Harvest Right: How to Freeze-Dry Food, at home!

 

I mentioned on Instagram recently, that of all the amazing, interesting, and innovative appliances I’ve worked with, this was possibly the most amazing, the most interesting, and the most innovative.  It’s the first appliance of its kind for in-home use.  I’m going to try really hard to not sound like an infomercial when I tell you about it, but I’ve found that’s sometimes how it comes out, haha.  I love sharing cool things with you guys, and bringing light to products and companies that you might not know exist.  I’ve been obsessed with this appliance over the past couple of months and I’ve been so anxious to tell you about it!  Even if it’s not in your budget, or you’re not interested in purchasing one, I hope that you’ll enjoy reading this post simply to appreciate the technology and see what I’ve been up to in my kitchen lately!

Freeze Dried Food

My husband and I actually heard ads on our local radio a few months ago for the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer and we were completely intrigued.  I purchase and use freeze-dried foods often for snacking, in recipes, and for my home food storage, and had no idea you could actually purchase an appliance to do it yourself.  I called Harvest Right myself and asked if I could come visit their offices to learn more about it before purchasing, since I would be travelling near them for business anyway.  Not only were the people behind the company gracious, kind, and inviting, but the Freeze Dryer itself was as awesome as I had hoped it would be.  I really loved hearing the story of how this company came to be and about the years of work and engineering that went into making this available for the consumer.

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The Freeze Dryer itself carries a substantial price tag, so I realize it’s not an every day appliance like a microwave, or something you buy just “for fun”.  For a little perspective, up until now freeze drying technology was only something that large companies could offer in commercially packaged goods.  A comparable freeze dryer before Harvest Right cost over $30,000 and it processed about the same amount of food in a single batch as this one. The people behind Harvest Right  spent years figuring out a way to make a $30,000 freeze dryer into something that a consumer could purchase for about 1/10 of the price, plug into a regular home electric outlet, and easily use at home.  It was a pretty huge technology undertaking.  Although still expensive at $3-4K, the freeze dryer can dry about $10,000 worth of freeze dried food in a year.  Studies have shown the average American family also throws out about $2,500 – $3000 worth of food each year, so all of that helps put things into perspective a little bit!

Freeze Dried Food

I’ve found with appliances that do unique things, it’s crazy expensive if it’s something you’re not interested in, and a sound investment if it is.  This is about the same price as both the steam oven and the pellet ice maker I’ve shared before on this blog.  So even though this might not be in the budget for some of you, I want to share it, because there area a lot of people, especially those who practice food storing/food storage like myself (where are all of my LDS friends, you guys will get that!), who will be interested in making an investment in something like this. And if that’s not you, then you might just find this post fun to read when you see what happens when you freeze dry stuff!   I know of several church groups, families, and groups of friends, who have purchased freeze dryers to share, and I thought that was a cool idea, too.  I love things like this, and I’ve already seen the rewards from the investment my family made on it so I thought you might enjoy seeing it, too!

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The freeze dryer is about the size of an oven, or mini fridge, but it’s completely movable.  The best place to keep it is in a storage room, laundry room, or garage, but you can move it around if needed.  It is quite heavy and somewhat noisy when running, so it’s not something you would probably keep in a kitchen.  Plus you need some room for the pump and drain.  This video helps you see what’s involved in actually setting it up.

I keep mine on a rolling cart and it works great.  I’ve had it in my garage, but as the weather heats up, I’m going to keep it in our storage room.  It has a heavy-duty vacuum pump that comes with it.  It is fully automated and very simple to use.  As you can see from the photo below, it has a switch and 2 knobs, and a display panel that let’s you know what’s happening.  Although not complicated, there are some very specific instructions for both use and maintenance.  Once I figured it out, it was smooth sailing and I’ve literally had a batch of food going just about every day!  This machine does require some maintenance, most notably, changing the oil on a regular basis and cleaning the pump.

Harvest Right Buttons

So let’s get one thing straight right off the bat.  This is not a dehydrator. I’ve found that a lot of people don’t know there’s a difference.   You can buy dehydrators at Walmart for 30 bucks.  That’s not what we’re talking about here.   A dehydrator uses warm air to slowly heat and dry out food over time.   That’s why things shrink, shrivel, and change texture and flavor in a dehydrator.  Imagine putting scoops of ice cream in a dehydrator.  Can you picture how they would immediately pool into a sticky liquid when exposed to warm circulating air for 24 hours?  Here’s a great visual for you: I put scoops of fresh strawberry ice cream in my freeze dryer and this is what I got:

Freeze Dried Ice Cream

They are completely dry, airy, light as a cloud, and they melt in your mouth.  Almost like a little puff of meringue.  When sealed in a mylar bag or a can they’ll still look just like that and taste delicious in 15-25 years.  So how does it work?  The technology is pretty amazing, and it’s what fascinated me from the get-go about this product.  First, you place food on metal trays.

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The trays sit on shelves inside of the freeze dryer.  Once the door is shut and the fully automated machine is turned on, the food is frozen down to between -30° and -50° degrees (that’s cold!)  You can process about 6-10 pounds of food at a time, an amount that generally fills 1-2 #10 cans, or about 2 gallons if that’s easier to visualize.

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After it’s frozen sufficiently, a vacuum pump automatically turns on.  The interesting scientific fact about water, is that it can’t exist in a liquid state inside of a vacuum.  So as the machine very gently warms the frozen food, the water is instantly turned to vapor, leaving your food basically in its original state in form, color, taste, everything.  It’s simply missing all liquid.  While canning and dehydrating deplete food of  up to half of it’s nutritional value, freeze-drying retains almost 100% of the food’s nutritional value.  These raspberries below are completely dry.  They will melt in your mouth, can be ground into a fine powder, be used in baking and recipes, or can be re-hydrated again with water.  See how beautiful they still are?

Freeze Dried Raspberries

Speaking of beautiful, I noticed a HUGE difference in the food I freeze-dried myself, and the food that I buy from the store already freeze-dried.  Here’s a quick side-by-side of a popular brand of strawberry and banana mix you can find in grocery stores (left) and my own batch on the right.

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So, why freeze dry??  
There are so many uses for an appliance like this, here’s a few that I personally am enjoying and applying.  I’ve seen how through all of these ways, this freeze dryer definitely pays for itself over time:

Food Storage and Emergency Preparedness: Freeze-dried foods can be sealed in cans, or mylar bags and last up to 25 years or more (remember, retaining almost all of it’s nutritional value).  In today’s crazy world of natural disaster, or in times of budgetary challenges, having a good food store is never a bad idea.  In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, you can also freeze complete meals like casseroles, or meats, cheeses, dairy, etc.  Even eggs!  It’s a great way to add more protein to your food storage, locking in good prices if you find them.

Cuts down on at-home food waste:  I am notorious for freezing leftovers only to then throw them away months later.  You can freeze-dry entire meals and then re-hydrate, and food actually returns to its original state in color, appearance, and flavor.  I made waaaay too many mashed potatoes the other day, so I simply freeze-dried the leftovers!  They are loaded with all of the good stuff, and now they have become instant-potato packs in my pantry.

Preserving Garden Bounty:  This is one I’m excited to use as summer is approaching.  I can never eat my garden goodies as fast as they grow and so much quality food from my garden goes to waste, which is sad.  There are some things I love to can or freeze, but I can’t wait to preserve my fresh produce in the freeze dryer because it plumps back to life so beautifully.  It’s the absolute BEST way to preserve herbs, especially, as they retain 100% of their flavor.  I freeze dried tons of Zoodles this week and popped them in bags.  They’re so easy to drop in a pot of soup and ready in literally seconds.

Culinary Creativity:  At the most basic level, freeze-dried foods simply taste great and are really fun to snack on!  This is bonus feature to me, since my main motivation in getting a freeze dryer were the reasons mentioned above.  Have you ever bought the little packs of freeze-dried fruits commonly available at grocery stores these days?  Since all of the water is removed, the flavor is concentrated and foods take on a whole new level of deliciousness.  I’ve found that the uses in the kitchen are endless.  Often, the biggest challenge in introducing fresh fruits into recipes, for example, is that the water adds too much moisture, and interferes with the fat.  Removing all of the water allows you to add concentrated flavor.  For example, I took those raspberries you saw above and gave them a quick pulse in my food processor, creating a beautiful red berry powder.  100% fruit and nothing else:

Berry PowderThen I added the raspberry powder to a fluffy buttercream frosting, something that’s usually hard to do since the high water content in fruit often separates frosting and waters it down.  The result?  Gorgeous, fluffy pink frosting with perfect fresh raspberry flavor.

Raspberry Frosting

What Can be Freeze-Dried?

Almost anything.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are the most basic, but you can also freeze dry full meals, like a plate of lasagna or your favorite soups or stews.  Even meat!  I freeze dried a bunch of rotisserie chicken and then added it to soups during the week.  You can freeze-dry cheeses, and dairy as well. I found my favorite coconut Greek yogurt on sale so I freeze-dried it and then pulsed it in my blender into a powder.  I’ve been adding it to smoothies, pancake mix, and baked goods.   I keep it in a jar next to powdered sour cream and powdered cream cheese.  All of them work so beautifully in recipes.

Powdered Greek Yogurt

I have always purchased freeze-dried foods for my babies as their first solids because they just melt in their mouth and make it so easy to eat.  Our very favorite are yogurt drops!  Simply drop yogurt in little drops onto the trays and you have these crunchy, delicate little drops of fruity deliciousness.

Freeze Dried Yogurt Drops

I cannot make these fast enough to keep up with demand at our house!  They make the best snack to keep in my purse or take in the car.  And it’s simply 100% yogurt.   We found sugar free instant pudding was also a hit.  Such a fun sweet treat, that my kids love to munch on.

Freeze Dried Chocolate Pudding

When we visited Harvest Right, my kids got to sample a freeze-dried gummy bear and it’s all they could talk about!  So of course we had to give those a go.  These started as itty-bitty bears.  They puffed up and turned into giant, airy, sweet, crunchy little snacks.  Almost the texture of Pirate’s Booty!

Freeze Dried Gummy Bears

All of the items in these glass jars are freeze dried.  Don’t they look fresh?  They taste just as fresh as they look. Check out that bright green asparagus and those ruby red berries.

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Did you spy the avocados?  You can freeze dry avocados!  They’re just as colorful and flavorful as when they were fresh.  I re-hydrated them and made guacamole and it tasted fantastic.  This is a game changer, considering the very short window you have after purchasing an avocado!  As an example of just how gentle this process is on your food, take a look at this kale:

Freeze Dried Kale

That is AFTER freeze-drying.  It’s completely dry.  If I were to crush it in my palm it would turn to dust, but if you spritz it with water is pops right back to life and it isn’t wilted and gross, it’s green and beautiful.  Isn’t that amazing??  This is another good one for keeping in powder form  if you’re into green smoothies.

Don’t even get me started on freeze-dried pineapple.  It is literally like candy.

Freeze Dried Pineapple

I can’t even describe how yummy it is.  All of that sweetness and flavor is concentrated in these melt-in-your-mouth drops of crunchy deliciousness.  My kids reach for these jars more than the boxes of store-bought snacks in our pantry.  Last night when we watched a movie, they wanted to snack on the jar of grapes instead of skittles.  They’re that good!

Freeze Dried Grapes

Besides all of the useful reasons of freeze-drying, it’s also just plain fun.  I have been having such a great time experimenting in the kitchen with the different foods. Once of our favorites was taking those freeze-dried strawberry ice cream scoops from the start of this post and dunking them in chocolate.  The outside is creamy and decadent,

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and then you get the light airy crunch of the center with rich strawberry-cream flavor.  Pretty killer!

HarvestRight-62If you want to keep up with Harvest Right, make sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  And their You Tube Channel has tons of great info as well.  I totally loved this segment of Glenn Beck talking about his freeze dried ice cream!  They just barely joined the Instagram party as well, so go show them some love and follow them there as well!

Let me know if you guys have any questions, and especially let me know if you get one!  I’d love to swap recipe ideas and come up with cool stuff to make with the freeze dried food, or share tips on building your family food storage if you do that.

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234 comments

  1. I think this looks awesome. It’s out of my price range for today, but some day I would love to get one. We are getting ready to plant some fruit trees and maybe when they have more fruit than we can eat, a freeze-dryer will be the solution.

    If you have time, could you add one more set of pictures (or do another post) with a side-by-side comparison of the same food fresh, after you freeze dry it, and after you re-hydrate it? The strawberries and bananas in your photo are gorgeous, but I’m curious how they look after you rehydrate them. Or the guacamole you mentioned, or a lasagna. Or anything else. I have almost no experience with freeze dried food, so I’m curious about that side of it.

    Thanks for a fascinating post.

  2. Such an amazing appliance! And funny timing too — we had a family dinner last night with all the kids over and we were talking about how great it would be to have our own freeze dryer. I can definitely see where we could keep it in constant use. Thanks so much for a very informative post! I had no idea you could freeze dry gummy bears and now I really, really want some!!

  3. We were just talking about going in on one of these with a couple of families on Mother’s Day. I would LOVE to try some freeze dried gummy bears and ice cream. Freeze-dried could be the new deep-fried. LOL! P.S. I still want a tour of your garden. Picture would be awesome but I live in Boise so I would be happy to swing by. Promise I am not a crazy stalker. 🙂

  4. Thank you for sharing! I’d be interested in trying any of those food items! If you re-hydrate apple slices, will it still have a crisp texture? How do you re-hydrate a casserole? I’m assuming you can’t re-hydrate anything that was originally frozen (ice cream). Do you need to seal those jars for the food to last long?

    1. So for long term storage (years) you seal the food in mylar bags or #10 cans. Mason jars work great for short-term storage, which is what I’ve been doing, since we’ve just been eating all of this stuff. I’m still experimenting with re-hydrating, so far I’ve done potatoes, yogurt and sour cream, and fruits and veggies. With those, they just need warm water (or cold water sitting in the fridge over night). We’ve been eating all of our apples dry, but I would assume it would be similar to a defrosted frozen apple. Not soggy, but not crazy crisp like it was naturally.

  5. It looks awesome, but the cost is out of reach for me. I wonder if there’s any way to rent something like this? I’d love a chance to play with one.

    1. That WOULD be really cool if you could rent one. Someone could buy one and then rent it out to friends and eventually have it pay for itself- you might be on to something! haha

  6. Thank you for sharing this with us. Yes, it’s expensive for a lot of us. However, look what you can do with this. I love the idea of being able to store perishable items on a shelf. We had a power outage for a week. Everything in our fridge and freezer had to be tossed. We lost hundreds of dollars in meat and frozen products. It still hurts thinking about it. Even though we had food on the shelf, I had no way to prepare it (no oven or microwave). Freeze dried food would have been such a blessing during this emergency we experienced. Some things are worth saving for and I think this is one of them. And, look how healthy you can eat and how much food won’t go to waste. Thanks for all of the ideas. That pineapple is looking delightful!

  7. Wow! I want to come play with it! Ha ha! I can totally see how this would be such a helpful tool with food storage! And if you went in on one with a group of people, you could definitely make it worth your money!
    I keep thinking of the fun possibilities! How does it work with baked goods? Would a freeze dried chocolate chip cookie be good? I have a bag of Reeses, and now I’m thinking how they would turn out, too! Are there any foods that don’t work well in it?
    My baby is starting on solids/finger foods. He definitely loves grabbing the food more than being spoon fed. This would work great for drying fruits. It would make it easier for him to grab, and not squish everywhere like hydrated fruits!
    Thanks for the fun and informative post!

  8. This looks awesome! I love the idea of the powders for smoothies, and hello millions of tomatoes that go unused in the summer!

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