One of the most common questions we receive is how to store freeze-dried & dehydrated ingredients once you’ve opened the package. And in all honesty, it’s a great question! These are not your typical fruits and vegetables: they can be fragile, extremely sensitive and most of all — we’d like them to be “fresh tasting” for an extended period of time. The great news is — it’s easy!
By understanding a little bit about which elements compromise these foods, and knowing what tools work best to keep them fresh, you will be able to keep your dried ingredients for as long as (and most likely past) the “best by” date!
To learn about the difference between freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients, view our post ‘Freeze-dried & Dehydrated Foods Explained‘.
FREEZE-DRIED GROCERY ITEMS
The process of freeze-drying a fresh or cooked piece of food entails using a “freeze drying chamber” to actually freeze the food, then immediately dry it, leaving no trace of water within the food. This results in a green pea (for example) that retains its color, shape and full flavor while having the pleasant crunch of a potato chip!
The Positive — The freeze-drying process allows us to backpack with these incredibly lightweight foods that have their vitamins, nutrients and flavor still intact. Plus, the lack of moisture allows them to be shelf-stable and if stored properly, have a very long shelf life!
The Negative — These beautiful little crunchy peas are fragile beings and highly sensitive to any and all light, heat, oxygen and moisture … not to mention they’ll smash into a million pieces in the bottom of your backpack if you’re not careful!
Keeping your freeze-dried foods protected from the below elements is your key to getting the maximum shelf-life out of your tasty treats . . .
This is the #1 factor impacting the quality and shelf-life of your freeze-dried food, making a humid environment detrimental. The sponge-like nature of the food makes it incredibly sensitive to absorbing any moisture in the air.
- First and foremost, keep your food sealed until you are ready to use it.
- If you’re working with Packit Gourmet’s pre-packaged FD foods, it’s best to get your desired amount out of the bag as quickly as possible, then fold your bag over, pushing the air out of the bag and resealing ASAP.
- If you’ll be blending recipes and working with the ingredients for an extended period of time we recommend ensuring you’re in a room with 40% humidity or below (the lower the better).
- Store your FD food in an air-tight impermeable container or mylar food storage bag with a fresh silica gel desiccant or clay desiccant. (See below for tips on tools!)
- How do I know if moisture has affected my freeze-dried food? Your happy crispy peas will become sad, soft and chewy — and not in a good way. This is a warning sign, telling you that your food has undergone a change and moisture may be present, increasing the potential for spoilage (including bacteria and mold); therefore, we do not recommend eating it.
Exposure to oxygen causes your food to deteriorate at a faster rate, resulting in the fats, vitamins, flavor and color of your food to be impacted.
- Again, keep your food sealed until you are ready to use it and reseal the bag ASAP after opening, pushing all air out of the bag.
- Store your food in an airtight container that is impermeable to oxygen. Do not use containers such as Ziplock bags since these still allow oxygen to slowly seep into the bag. We recommend glass airtight jars or mylar bags.
- The most efficient way to remove all oxygen from a bag is with a food-vacuum-sealer (such as a Seal-a-Meal). We recommend using this if you’re working from a bulk bag of ingredients that will come into contact with oxygen repeatedly.
Extended direct exposure to light will cause the fats, proteins and vitamins in your freeze-dried foods to breakdown.
- For best results, store your food in an opaque container or in a dark location with limited access to direct light. A pantry, kitchen cabinet or fridge all work great!
- How do I know if light has affected my freeze-dried food? Your beautiful green peas will become fainter in color and the flavor will weaken. This doesn’t mean that your peas are inedible or spoiled, but its nutritional value may have suffered.
The optimal temperature for freeze-dried food storage is between 32°F and 75°F.
- Typically, room temperature is fine, but if you have space we recommend storing your FD foods in a cool dark pantry or closet for best results. Exposure to excessive heat will compromise the integrity of the food.
DEHYDRATED GROCERY ITEMS
Dehydrated or dried food is made by slowly removing the water from the food through the use of heat. This is a practice that has been performed for hundreds of years as a means of preserving food and although nowadays most people use an electric dehydrator for this process, even the sun can be used to adequately dry your food! In the mid-70s, Debbie and Jeff (Packit Gourmet Owners) used to slice up vegetables from the family garden and lay them out on screens in the sunshine — a natural dehydrator!
If you’re comparing dices of freeze-dried bell peppers to dehydrated ones, you’ll immediately see that the dehydrated tomato is shriveled, hard and completely inedible without being rehydrated. These properties allow dehydrated foods to be stored without taking the same precautions needed for freeze-dried foods. That being said, dehydrated foods are still very sensitive to moisture – just not AS sensitive – and will retain better color and flavor by avoiding the following elements:
While dehydrated food isn’t as sensitive to humidity as its freeze-dried counterpart, moisture is still the #1 factor impacting the quality and shelf-life of your dehydrated food.
- First and foremost, keep your food sealed until you are ready to use it.
- If you’re working with Packit Gourmet’s pre-packaged dehydrated foods, it’s best to get your desired amount out of the bag as quickly as possible, then fold your bag over, pushing the air out of the bag and resealing ASAP.
- To maximize the life of your food, be sure to store it in an air-tight impermeable container with a fresh silica gel desiccant or clay desiccant.
- How do I know if moisture has affected my dehydrated food? Your crispy “hard-as-a-rock” bell pepper will begin to soften and possibly enlarge a bit in size on its own. This indication of change tells you that the state of preservation has been compromised and your food may begin the process of deterioration — and depending on the amount of moisture present, the onset of mold and bacteria may occur. Time to toss it in the compost bucket. Do not eat it!
To extend the shelf-life of our dehydrated foods, store them in an airtight container that is impermeable to oxygen.
While not overly-sensitive to light, dehydrated food will retain its color (and a more appetizing appearance) when stored in a dark location with limited exposure to direct light. A pantry, kitchen cabinet or fridge all work great!
Dehydrated food can be safely stored at room temperature, but exposure to excessive heat will compromise the integrity and nutritional quality of the food. Avoid storing dehydrated food near a heat source.
OUR TOOLS FOR QUALITY FOOD STORAGE
If you’re storing your own home-dried or sun-dried foods, or re-packaging Packit Gourmet’s freeze-dried & dehydrated ingredients into blends or smaller portions, we’ve got the tools for you! Here’s the rundown on what we recommend for storage and why . . .
If you have a variety of foods you’re looking to store, mylar bags are a quality and inexpensive solution to storing your ingredients! Here’s why we recommend them . . .
- Thin & Lightweight — We love that these bags are light enough to be tossed in your backpack … and freeze-dried fruits and veggies are a fantastic trailside snack!
- Flexible — Not only is this super helpful for storage in your pack, the ability to collapse and conform the bag to your food when sealing is great for removing all that unwanted oxygen. Plus, they work well with a vacuum sealer!
- Strong & Durable — Although accidents do happen, the mylar material is strong, making it difficult to accidentally tear or poke a hole in the bag. If a hole does occur on the trail, seal the perforation with a piece of duct tape.
- Tight & Opaque — The mylar material is an excellent barrier to oxygen, humidity, light and odor. In spite of these qualities, if you’re in bear country we highly recommend using a bear canister to store your food.
- Resealable — Each bag has a zipper closure making it the perfect solution for an on-the-go snack pack or a reusable storage solution at home.
- Heat-Sealable — For extended storage, we recommend using a home heat sealer as an extra precaution against oxygen and moisture.
Packit Gourmet carries mylar bags in two sizes: 6×8 inches & 8×10 inches — visit our product page for more information.
When packaging your dried foods, we highly recommend including a moisture absorbent desiccant with each batch. We carry both silica gel desiccants and clay desiccants — here’s a bit about each so you can find the right match for you!
SILICA GEL DESICCANTS are comprised of little beads of Silicon Dioxide: a natural compound made from silicon and oxygen that is most commonly recognized as the earth element quartz.
- Adsorption: Each individual silica gel can adsorb a whopping 40% of its weight in moisture, making it the ideal option for extremely moisture sensitive foods such as freeze-dried.
- Temperature: Silica desiccants work well below 220 degrees F.
- Reusable: Once you’ve used a silica desiccant, it can be recharged in a low temperature oven which causes it to release the moisture and be ready to be used again! Simply place your “expired” silica desiccants on a baking sheet topped with tin foil and “bake” for 2-3 hours at 200-240 deg F (do not go over 250 deg F). Cool and store your “refreshed” desiccants in an air-tight container to protect them from absorbing moisture from the air.
Packit Gourmet carries 3 gram and 10 grams packs of silica desiccants — visit our product page for more information.
CLAY DESICCANTS are made up of little beads of dried bentonite clay — a form of weathered volcanic ash.
- Adsorption: The adsorption capacity of clay desiccants is 25% of its own weight (compared to 40% for silica) making it a better partner for use with dehydrated foods over the ultra-sensitive freeze-dried foods.
- Temperature: Clay desiccants work well below 120 degrees F. Once exposed to a higher temperature, there is a risk that the desiccant may stop absorbing moisture and/or release the moisture back into the air.
- Reusable: Once a clay desiccant has been used, it can be reactivated in the oven causing it to release any accumulated moisture and be used again! Simply place your previously used desiccants on a baking sheet topped with tin foil and bake desiccants for 16 hours at 245 deg F (do not go over 250 deg F). Cool and store your “reactivated” desiccants in an air-tight container to protect them from absorbing moisture from the air.
- Environmental: Although both clay and silica have foundations in a natural earth element (bentonite clay vs silica [sand/quartz]), clay is considered to be the greener alternative to silica because it is mined and manufactured in the US, taking considerably less energy to produce.
Packit Gourmet carries packs of 10 clay desiccants — visit our product page for more information.
For additional questions on how to store your freeze-dried and dehydrated food or the Packit Gourmet products listed, please feel free to comment below or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!