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 more expensive if you choose a freeze-drying machine or 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 must be cautious when handling it.
The main benefit of freeze-drying fruit and other foods is it keeps fresher for longer. The moisture content of food causes mold to grow and food to spoil. By drying it, you lose the water but keep the beneficial nutrients. 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. Typically, they’re industrial products but home options are available. However, they’re expensive. While a dehydrator might set you back around $100-200, a small freeze-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 your health and love the benefits dried fruit can offer, 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, yet there’s another downside – it takes a long time. 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 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 gets 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 very low heat to slowly remove the water from foods. Freeze-drying uses flash freezing and then sublimation, or primary drying, where frozen water is converted to a gas without melting back into a liquid.
With freeze-drying fruit, about 95% of water is removed from food, compared to just 80% when dehydrating. Freeze-dried foods retain more of their nutrition- up to 97%. Dehydrated food can sometimes only retain around 60% of its nutrition. And freeze-dried food lasts up to four times longer, giving you more time to enjoy your healthy snacks.
List of Fruits To Dehydrate
You can freeze dry any fruit, although it’s best to cube or slice larger fruits before you do. To ‘revive’ a fruit, add approximately a cup of water for most portions, and it’ll revert back to its juicy best.
Some of the most popular fruits to freeze dry are:
Freeze-dried strawberries 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 store it. You could keep it frozen, but you don’t have to – it’s dried out once the process is complete and can be kept in a cool, dark space like a cupboard.
Ensure it’s kept 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 dry, choose a water-tight or air-tight container so no moisture gets in because even a little condensation could cause the fruit to spoil.
The best way to store freeze-dried fruit is in a vacuum-sealed pack, which you can usually do with a freeze-dried machine or a separate vacuum sealer. Otherwise, use some air-tight food storage containers – glass jars or mylar bags are the best option.
Your 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, 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 of 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 fruit into small pieces, spaced them out, and place them on a cookie sheet or cooling rack. 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 essential to store the food in small portions to help with the evaporation process. In addition, ensure you 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 already freeze-dried, it can 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 must 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 you can vacuum-pack it. Otherwise, a container with a lid stored in a cupboard will help 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 usually more effective. However, if done without a dedicated machine, it can take weeks.
As a guide, using a dehydrator will remove around 80% of the moisture from food. 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 in addition to 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, the 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 argue that storing fruit in glass jars makes it more attractive, so it is eaten faster, but that’s not scientific.
Have you freeze-dried fruit? If you have any tips, we would love to hear about them in the comments.