Food Finds · Trail Cooking

Freeze-Dried Versus Dehydrated Ingredients

When I first started developing recipes for outdoor cooking being able to find individual freeze-dried ingredients was nearly limited to peas, corn, green beans, rarely at times a “mixed vegetables” blend, apples and a few berries – such as strawberries and raspberries. This of course was at the dawn of the modern internet and companies just didn’t exist like they do now.

You literally had few choices if you wanted to make meals yourself. My earliest recipes really reflected this, using only those vegetables. Even then, the packages were tiny mylar bags, and cost far too much to use a lot in each recipe. And frankly, they were often very low quality (the old school green beans looked and tasted like green styrofoam every time – and rehydration of them was very iffy). Even today going into REI, and similar, you rarely can find single ingredients packed up. It never became a thing for them to sell. Pushing the already made meals was a higher price point, and more than likely, far more popular.

I picked up dehydrating individual ingredients so I could have variety in my recipes I was developing. It was easy and the cost to get into was under $75 for a food dehydrator if you could live without having a fancy $500 one (plot spoiler…the $75 one works the same as the fancy ones). And if you were willing to do the hard work and pay attention closely, you could even do it in your oven, and not have to buy a dehydrator. I had what I deemed a “Hiker’s Pantry” that I kept stored in plastic tubs and glass mason jars, just for recipe development. I often had the machine running for weeks at times, especially in early spring. I needed to get my stock up for all my trips – and for recipe dvelopment.

So back then, I was not a freeze-dried evangelical. The quality and cost wasn’t there yet.

Times changed though. In the late 2000’s companies started selling the single ingredients. Harmony House Foods and Packit Gourmet were two examples. You could go online and find ingredients to easily order. Not everything you wanted, but we were getting closer. Then the prepper movement came into its own – and suddenly you could find many companies selling freeze-dried ingredients, in mylar bags and in metal cans. And oh could you get so many more options. For me, it was a huge reason I joined up with Thrive Life. And ordered far too much on Amazon as well, from Augason Farms and NutriStore. I could get cucumber dices, olives, butternut squash, asparagus….all the fun ingredients I had dreamed of using in recipes.

But for me the biggest change has been the at home freeze-dryers from Harvest Right. This brought it to the individual to try it themselves. No, it isn’t cheap to get into. And yes, you will need to freeze-dry a lot before you make your money back. For us, as we have a small farm, we grow a lot of food we now preserve this way. For the most part, I only pull out my dehydrator for mushrooms, herbs and greens – items that dry quickly and taste better this way.

So what is the difference between freeze-dried and dehydrated food? 


Food is processed into equal sizes and laid out on the trays, then into the machine.

Food is frozen to well below freezing, then a high power vacuum pulls the ice out as vapor. What is left is the dry food. You must seal it up air-tight as soon as the process is done, as it will pull humidity out of the air. Storing it with an oxygen absorber and/or a desiccant packet is important, as is sealing the container with a chamber sealer, to pull all air out. The process can take an entire day to complete, especially if the machine does all the freezing for you.

The food will be nearly the same size as before you dried it, retaining its shape nicely. It will rehydrate easily, especially if the food was cut into smaller bite size portions, and look nearly the same as when it was fresh. It will snap cleanly when properly dry. It should not have moisture left in it.

Both cooked and raw food can be freeze-dried. Meat and eggs store well freeze-dried properly. Avoid high fat/greasy food. It will make a very nasty mess in your freeze-dryer (yes, I learned that lesson doing breakfast sausage….).

Freeze-dried food is lighter in weight due to no moisture. But will take up more space in meals, for example, in your bear canister.

Rehydration is normally 1:1 ratio of food to water. Many items can be rehydrated with cool water. Items in meals will rehydrate in 5 to 10 minutes in boiled water, but if you are using both dried and freeze-dried, go for 15 minutes.


Dehydrating food can be done with sunlight (a practice done since mankind figured out starving in winter sucked), or you can use heat to do it quickly, using a food dehydrator. The food should be the same size and thickness for best result. Exposed to the hot air, the moisture in the food is pushed out of it. It can take an hour for thin greens, or up to a day or two, depending on how much moisture is in the item. Items that are moist naturally will take longer, such as peaches, strawberries and similar. You will need to watch the dehydrator, and move the trays in a cycle every hour or so, so each tray gets a chance to be closest to the heat unit and fan. Otherwise the tray closest to it will dry faster.

The food is often half or less the size of the original fresh food. Some items will be up to 90% smaller. It tends to be very flat and or shriveled in texture. It won’t look like it did when fresh.

Certain foods must be cooked (or at least blanched) before dehydrating (carrots, green beans, beans). Raw meat and eggs (raw or cooked) should not be dehydrated for safety. Meat outside of jerky doesn’t do well (it’s the re-hydration that is the issue) and that it doesn’t store well long-term. Avoid greasy and fatty foods, the fat can and will go rancid in storage.

Don’t be confused by commercially dehydrated items that are plump and full of moisture, such as dried fruit. Those items are nearly always treated with sulfur dioxide to keep it that way. If you react to wine, you will want to avoid these treatments. They may taste good (because not wrecking teeth on a piece of leather like pear is  great….) but don’t mix soft dried fruit in with dried ingredients when making meals for long-term, or even a week out. Its moisture will soak into the other dried ingredients. And that leads to wrecked food quickly. Carry it separately!

Meals prepped with dehydrated will be smaller when packing, taking up less space in a bear canister.

Rehydration ratio can be 1:1 to 1:2 (food to water). Sauces can be 1:3. Rehydration takes at least 15 minutes with boiled water.

Which is better?

It really depends on what food you are looking to preserve. How you will use it, and how long you want to wait to eat.

Dehydrated vegetables can be harder on your stomach to digest if they don’t fully hydrate, and they can be chewy at times.

For us, we use both methods, often in the same meals.

It comes down to texture, shelf life and what one likes to eat – and one’s budget. As well, access to buying commercially dried items.

FTC Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links that give us commissions on products purchased. These items are what we used above.



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