What's the big difference between Dehydrated and Freeze-dried foods? What are the pros and cons to choosing one over the other for backpacking?
The most significant difference between the two—aside from cost—is the composition of the food due to the different processes of removing moisture.
Dehydration very simply uses heat to remove moisture without cooking the food. This leaves the food withered and hard, and takes a lot longer to rehydrate. Freeze-drying involves cooling the food inside a vacuum below freezing, then rapidly heating it to above boiling point, the vacuum then sucks out the moisture as a gas. The significant difference is that the freeze dried food retains its structure, and accepts moisture like a sponge. Dehydrated foods do not so readily accept moisture. As a result freeze dried foods will rehydrate or "cook" much faster.
The main differences:
Moisture content: 5 - 10%
Shelf life: 15-20 years (fruits and veggies)
Nutritional value: Dehydration process breaks down vitamins and minerals; retains less nutritional content.
Appearance and composition: Withered and hard
Cooking: 15min - 4hrs; takes a long time to re-hydrate; bland flavour, requires seasoning.
Cost: Dehydrating food is easy and cheap; dehydrators are relatively inexpensive and can be easily homemade using a box and space heater, or even the sun.
- Pros: Cheaper, simpler process; easy and inexpensive to dehydrate home-made foods.
- Cons: Longer preparation times; retains less nutritional content; heavier to carry.
Moisture content: 1 - 2% (significantly less weight)
Shelf life: 25-30 years (fruits and veggies)
Nutritional value: Vast majority of the vitamins and minerals found in the original food is retained.
Appearance and composition: Moisture is removed from the food without destroying it's structure; becomes soft when wet.
Cooking: 5min - 10min; better flavor.
Cost: Freeze-drying food is not as cheap as dehydrating it; dryers are high tech and cost thousands of dollars, and use more power than dehydrators.
- Pros: Lighter to carry; tastier; ready to eat in as little as 5-10 minutes preparation time; more nutritious.
- Cons: More expensive; home Freeze-dryers are a big investment.
The main deciding factor between the two for most people is the often comes down to cost. Buying freeze-dried food is more expensive. You can get home freeze-dryers and freeze-dry your own foods, but the dryers are high-tech and expensive. If you're cost-driven, then carrying dehydrated food may be the way to go.