Have you ever wanted to preserve fresh foods for long-term storage, but don’t want to invest in an expensive freeze dryer? Freeze drying is a great way to make your fruits, vegetables, meats and more last 20-30 years when properly stored. It removes the water content through sublimation, where frozen foods transition from solid to gas while retaining their original shape, textures and most nutrients.
The best part is you can freeze dry food at home without a machine with just a few key supplies. In this post, I’ll go over everything you need to know to get started with DIY freeze drying using your food dehydrator or mason jars.
Supplies You’ll Need for Freeze Drying Without a Machine
Freeze drying without a machine primarily relies on two methods – using a food dehydrator or mason jars. Here are the basic supplies you’ll need:
- Food dehydrator – Look for a dehydrator that allows temperature control down to 95-115°F. Many models have this capability. You may also need fruit leather trays or mesh sheets.
- Mason jars – Wide mouth quart or pint size jars work best. You’ll need regular or wide mouth lids.
- Freezer – A deep freezer is ideal if you have one, but a regular freezer will also work.
- Food storage containers – For long term storage, glass jars, Mylar bags or vacuum seal bags work best.
That’s it – with just a food dehydrator or mason jars and a freezer, you can start freeze drying a variety of foods at home. Now let’s get into the methods…
Method 1: Freeze Drying with a Food Dehydrator
A food dehydrator that allows low temperature settings is the easiest way to DIY freeze dry foods. Here are the basic steps:
Preparing Foods for the Dehydrator
- Wash, peel and slice foods into 1/4 inch thick pieces or thinner. This increases the surface area for faster drying.
- Blanch vegetables in boiling water for 1-2 minutes to stop the enzymatic action. This helps retain color and nutrients during drying.
Arranging Food on Dehydrator Trays
- Spread food pieces out in a single layer on each tray, being careful not to overfill trays.
- If available, use mesh or fruit leather sheets to prevent foods from sticking and falling through trays.
Setting the Temperature and Time
- Set the dehydrator to 95-115°F. The time will vary based on the food you’re drying:
- Fruits and vegetables: 6-48 hours
- Meats and fish: 4-8 hours
- Let the dehydrator run until the foods are completely dried and brittle.
Checking and Rotating Trays
- Check food at intervals while drying and rotate trays if needed for even drying.
- Gently turn and shift pieces on the trays so all sides get exposed to air flow.
- Look for visual signs that pieces are dried through when checking trays.
Packaging and Storing
- Allow freeze dried foods to come to room temperature before packaging for storage.
- Place dried pieces in vacuum seal bags, mason jars or Mylar bags. Squeeze out excess air and seal.
- Store in a cool, dark place like the pantry, cupboard or basement.
Tips for Great Results
- Some foods are better suited for dehydrator freeze drying like berries, sliced apples, chopped carrots and shredded cheese.
- Pre-freeze wet foods like tomatoes to avoid case hardening before drying.
- Small batches will freeze dry faster. Don’t overload the dehydrator.
- Use an oxygen absorber in storage containers to help prevent oxidation.
Method 2: Freeze Drying with Mason Jars
Wide mouth quart or pint mason jars also work surprisingly well for DIY freeze drying certain foods. Here’s how:
Preparing and Loading Jars
- Wash, peel and slice or dice foods into small pieces.
- Pack the pieces into clean, dry jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top.
- Put the lids on fingertip tight to allow vapor release.
- Place jars in the freezer on a level surface. Leave jars for 2-3 days until completely frozen.
Checking and Re-Freezing
- Every 12-24 hours, take jars out and open to check if ice crystals are gone.
- If there’s still ice, re-seal and put back in the freezer to sublimate more vapor.
- Repeat the checking process until all moisture is sublimated and food pieces are dried.
Packaging for Storage
- Allow jars to come to room temperature before long term storage.
- You can vacuum seal jars, or store the freeze dried food in other air-tight containers.
Tips for Best Results
- The jar method works best for pre-frozen berries, diced celery, shredded meat and more solid foods.
- Add a desiccant pack in each jar to absorb excess moisture during storage.
- Leave space at the top so food doesn’t get crushed as ice crystals form.
Storing Your Home Freeze Dried Foods
To maximize shelf life, be mindful of how you store your home freeze dried foods:
Use Proper Containers
- Glass jars, Mylar bags and food-grade buckets work best for long term storage.
- Avoid plastic bags which are porous – go for vacuum sealed bags instead.
Ideal Storage Conditions
- Store in a cool, dark place like a pantry, basement or root cellar if possible.
- Try to maintain storage temperature around 60-70°F with low humidity.
Expected Shelf Life
- Foods that are properly handled and stored can remain viable for 20-30 years.
- Some loss of nutritional value will occur over time.
- If stored poorly, foods may only last a few months before quality degrades.
Rehydrating and Using Your Home Freeze Dried Foods
When ready to eat, you’ll need to rehydrate freeze dried foods. Here are some tips:
Methods for Rehydrating
- Soak in hot or cold water until plump and softened, about 2-4 hours.
- Add to soups, stews or casseroles and let rehydrate as food cooks.
- Pour heated broth over and let sit until rehydrated.
Tips for Proper Rehydration
- Don’t use more water than needed or food will be mushy.
- Allow enough time for food to fully rehydrate before using.
- Add salt, seasonings and oils after rehydrating for best flavor.
Using Rehydrated Foods
- Rehydrate and use in meals while camping or hiking to save weight.
- Add rehydrated vegetables to soups, casseroles and side dishes.
- Make homemade baby food with rehydrated fruits and vegetables.
- Use like fresh produce in any recipe after rehydrating.
Following the steps in this post, you can easily freeze dry a variety of foods at home without buying an expensive machine. All it takes is a food dehydrator or mason jars and some patience to remove the water and maximize shelf life.
Freeze dried foods are great for making camping meals, stocking emergency food, and incorporating into everyday cooking. I hope this gives you everything you need to get started with DIY freeze drying! Let me know if you have any other questions.
Bethany is an experienced food writer and recipe developer whose popular site Grangefarmschool.org provides home cooks with approachable recipes, cooking tips, and practical kitchen advice. Her thoroughly-tested recipes and inviting photography aim to make cooking fun and fulfilling for cooks of all levels.