Freeze Dried vs. Dehydrated Food – Everything You Need to Know

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a nerd for food science. I love learning about all of the amazing food options we have these days (don’t even get me started on molecular gastronomy). So when I learned that not all dried food is the same I had to know more. Long story short, in the battle between freeze dried vs. dehydrated food, freeze dried comes out victorious.

But how can that be? Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods are essentially the same thing, as the names will tell you, dried food. However, they vary widely in their results because of the dehydration processes they undergo.

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Freeze dried vs. Dehydrated food -
How they are made 

The process of preserving food by drying it has been around since 12,000 BC when food was wrapped in palm leaves and buried under the hot sand, put in still houses and smoked.

The Incas even used a crude form of freeze drying by leaving potatoes to freeze overnight and then stomping out the ice crystals in the morning.

ancient food dehydration

Drawing by Jacques le Moyne.

How Dehydrated Food is Made

To this day, dehydrated food is still created through the process of evaporation by using heat to eliminate the water. Of course, through the use of machines it has become much easier and faster to dehydrate food.

Most dehydrated food has removed between 70%-95% of the water and has a shelf life of up to 15 years.

How Freeze Dried Food is Made

More recently, NASA popularized freeze dried food when they perfected the process to retain more nutrients with less waste to feed astronauts in space. Unlike dehydrated food, freeze dried food is created through the use of sublimation (taking the water from ice to evaporation while skipping the liquid state). 

NASA freeze dried food rehydrator

NASA Food Rehydrator  

This method is so effective that it removes 98%-99% of the water from the food and has a shelf life of at least 25 years! This is one of the reasons you’ll find freeze dried food in all the best emergency food kits.

While both are a result of removing the water from the food in order to preserve it, the different processes of drying these foods creates two completely different results.

Freeze dried vs Dehydrated food -
Taste, Texture, and Flavor

Nowhere is this difference more obvious than in the appearance and taste of the food. In fact, I didn’t even know freeze dried food was different from dehydrated until I unwittingly bought a bag of freeze dried apples at the store. From the second I opened the bag I was awed by how closely the fruit resembled fresh apples.

freeze dried apples
freeze dried vs dehydrated

Freeze dried apples on the left, dehydrated apples on the right

Taste, Texture, and Flavor of Dehydrated Food

When most people try to explain dehydrated food they describe it as hard, chewy, and often tasteless. It also looks markedly different than the original food, think grapes and raisins. While this works for some foods, like beef jerky, it is less desirable for other foods like bananas.

I tried some dehydrated apples (much easier to find and less expensive) and found them so lacking compared to the freeze dried apples that I haven’t been able to enjoy them since.

Taste, Texture, and Flavor of Freeze Dried Food

Freeze dried food holds the flavor and the appearance of the original food so closely that sometimes it is difficult to tell just from looking at a picture. Because there is no heat used during the drying process, the food retains and sometimes even increases the original flavor of the food.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the bag of apples was the delicious smell of apples that immediately made me think of picking apples in the orchard with my littles. Who wouldn’t want a little slice of memory in a bag?

Of course, taste will always come down to personal preference so I will not presume to pick a winner for you. You can decide for yourself by trying one of each dehydrated apples and freeze dried apples. Let me know your favorite in the comments.

Freeze dried vs. Dehydrated food -
The Nutrition

When it comes to the nutrition of freeze dried vs dehydrated food, you can’t see, smell, or taste the difference but it is there and man it is a big one.

dehydrated broccoli
freeze dried broccoli

Here is a comparison, from the same company, of the same serving size, showing the nutritional difference between dehydrated and freeze dried broccoli. The most obvious differences are in the dietary fiber and protein content of each food. You can also see a the difference in appearance and texture of each.

The Nutrition of Dehydrated Food

The heat that causes the water to evaporate from dehydrated food unfortunately cooks some of the nutrients out too. This leaves dehydrated food with an average of 50%-60% of the original nutrients.

If you pay attention to the nutrition label and ingredients list you’ll find preservatives used in most dehydrated food. Because there is some water left in the food they need to use salt, sugar, or other additives to make sure the food is properly preserved. 

The Nutrition of Freeze Dried Food

Since freeze dried food is preserved without using heat, the nutrients are almost perfectly preserved. Freeze dried food retains 98%-99% of the original nutrients of the food!

Another thing I love about freeze dried food is the ingredient list, it is the cleanest and simplest ingredient list I’ve ever found on a nutrition label. There are no preservatives or additives necessary to preserve freeze dried food.

Freeze Dried vs. Dehydrated Food -
The Verdict

When I can, I will always choose freeze-dried foods because of their overall taste and their astonishing nutrient retention, up to 98%. That is utterly ridiculous if you think about it, having that much nutritional value preserved for more than two decades.

Okay, so freeze dried food is amazing but where does it fit in your pantry? Unless you are stocking up on emergency food to prepare for a natural disaster or zombie apocalypse, you probably don’t need to buy complete freeze dried meals.

I’ve really found the best freeze dried foods to be the single ingredient fruits and vegetables.

Bonus - The Best Freeze Dried Food

I regularly keep a few freeze dried vegetables in my pantry to use in soups and casseroles. They only take about 10 minutes to rehydrate and can be used just like regular vegetables. They also have a shelf life of 25+ years, so while it is more expensive than fresh veggies, it never goes to waste if I don’t use it right away. 

The most regularly used freeze dried food in my pantry is fruit. I first discovered freeze dried apple slices when I was looking for a fruit snack alternative for my kids. They are sweet, flavorful, crispy little slices of goodness.

freeze dried strawberries

My kids LOVE fruit but it isn’t really the easiest grab and go snack. I also hate how sticky they are after eating fresh fruit so I was never willing to take it along as a snack while traveling.

Freeze dried fruit also gets bonus points because they don’t have all the added sugar and stickiness of regular fruit snacks. With the variety and availability of freeze dried fruit available it is well on its way to becoming a pantry staple.

As with all great meals, I’ve saved the best for last, freeze dried dessert! Seriously, the best freeze dried food has to be freeze dried ice cream.

It is the flavor of ice cream with a sweet crumbly texture almost resembling meringue cookies. Obviously they aren’t cold or wet like regular ice cream but isn’t it fun to eat something that was originally created for astronauts!

freeze dried ice cream

If you are still reading, you have probably decided that freeze dried food is worth trying out. Here is my list of the best freeze dried foods you didn't know existed.

Best Freeze Dried Food

What's so Special

Check it Out

Sudden Coffee

Freeze Dried Instant Coffee

Instant coffee usually gets a bad rap (for good reason). This instant coffee is different because it is made with freeze dried coffee crystals. It is the closest thing to a fresh brewed coffee I've ever found in an instant coffee.

Happy Baby Yogis

Freeze Dried Organic

Yogurt and Fruit Snacks

Not just for babies! These are a great grab and go snack.

Natierra Organic Chocolate Strawberry Slices

Freeze Dried Strawberries Dipped in Dark Chocolate

Strawberries + Chocolate...

need I say more?

Litehouse Variety Set

Freeze Dried Herbs and Spices

Dill, Garlic, Red Onion, Parsley, Chives

No preservatives, no refrigeration, no waste. Just add water and you have fresh herbs and spices for any meal.

Stella & Chewy's Super Meal Mixers

Freeze Dried Salmon and Cod

Dog Food

Simple, raw nutrition and convenience for your pets.