Pros and Cons of Freeze Dried, Dehydrated and MRE Foods

Freeze Dried Foods

Why I Love Freeze Dried Foods

I don’t just have freeze dried foods in my storage. I use it all the time. I love freeze dried foods!

Reason number one, cooking with freeze dried foods means not having to do many of those dreaded kitchen tasks. Everything is already prepared and ready to add to your recipes, so there is:

  • No washing fruits and veggies.
  • No chopping, slicing, and dicing produce. I first started using freeze dried onion because I hate chopping onions and just went from there!
  • No peeling potato skins.
  • No removing fruit rinds, seeds, pits, etc.
  • No thawing and browning meats. How many times would this be a life saver if you forget to thaw something out for dinner?

Reason number two. It’s healthy.  It’s obvious that eating freeze-dried food is better for you than chowing down on processed or fast food. But what amazed me was how it stacked up against the grocery store. Freeze-dried foods typically keep their fresh taste and nutrients better than their produce aisle counterparts, and they aren’t full of harmful additives and preservatives. I really liked the fact that freeze-dried food is a healthy choice for my family.

If you don’t think freeze dried foods compare to fresh, think again! The natural taste and nutrition of freeze-dried foods are preserved during the freeze-drying process. While fresh foods start losing flavor and nutrients the moment they’re picked, freeze-dried food stays healthy and fresh-tasting for years to come. Look at the journey your “fresh” food takes from farm to fork compared to freeze dried food—you might be surprised at what you find!

Freeze-dried Produce vs “Fresh” Produce

Freeze dried Produce are:

  • Naturally ripened
  • Flash frozen
  • Freeze dried
  • Same fresh taste now or later

“Fresh” Produce from the grocery store is:

  • Picked early (usually green): Day 1
  • Transportation & packaging: Day 2-12
  • Storage & artificial ripening: Day 13-16
  • Grocery store: Day 17-20
  • Home: Day 21-25

I believe foods should be preserved naturally if possible. While I have nothing against canned foods (I have lots in my pantry), Unfortunately they are often over-processed or full of preservatives. The freeze-drying process is different and allows the manufacturer to preserve the foods naturally, and it remains as close to their natural state as possible.

Here are a couple of things to think about:

  • 52% of Vitamin C is lost within 2 days if green beans are not preserved.
  • 40% More Calcium is found in flash frozen blueberries than store-bought blueberries.
  • 6 Times More Vitamin A is found in flash frozen spinach than store-bought spinach.
  • 21 Times More Vitamin C can be found in flash frozen peaches than store-bought peaches.

Did you know?  Most “fresh” produce travels an average of 2,000 miles to get to your grocery store.

Reason number three, it’s cost efficient.  American households throw out a shocking 25% of their food on average—over 30 lbs. a week! —and most of it comes from foods that spoil before they ever get to the plate.  That’s an average $2,000 a year families fork out on food that never reaches the fork!

Here are some of the reasons why freeze-dried foods are cost effective:

  • No more rotten food. No more dealing with perishable foods that spoil, mold, or get freezer burn. Freeze-dried foods won’t go bad on you in mere days—no returning from vacation to a fridge of stinky food.
  • Pay for what’s edible. You only pay for the usable parts of the food when you cook with freeze dried products; no paying by the pound for produce when part of it isn’t edible!
  • No excess.  No need to buy food and see the excess go to waste—just scoop out what you need, when you need it.

Reason number four, it has a long shelf life.  If it’s stored properly freeze-dried foods have an extended shelf life of up to 25 years—even after opening a sealed can or using product not packaged for long storage most are good for 1–2 years!

Reason number five. Buying freeze dried foods and having them shipped to your home beats impulse buying.

I’ve found that by using freeze dried foods I’ve purchased from a distributor it means fewer grocery store visits, which not only saves on gas money, but also removes the notorious temptation of impulse buys. Studies show that anywhere from 20–70% of all purchases are impulse buys, and that the average person spends $114,293 on impulse buys in their lifetime! By getting your food shipped to you, you’ll stay out of stores and save money.

Now I’ve been honest with you.  I’ve been doing food storage for a while, but I’m still like, okay, I’m going to hang myself if I have to eat wheat during an emergency.  I don’t know how to grind it or anything else.  That’s what I love about freeze-dried food.  It will last a while, and its great stuff. It’s all natural ingredients…just in a different form.  And if you’re feeling lethargic and don’t feel like cooking, you can get lasagna, and beef stroganoff and chicken stew and dozens of other entrees, and all you need is hot water.

Now there’s the rub per a lot of survivalists.  Freeze dried foods need water to rehydrate them.  Ummm, yes, they do, but this website isn’t about killing elk with your bare hands and living in a shelter made out of tree branches and camel dung.  It’s about making sure you can live a comfortable life even in times of financial stress and unemployment.  Do I advise you have your entire food storage made up of freeze-dried dried foods?  Of, course not.  I don’t.  But I do have a lot of it.  Of course, I don’t just use it for storage.  I cook with it all the time.  Basically, I’m lazy and if I can find a short cut that is tasty, nutritious and really easy, you can bet your bottom dollar I’m going to take advantage of it.

People ask me all the time, what do YOU keep? Where here you go…

I keep about a months’ worth of what I call “ready foods”.  These are entrees that I can just boil the water and serve it.  Not only is it great during an emergency like a power failure, it comes in really handy after a long day when, we look at each other and the conversation goes like this…

Me: “What do you want for dinner?”

Hubby: (Turning his head languidly and opening one eye) “Meh”. Me: “Well, I could make (fill in a minimum of three labor-intensive, pain in the butt options).”

Hubby: (sigh) “Seems like a lot of trouble…”.

Me: “Well, there’s always…”

Hubby leaps up from the couch saying “You boil the water and I’ll pick out a can!”

There are dozens of options of freeze dried entrees out there.

I’ve already said I love using freeze dried foods in my everyday life, but here are some of the options and the reasons I like them:

  • Freeze dried treats. I like these because I always have a quick desert in the pantry for unexpected guests, or when the hubby is having a sweet tooth attack.
  • Freeze dried meat and TVP. It never goes bad.  Never gets freezer burned.  Doesn’t need to be thawed.  Doesn’t need to be browned or precooked.  What more could you want?
  • Freeze dried beans.  They don’t need sorting, soaking or long cooking times.
  • Freeze dried fruit.  I love this stuff!  I’m guilty of eating them right out of the can as snacks.  Trust me…they never last long in our house!  They are also great for smoothies and fruit infused waters.
  • Freeze dried vegetables.  I’ve said before that we eat a lot of soup and I make my own soup mixes.  I love the convenience of dried veggies in all my cooking!
  • Freeze dried sauces and cheese.  Ok, no, you can’t’ eat it on a cracker, but it’s nice to know you will never have to worry about moldy cheese.  The sauce mixes are great for quick casserole meals too.

The “pros” of freeze dried foods are they are very low in moisture, very lightweight, have a long shelf life and reconstitutes quickly. It is also the best way to preserve meats. On the negative side, they can be pricey.  One way to make it more affordable is to do it yourself.

According to the makers of the Harvest Right home freeze dryer:

Better Than Canning and Dehydrating

As a food preservation method, it’s easier than canning and dehydrating and will last 7 to 8 times longer.  Just put your leftover meals and ripening fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy in your own freeze dryer and press start.  In about 20 to 36 hours, your food is ready to be packaged for a shelf life of up to 25 years.

Preserves Taste, Color and Nutritional Value

Freeze drying is remarkable because it causes no damage to the nutrition of the food being preserved. Other methods of preservation, such as canning and dehydrating, use higher temperatures that can destroy more than half (50%) the food value. Freeze drying does not shrink or toughen the food, but retains the aroma, flavor, color, shape and nutritional content. Simply add water. Apples, cheese, avocados, meat, raspberries, peas, ice cream and yogurt will still look and taste fresh because, in reality, they still are. Without water and oxygen to spoil the food, it is as if the food has been placed in a time capsule. It will last and last and last!

Freeze-Dry Large Pieces of Food and Complete Meals

A home freeze dryer allows you to preserve large pieces of tasteful, high quality food, such as apricot halves, thick peach slices, large slabs of cooked steak, whole shrimp, ice cream sandwiches, and a lot more. You don’t have to settle for the small dices or shavings of fruit or meat that you find in store bought, freeze dried products. Prepare it and preserve it how you want it.

Cuts Down on Food Waste

Leftover meals, including overly ripe fruits and vegetables, that are typically wasted and thrown away may be freeze dried until you are ready to eat them. Studies have shown that the average family of four throws away 40% of the food they purchase each year, a value equal to $2,250 or more. Families can avoid much of this waste and preserve large quantities of high quality food that would normally be put in the garbage.

Your Food, Your Needs

Prepackaged, processed meals typically include unhealthy additives, such as sodium nitrate, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, monosodium glutamate (MSG), food dyes and colors. When you freeze dry at home, your food is untainted. It will accommodate any dietary need, including food allergies, vegetarian, or vegan needs. It is perfect for a non-preservative or non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) diet that is designed for a healthy lifestyle.

So, there you have it!  Putting my own 2 cents in, owning a home freeze dryer makes a lot of sense to me because I love using freeze dried foods and preparedness is really important to me.  Think of it this way…you would think nothing of making 2 or 3 portions on your favorite casserole, then popping in the freezer…well, this just goes one better and allows you to keep you casserole ready to fix for years, not weeks or months.

 

Dehydrated Foods

Dehydrated foods have been dried out to preserve them.  Drying food inhibits the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and mold by removing the water.  Dehydration has been used since ancient times; the earliest known practice is 12,000 B.C. by inhabitants of the Middle East and Asia.  Water is usually removed through evaporation (air drying, sun drying, smoking or wind drying), although today electric food dehydrators can be used to speed the drying process and ensure more consistent results.

Many different foods can be prepared by dehydration, including meat.  Currently popular dried meats include prosciutto (a.k.a. Parma ham), bresaola, and beef jerky.  Dried fruits are popular because of their high sugar content and sweet taste, and a longer shelf-life from drying.  Garlic and onion are probably the most recognizable dehydrated vegetable.  Edible mushrooms, as well as other fungi, are also a familiar commercial product.

Preparation

Home drying of vegetables, fruit and meat can be done with electrical dehydrators or by sun-drying or by wind.  Preservatives such as potassium metabisulfite, BHA, or BHT may be used, but are not required.  However, dried products without these preservatives may require refrigeration or freezing to ensure safe storage for a long time.

Before I discovered the joys of freeze drying my home food dehydrator worked up a storm at certain times of the year as I transform pounds and pounds of fresh produce into very, very dry versions of their former selves. I still love dehydrating foods, just not as much as I love freeze drying ;-). Here are just a few of the benefits of dehydrating foods.

Dehydrated fruits and veggies have intense, INTENSE! flavors!  Each thin slice of dehydrated tomato or zucchini packs a wallop of flavor that you don’t find in a fresh slice.  Something amazing happens to the flavor once all the water has been removed.

It offers something different in the healthy snack category.  Kids love applesauce fruit leather they make themselves.  They won’t get bored because of the possible varieties. One day it can be apple-cinnamon leather, another day apple-peach leather, and a tasty apple-strawberry version is on tap for next week!  A #10 can of applesauce from Sam’s Club or Costco provides sheets and sheets of fruit leather, one of the easiest snacks in the world to pack in a lunch bag or backpack.

Something is always in season!  The best bargains in produce are usually found when a particular fruit or vegetable is in season.  Farmer’s markets, food co-ops, fruit stands, and pick-your-own-produce farms can offer amazing bargains.  All that fresh goodness is easily transformed into dehydrated versions at a cost far less than commercially dehydrated foods.

Food dehydration is simple!  Unlike canning, you don’t need a lot of additional equipment, and the internet is filled with websites that give directions for dehydrating every type of food imaginable!

Variety!  One day you can dehydrate apples and the next, pasta sauce!  Cook up several pounds of ground beef and turn them into, “hamburger rocks”!  When you find #10 cans of a fruit or veggie on sale, pour out the liquid, and place the food on your dehydrator trays for a few hours.  Bags of frozen vegetables dehydrate just as easily.

Dehydrate your own herbs and you’ll never have to pay top dollar for them again nor watch them rot in the fridge.

If space is an issue, dehydrated foods are your friend!  Twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes will fill two large glass jars once they are sliced and dehydrated!

You’ll never have to run to the grocery store at the last minute for carrots or onions or potatoes or celery or green beans if you have jars of the dehydrated versions in your pantry.

If you have a garden and expect a decent harvest this year, put food dehydration on the top of your to learn list!  Once you’re past the initial purchase of the dehydrator, it’s just a matter of looking for bargains at the grocery store and then getting busy!  My favorite dehydrator is the Excalibur dehydrator.

The pros of dehydrated food are very like those of freeze dried.  They are low moisture and light weight.  They have a long shelf life, there is no waste and they don’t spoil.  The biggest negatives are they take a long time to rehydrate and loose taste and nutritional value after reconstitution.  There some foods I like to dehydrate, like fruits for snacks, but for the most part I prefer to freeze dry if possible.

 

MREs: MEALS, READY TO EAT

I’m not going to go crazy, and I don’t think we need to go into great detail here.  Suffice it to say that the category of MRE’s includes more than the modern day military rations, but also their civilian equivalents which are marketed by two of the major U.S. military MRE contractors, and several other products on the civilian market that fit better into this category than any other.  Over the last several years the number of self-contained meals available in either the new style flexible pouches or old fashioned metal cans has greatly increased.  I’m only going to cover meals that include some form of self-contained heating device to warm the food to serving temperature.  This allows you to have a hot meal with no equipment other than a spoon to eat with. In my opinion the person who just wants to be prepared for personal setbacks doesn’t need to buy MRE’s.  They are very expensive and they have a variety of pre-made meals in your local grocery store.  I do, however, want you to know what’s available to you.

U.S. MILITARY MREs

The Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE) is the current U.S. military field ration for those times when troops are out of contact with their regular mess facilities.  In the early 1980’s they replaced the older C & K-rations that had honorably served since the Second World War.  These new rations represented a major leap forward in food preservation technology by disposing of the heavy, unwieldy metal can and replacing it with the much lighter, flexible “retort pouch.”  These pouches have a thick outer layer of tough polyester film, a thin middle layer of aluminum foil for its excellent gas barrier properties, and an inner layer of food safe polypropylene film to allow heat sealing.  Food is placed in the pouch then specially heat processed for preservation which renders it microbiologically shelf-stable, fully cooked, and ready to eat.

What’s in an MRE?

From the Defense Logistics Agency Subsistence web site (http://www.dla.mil/TroopSupport/Subsistence/OperationalRations/mre/)  we find this:  The twenty-four different varieties of meals can be seen in the menu table.  Components are selected to complement each entree as well as provide necessary nutrition.  Each meal also contains an accessory packet.  The contents of one MRE meal bag provides an average of 1250 kilocalories (13 % protein, 36 % fat, and 51 % carbohydrates).  It also provides 1/3 of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals determined essential by the Surgeon General of the United States.

Except for the beverages, the entire meal is ready to eat.  While the entree may be eaten cold when operationally necessary, it can also be heated in a variety of ways, including submersion in hot water while still sealed in its individual entree package.  Since mid-1992, a flameless ration heating device has also been packed into each meal bag to heat the entree.

The shelf life of the MRE is three (3) years at 80 degrees F.  However, the shelf life can be extended using cold storage facilities prior to distribution.

Except for contract overruns on individual components actual military MREs, especially complete MRE ration packs, are not legal for sale on the civilian market.

History of Civilian MRE’s

According to http://www.mreinfo.com :

Ever since Y2K and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, there has a been a strong demand for a “Meal, Ready to Eat” type of product that’s available to everyone.  Military MREs would be ideal for this need but unfortunately, the companies that produce the MREs are not allowed to sell them to the general public.  Military MREs can still be found for sale by individuals (see Buying MREs for more information), but there is still a demand for a commercially-packaged and readily available supply of MREs.

Before 2000 (Y2K), only two companies – Sopakco and Wornick – produced civilian MREs. Sopakco had the “Sure-Pak 12” and “M-Packed” brands while Wornick offered the “Mil-Spec” brand of MREs. Around 2001, after the Y2K-inspired rush to stock up on food and other emergency supplies ended, Wornick dropped out of the civilian MRE business and Sopakco dropped the M-Packed line – leaving the “Sure-Pak 12” as the only civilian MRE available.  There were other homemade civilians MREs out there but those were mostly MREs put together out of spare or old MRE parts and pieces.

Around 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit, the civilian MRE market picked back up and more companies began producing legitimate, branded civilian MREs. All three of the major manufacturers of MREs for the military (Ameriqual, Sopakco, and Wornick) started producing their own civilian MREs.  Additionally, three other companies have join the market with their own civilian MRE products – Meal Kit Supply (serving both the US and Canada), MREStar, and XMRE.

The Pros of MRE’s are they can be eaten right out of the pouch without preparation.  They don’t need water to prepare.  They are very convenient.  The negatives include the taste, which I personally find pretty nasty, they are full of additives and salt and they are incredibly expensive.  The packaging is flimsy and prone to punctures, they are heavy if you have to carry them and they don’t supply adequate nutritional value or calories if they are the only source of food.

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