If you want to keep fruit for as long as possible, the best preservation method is to freeze-dry it.
Freeze-drying food is not the same as freezing dehydrated food – or just putting dried food into the freezer. While that’s a good way of storing dehydrated food, freeze-drying is a different method altogether, and it’s a lot more effective at preserving the essential nutrients in your fruit.
However, it’s either a lot more expensive, if you choose a freeze-drying machine, or it’s a lot more time-consuming if you do it yourself in the freezer. You can also use dry ice – liquid nitrogen – but it’s a little more complicated and you need to be really careful with how you handle it.
The main benefit of freeze dry fruit and other food is keeping it a lot fresher. The moisture content of food is what causes mold to grow and food to go bad. By drying it, you lose the water but keep the good stuff. Then, you can either eat it as a dried snack or add water to hydrate it again.
Using a Freeze Dry Machine
The best way to freeze dry fruit and other foods is to use a freeze dryer. They’re normally industrial products but home options are available – yet they’re expensive. While a dehydrator might set you back around $100-200, a small free dryer that can handle between 4 and 7 lbs of fruit at once will likely cost around $2,500.
That’s a huge difference, but it does mean you get the best results and the most nutritious dried food. If you’re serious about looking after yourself and you love the health benefits that dried fruit can offer, then it may be worth the investment.
How to Freeze Dry at Home
There is a much cheaper alternative to buying a freeze dryer, but it’s not quite as effective. It’s still better than a dehydrator, but there’s another downside – it takes a long time. And by a long time, we mean 2-3 weeks before your food is ready to take out of the freezer and store.
All you need to do is separate your fruit into slices, segments, chunks or individual berries and then place them on a cookie sheet, spaced apart. Put the sheet into the freezer and leave it for two to three weeks, ideally without opening the freezer.
The fruit will freeze in just a couple of hours, but over time the lack of fresh air will draw the moisture out of the fruit. If you want to check whether it’s ready, take one piece of fruit out and leave it at room temperature. If it goes soft and mushy, or changes color and starts to go black, that’s a sign of water and means the fruit isn’t ready.
Freeze Dry vs Dehydrated – What’s the Difference?
Dehydrating is when you use a very low heat to slowly remove the water from foods, while freeze-drying instead uses flash freezing and then sublimation, or primary drying, where frozen water is converted to a gas without melting back to a liquid.
With freeze drying fruit, about 95% of water is removed from food, compared to just 80% with dehydrating. Freeze-dried foods retain more of their nutrition too, up to 97%. Dehydrating food can sometimes only retain around 60% of nutrition.
And freeze dried food lasts up to four times longer too, so you’re also giving yourself more time to enjoy your healthy snacks.
List of Fruit to Dehydrate
You can pretty much freeze dry any fruit, although it’s best to cube or slice larger fruits before you do. To ‘revive’ a fruit you just need around a cup of water for most portion sizes, and it’ll be back to its juicy best.
Some of the most popular fruits to freeze dry are:
Freeze dried strawberries in particular are very popular, either whole or as attractive and perfectly preserved thin slices.
Freeze Dried Food Storage
Once you’ve freeze-dried your food, you need to then store it in. You could keep it frozen, but you don’t have to – it’s dried out by the time the process is complete and can be kept in a cool, dark space like a cupboard.
You do need to keep it out of the natural light, as that can cause the fruit to wither. Sunlight can cause the Vitamins in the fruit to deteriorate as well. And because you want to keep the food dried, it’s best to choose a water-tight or air-tight container to make sure no moisture gets in, because even a little condensation could cause the fruit to go off.
The best way to store freeze dried fruit is in a vacuum-sealed pack, which you can usually do with a freeze dry machine or with a separate vacuum sealer. Otherwise, you need to buy some airtight food storage containers – glass jars or mylar bags are the best option.
Your normal bulk food storage containers with clip-on lids will often retain some moisture inside, no matter how thoroughly you dry them. Avoid metal food storage containers too, as your fruit will often react with the metal and deteriorate.
Once you’ve found the best food storage for your freeze dried product, try to only open it when you intend to eat everything inside. It’s best to portion the food appropriately, as opening and closing the same container will contaminate the food with oxygen and water.
How long does it take to freeze dry food?
The amount of time it takes to freeze dry food depends on the moisture content and size of the food, but expect it to take between 20-40 hours. It’s a slow process, gently evaporating the moisture without cooking the food once it is frozen.
How do I freeze dry fruit without a machine?
To freeze dry fruit without using a machine, cut the fruit into small pieces and place it onto a cookie sheet or cooling rack, spaced out. Put this into the freezer for 2-3 weeks. It takes this long for the freezing process to fully dry out the food.
It’s important to keep the food in small portions to help with the evaporation process, and to then store the fruit in an air-tight container once the process is complete, or it will soften and go bad.
Can dried fruit be frozen?
If the fruit has already been dried, it can be frozen afterward. Freezing pre-dried fruit will extend its shelf life by around 3-4 times, so you can store it in better condition for longer. Placing it in the freezer also keeps it away from natural light which can destroy the vitamin content of the fruit.
Is freeze dried fruit bad for you?
Freeze-dried fruit isn’t bad for you. If you buy fruit that’s already freeze-dried then it can actually be healthier, because the nutrients have been preserved sooner after the fruit was harvested. Freeze-drying fruit yourself is also better than storing it fresh.
How do you store dried fruit long term?
Dried fruit needs to be stored in a cool, dark place away from light and moisture. The best option is an air-tight container like a jar with a seal, or if you can vacuum-pack it. Otherwise, a container with a lid kept in a cupboard will held prevent moisture or sunlight from spoiling the fruit and reducing the nutrients.
What is the difference between freeze-drying and dehydrating?
Freeze-drying and dehydrating are two different methods to remove the water content of food to preserve it. Freeze drying food is normally more effective, although done without a dedicated machine it can take weeks.
As a guide, using a dehydrator will remove around 80% of moisture from food, while freeze-drying can remove up to 99% of water content, meaning food will last much longer.
What should you not freeze dry?
Pretty much any fruit can be freeze-dried, although with various other fresh foods like meats, vegetables and dairy. You can also freeze-dry cooked meals. It’s best to avoid freeze-drying oily foods like fish, or other foods like honey, syrups and jams.
Does fruit last longer in glass jars?
Generally, fruit will last longer in glass jars. They’re highly effective at keeping fruit away from air and moisture that can cause fresh and dried fruit to deteriorate.
Some people do argue that storing fruit in glass jars makes it more attractive and so it is eaten faster, but that’s not exactly scientific.
Have you freeze dried fruit? If you have any tips we would love to hear them in the comments.