agree with you there that most taste bad. That isn’t what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about individually freeze dried products that can then be used to make your own meals. Also freeze drying never evaporates water. That is why the molecular structure stays the same. The water is removed through sublimation, not evaporation. I hope that helps clarify some things!

  10. Is freeze drying something I can do at home? If so, what equipment is required? Shipping costs to Canada are usually prohibitive. Sorry, I just read the comments and learned the answers. Readers are very helpful. Thanks for the article.

  11. I am looking for healthy snacking veggies, like making a veggie trail mix. What vegetables, freeze dried or dehydrated, and please specify which, are best for this purpose?

    • Most dehydrated veggies (carrots, potatoes) are extremely HARD when dehydrated. Some are okay (onions), but I would use freeze dried. I have used lots of freeze dried veggies in various trail mixes: asparagus, broccoli, peas, corn, mushrooms, and zucchini would all work well!

  12. Actually, it can be done at home. There is a company out there that sells small home versions of freeze dryers. I bought one as an investment and am loving it. I am able to really use the abundance from my garden this year. I am now growing and freeze drying my own culinary and medicinal herbs, my own fruits and veggies. When the garden season slows down a bit, I hope to go thru the meat in my freezer and get it all freeze dried and shelf stable. But currently I am running it daily to keep up with the garden. I am loving the fresh organic foods I am growing for my family. If I was not able to have this machine, I would buy mostly freeze dried single ingredients from Thrive. This makes it much easier to avoid allergens ad cook to my family’s tastes.

    • Awesome idea Fenton! Be careful though. I’ve with a food scientist expert about these methods and he says that when done at home, the shelf life is much shorter and the nutritional value is less. His main concern was shelf life. If done incorrectly, you could end up with rancid food. But I’ve never seen this detailed of a post before. Give it a go!

  13. I would love to pin this post, but there is no image available to pin. Great information, though, thanks!

    • I know some people claim to be able to Kimberleigh. But it is a pretty complicated and expensive process to do correctly. Those that do it at home typically use a different method than is done commercially and the results are more similar to dehydration.

  14. You have such valuable information to share. This post was extremely helpful to me – thank you for taking the time to outline this. I would love to reference this blog entry on my blog, are you ok with that?



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