Dehydrated vs. Freeze Dried Foods

Dehydrated vs. Freeze Dried Foods

One question many hikers, even experienced ones, often have is what is the difference between dehydrated and freeze dried food? Or they will use them interchangeably like they are the same thing.  Both types involve the removal of moisture to preserve and prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.  Both types are also widely used by hikers so let’s take a quick look at what each process involves.

The Dehydration Process

In the dehydration process,  the water content of the food is removed by evaporation (electric foodDehydrated food
dryer, air drying, sun drying, or smoking).  Many of these foods can be bought on the shelf of your local grocery store.  Many instant foods such as instant mashed potatoes, stuffing, rice, and soups are simply dehydrated and make for a quick meal.  Some backpackers prefer to do their own dehydrating at home and do so with an electric dehydrator.  These machines circulate hot, dry air across the food to dry it out without cooking it.  If you are looking to get your own dehydrator, I recommend the Excalibur EXC10EL, which is completely stainless steel, has 16 sq. ft. of drying space, is NSF approved and made in the USA.  Some of the most common foods backpackers dehydrate are meat (jerky), fruits, veggies, and sauces.

==>  Click here to see my review on the Excalibur EXC10EL <==

The Freeze Drying Process

Freeze drying is an industrial type of dehydrating in which the food is flash frozen.  The frozen food is then put in a reduced pressure system where the water (now ice) in the food evaporates directly from a solid to a gaseous state.  Freeze dried food offers the same nutritional value as fresh food.  The flavors, smells, and textures of the food are also maintained quite well and freeze dried food will last for up to 30 years!  It tends to be a little more expensive but if cost is not an issue or you’re just going on a short trip, I recommend freeze dried meals.  If you are concerned about getting enough greens while hitting up the trails, consider taking Field of Greens by Vibrant Health which is this awesome mix that is 100% organic greens and freeze dried grasses.

==>  Click here to see a list of my favorite ready made freeze dried foods  <==

Dehydrated vs Freeze Dried Food

DehydratedFreeze Dried
Loss in nutritional valueRetains most of nutritional value
About 90% of water content removedAbout 99% of water content removed
15-20 year shelf life25-30 year shelf life
Less expensiveMore expensive
Requires longer cooking in hot waterReconstitutes quickly in hot or cold water

Hands down, freeze dried food is the better option, but your selection will probably come down to how much money you are willing to spend and which taste you prefer.

So, what type of food do you prefer while backpacking?

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9 thoughts on “Dehydrated vs. Freeze Dried Foods”

  • Hello here, thanks for explanation about the difference between dehydrated and freeze dried foods. Previously I thought that it is the same thing. It seems that here are some details which make the difference.
    I wonder what can be prepared in these your mentioned ways? It is just for fruits and vegetables or it can be for meat too? Native Americans dried their meat too.
    Thanks again for letting know about differences between dehydrated and freeze dried foods.
    All the best, Nemira.

    • Hi Nemira, you can dehydrate food at home with an electric dehydrator, or it is possible to do it in the oven. You would just put the oven on a very low setting and leave your food in for 6-8 hours. You can certainly dehydrate foods other than fruits and veggies and yes, you can make homemade jerky if you dehydrate meat. You can also dehydrate entire meals (spaghetti, chilli, caseroles, etc) that you would just add water to and boil to reconstitute.

  • Hey Katie:

    Thanks for presenting this information about the differences between dehydrated and freeze-dried foods and the benefits of both.

    The biggest downside to freeze-dried stuff is the expense as well as not being able to do it yourself, I think. I’m a lot big on doing it my own self.

    • Hi Netta,

      Thanks for checking out my site! Yeah i agree with you on frreeze dried cost and not being abe to do it at home. I really like the fact that freeze dried keeps more nutrients though. What I will sometimes do is buy freeze dried veggies and fruits to add to my DIY meals. Keep in mind if doing this though that dehydrated and freeze dried foods will reconstitute at different rates so you will have to keep them separate until rehydrated,at which point you can mix them together.

  • Great information! You’re right, I did use these terms interchangeably, but now that I understand the difference, I’ll be looking for freeze-dried in order to get as much nutrition out of my meals as possible. Thanks for the explanation!

    • Glad you found the info helpful! I used to think they were the same thing as well until I started looking into how to make my own backpacking food at home. There are pros and cons of both and I find that I end up flip flopping between the two and use both depending on what my specific trip needs are.

  • Finally, someone has shed some light on the differences between dehydrated and freeze-dried foods. I am totally guilty of using them interchangeably and now know better.

    I have a question about Field of Greens by Vibrant Health: does it taste like what comes out the back of a lawnmower? Anytime I read about grass in food I think wheatgrass juice.

    Also, are there any tasty freeze-dried snacks you can munch on the trail without heating them in water first?

    • Field of Greens definitely has a plant taste but depending on the amount you use and what you put it in, it isn’t overpowering.  

      For freeze dried snacks go, fruits are pretty good.  I love freeze dried berries.  You can also eat freeze dried veggies without reconstituting but they don’t taste that good unless there is some salt or seasonings added. 

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