“If you don’t like the information about freeze-dried food that’s out there, then all you have to do is dig deep enough or pay steep enough to find information which refutes your information”, right?* Now, what does this have to do with preparedness? Well, another ridiculous preparedness myth has come across my desk recently, and I found it to be so misleading in its information that I just had to offer up some well-known facts and science to set the record straight. So, for the record, dehydrated produce, i.e. vegetables and fruits, DEFINITELY have an inferior nutritional value than freeze-dried produce.
Nutrition and Freeze-Dried Food
The question was posed in this so-called report: “Does dehydrated food contain less nutrition than freeze-dried?” Of course our automatic answer should be a resounding "YES!" But this "report" went on to claim that in actuality, dehydrated foods contain MORE nutritional value than freeze-dried! Shockingly the report actually attempted to demonstrate that such was not the case through a series of circumvented, circles of logic, graphs and tests, etc. Oh good grief! Of course dehydrated foods have less nutrients than freeze-dried. And evidences abound in support of this theory. When have you ever heard of any biological samples being saved by cooking and sweating them to death, or hear of a scientist “dehydrating biological samples? Uh, never and you won’t because it doesn’t maintain the integrity of the sample that way. Have you ever heard of science dehydrating body tissue or sperm samples? Uh, no. And there’s a reason for that.
If they used a dehydration process in order to save necessary samples, then the lucrative industry of infertility would drop as fast as the U.S. dollar. How about the food industry that you are a part of every day? Can you imagine what would happen if you opened up your Stouffer’s Flash Dehydrated Lasagna? Yuck! There’s a reason why Stouffer’s uses a flash freeze process instead of a slow sweating one for their meals. This would also be why at least 5 major national food manufacturers have spent millions of dollars to upgrade their equipment to use nitrogen to freeze-dry their food and why so many restaurants are moving to use freeze-dried foods wherever possible. It also stabilizes their food budget by enabling them to purchase various green, orange, red, and yellow vegetables months and months in advance, being able to present them to you in these same vibrant colors at the salad bar or in quick, gourmet quality dishes. Still not convinced? Well how about NASA? Do they hold a suitable impression of brilliance for you? Good, because they are largely responsible for perfecting the freeze-drying process of food. They sought to do this in order to lessen not only the water required on missions, which was necessary to reconstitute food, but also the space required for food storage. Sending freeze-dried foods on missions allowed NASA t0 still maintain “99.99%” of the nutritional value in the food they fed the astronauts, and lighten the load too.
We’re talking preservation here, folks. When have you ever seen any archeology expert proclaim that they are going to use a slow and low heat to preserve valuable documents and artifacts? Uh, never? That’s because the science of freeze-drying has long been used in the major archeology departments at Princeton, Harvard, and Yale as they subscribe solely to the preservation of important antiquities using a freeze-drying process. Does that convince you that there may be merit to freeze-drying for preservation? Well how about the fact that the pharmaceutical companies freeze-dry the majority of their materials in their medications in order to keep them active when combined with the water that’s usually used by the patient to wash them down? If they were to use a dehydration process, their drugs simply would not work—they would lose too much of their active ingredients.
Let’s get really serious here for a moment. What kind of superhero would someone be if they had to fight off villains simply by blowing a hot and humid gust of air onto the bad guys—uh, so that they sweat to death, yeah? I know that’s silly. We all know that such a poor weapon would take too long to truly stop the bad guy—like hours or even days. While Mr. Villian is sweating to death and aging rapidly he may run out of time to carry out his plan for world dominance, but he’d still certainly have time to call for back up from his sidekick hooligans. Yeah, let’s not kid ourselves. A real superhero knows that if he blows a frosty gust of air on the bad guy, stopping him immediately in his tracks—with no cell phone calls for special escapes—his evil brain will still be in tact when he’s reconstituted—right about the time his lawyer shows up. A brainless bad guy is pretty hard to convict nowadays. And besides, super heroes do have an image to protect. They really wouldn’t want to be seen with a dead and wrinkly ole villain. Hmmm. I wonder if this is why Clint Eastwood doesn’t step out in front of the camera much lately. So lesson learned, right? Frosty gusts are cool. Warm and wet? Not so cool.
If all this talk about the Cool Crusader doesn’t make you want to run to the nearest shopping mall for your very own “Team Freeze-Dried” t-shirts just yet, then let’s take a look at some of the more scientific facts on the matter of dehydration vs. freeze-dried.
First of all, there is a kernel of truth in this so-called report that’s being circulated; that is that prior to preserving an entrée consisting of a mix of prepared food, then yes, the food, the entire entrée, must be cooked first. So yes, it’s essentially cooked twice in the dehydration process—once originally, and then a second time. My poor husband could tell you one of the fastest ways to make me grumpy is to show up late for dinner when the beautiful colors begin to turn brown and things begin to dry out, making my presentation less than the perfect I wanted. Just being a few minutes late for my “dinner song” can make all the difference in the world. In the dehydration process of meals, you’re already beginning with a nutritionally compromised food. It’s the nutrition that causes the bright colors to remain in a food. This is true regardless of the freeze-drying process or a dehydration one. Once it’s already cooked, it won’t be that appealing thereafter. This is exactly why leftovers don’t always disappear as quickly as the original meal. There’s definitely an appetite turn-off when something is looking more and more dead—uh, perhaps that should be “mostly dead.” This is exactly why I am not a fan of dehydrated or freeze-dried entrees. Granted, the freeze-dried entrees will last longer without continuing to lose their nutrients, but I only invest in freeze-dried produce, because I can then make a symphony of scrumptious dishes with the only restrictions being my creativity. I also suspect that I might have a crush on the Cool Crusader. *grin*
Let’s now compare apples to apples—yes literally this time, specifically the virtues of dehydrated vs freeze—dried produce.
The dehydration process requires heat and humidity to be applied for long periods of time. I think everyone knows that heat denigrates the nutritional value. The microwave, of course, being the biggest offender. Even though it’s typically only a low level of heat, it’s still going to cause a loss of nutrition. Dehydration requires a “low and slow” exposure time, lasting for hours or even days, depending on the texture of the produce and the water content. Generally, dehydrating food in this way only removes 90 to 95 percent of the water, which will certainly slow down bacteria and enzyme activity, but won't stop it completely.
We all have had the experience of cutting an apple or banana or a potato and have it begin to turn brown on us after the slightest amount of time exposed to oxygen. This also means that it’s exposed to bacteria longer too. That should be yet another viable facet to consider when choosing between freeze-dried and dehydrated. So, of necessity, because dehydrating foods is not instantaneous, you’re not only sweating the moisture out of the foods, you’re also exposing it to oxygen and bacteria in the process and thus allowing the degradation of color to occur. I just don’t see how someone could be attracted to these muted colors when they have the more nutritious option of vibrant greens, oranges, yellows, and reds to enjoy instead.
Conversely, the freeze-dried process usually embraces a flash freeze-technology as introduced by NASA. The process is more expensive, which is why freeze-dried produce is always more expensive, but it allows the water content to be vaporized immediately, leaving the skin, color, etc. in tact, and no time for added oxygen and bacteria exposure. Freeze-drying gives off a vapor instead of leaking water (just as dry ice does, which is used to ship everything across the nation from lobsters to ice cream (and even lobster ice cream).
The differences between the two processes can easily be detected by our taste buds. I have yet to put a piece of dehydrated anything in my mouth, suck on it for a while, and feel like I ever get to detect the original flavor. Whereas I can munch on freeze-dried corn, blueberries, and even asparagus all day long and feel like I’m living like a queen with the beautiful, bright colors of the food, and the taste as if it was just picked and washed fresh. That’s a big difference when you see the muted hues of dehydrated foods along with the lack luster tastes in most of them. In fact, a couple of days ago I was sharing freeze-dried food information to a friend of mine and gave him a freeze-dried blueberry out of my can. We continued to chat and then he finally interjected that he just couldn’t get that blueberry out of his mind, as it had tasted just like biting into one of the freshest of blueberries. (Needless to say I gave him a few more blueberries for the road). I can honestly say that I have never had such a positive reaction from myself or anyone else when eating a piece of dehydrated fruit or vegetable.
Another important benefit to appreciate with freeze-dried foods is that they are completely clean of chemicals in the form of sprays, water additives, or dusts. Chemicals in the form of liquid are vaporized from the food as a result of the freeze-drying process, and chemicals in the form of dust that may have been applied on the food are cleaned off before the process takes place.
Additionally, fruit or vegetables that are to be freeze-dried require that they are picked at their prime--think of a Farmers Market produce vs. chain-store grocery market produce that is picked early--no taste! Taste, texture, and appearance make such a big difference! If you’ve ever purchased fruit from a Farmers Market and allowed it to sit on your counter for a couple of days until you could get to bottling it, you'd notice it would still be edible because it hadn’t begun to accelerate its break-down process. This is just one of the many reasons why freeze-dried is more expensive. On the other hand though, much of the dehydrated foods come from a later market of produce otherwise known as “last call” or “end of life” produce which is picked and then must immediately be treated or consumed. For example, I purchased 3 flats of strawberries just this past Saturday at about 1:00 p.m. because they were only priced at $7 each! I couldn’t resist the idea of going home and making delicious strawberry/peach preserves. But unfortunately later that day my body had other plans, so I waited until Monday morning to get to jam making. I was dismayed that in only 36 hours my strawberries were covered in thick layers of mold, every last one of them. You simply can’t see something like that and not KNOW that there’s a nutritional difference between the freeze-dried and dehydrated foods; that’s inherent from the very beginning of their respective preservation processes. If you were to attempt to freeze-dry such late season produce, you would not end up with a sweet tasting, brightly colored sample. Instead it would shrivel a bit as the last remaining constituents that keep it looking alive—moisture—is extracted from it and then vaporized. (This is also the very reason why I pay close attention to the taste and textures of all of the various freeze-dried foods. Some folks do cut corners. Perhaps the funders of this “report” specifically singled out a poor product producer in the freeze-dried industry for their “testing?”
A dehydrated apple will contain less nutritional value than the freeze-dried apple by a margin of at least 30% initially; and that gap will continue to increase as time goes on. Dehydration has no ability to stop the continued enzymatic process that breaks down the inherent nutrients. What may begin at a 70% nutritional value can slowly degrade to a 5% nutritional value. With freeze-dried foods, these enzymes are also frozen right in their tracks, not just slowed down like a wrinkled elderly man with a walker. I have a #10 can of “freeze-dried raisins. This one can will yield me SIXTY POUNDS of raisins whereas if I purchased raisins in the traditional fashion, I would have to store and rotate through a whole lot of boxes of partially dehydrated grapes to get the same yield—oh yeah, and I would have had to spend 10 times more for it, too.
We can all dehydrate our food, fortunately; and if you’ve got a booming garden and no budget then you just might have to stick with dehydrating your foods. You can sit them in a hot, humid environment (such as a Solar Oven) and allow the food to sweat out its moisture. You will still start out with a 70% minimal loss of nutrition, though. Granted, 70% of nutrition for nothing much than a couple of seeds and some sweaty days of work might be what you’ve got in your budget right now. In which case I think that’s great that a person is working with all of their assets. If that’s not the case though, you could get the great quality and nutrition that’s available from freeze-dried produce—something anyone who’s lived through a winter in Idaho or Utah should be able to understand. It’s cold and it’s dry, but you don’t die. You just need moisture to hydrate your skin and the rest of your body. That’s the same requirement for freeze-dried food too. Unfortunately, it takes as much as 10 times the time and water to reconstitute dehydrated foods as it does freeze-dried—yet another reason why I indulge my crush on the Cool Crusader.
On a positive note there are some foods which I don’t need to pay the higher freeze-dried price to obtain them because their nutritional value isn’t critical to me; it’s the subtle taste profile that I’m going for. Items such as celery, onions, bell peppers, and carrots aren’t items that I will pay top dollar for. I’m content to use them in their dehydrated, subdued color state, so long as they are not the star of the dish.
Lastly, it should come as no surprise that this report is being circulated by a food storage company which is heavily invested in the sale of dehydrated foods. Quelle surprise! I wonder what kind of conclusions they are going to try to come up with, eh?
They make their assertions ostensibly by making comparisons between a dehydrated food and then its exact counter-part, but in a freeze-dried state. After reading the book “Ignore the Awkward” which demolishes all of the studies which are concluded to be in favor of the cholesterol fighting drugs, I’ve learned how information can be manipulated. For example, among many other problems of veracity, this “report” doesn’t establish any baseline as to how old the products are, what version of dehydration and freeze-dried was used. Which portion of the food was analyzed (as there’s a difference between the inside portion of a dehydrated food and the outside portion.) At what shelf-point did they test the dehydrated nutrition contents? How much moisture had been exhausted by then? How old was the dehydrated product or freeze-dried product before it was put through the preservation process? Did they test the products reconstituted? And if so, with what kind of water were the products reconstituted, filtered, distilled, what? That makes a big difference too.
So, what’s the verdict on this obviously biased report that’s being circulated? Not only is it crazy, but it just might verge on providing evidence with an intentional act to manipulate and oh, how I loathe it when someone attempts to manipulate me.
Sneak Peak at this Saturday's Blog Radio: * After all, there’s never been a multi-million dollar study conducted by a pharmaceutical company that has ever found their proposed “cure” for a disease to fall short. There’s always data to manipulate. For example, the most well-known pharmaceuticals which ostensibly aid women with menopausal symptoms discovered during their study that after 5 years, their drug actually increases the risk of osteoporosis by a substantial percentage. That’s OK. They were able to get the rubber stamp approval of the FDA to only conduct studies on their drugs for the first five years and not beyond. That’s pretty ironic when you understand that osteoporosis is a priority of concern for menopausal women. Wicked, huh? (I’ll be discussing this in greater detail on this Saturday’s Preparedness Pro Radio Show with Dr. Judi Gerstung, author of “The Estrogen Alternative”.)
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