How Versatile is a Freeze Dryer? It does more than you think!

What can you do with a freeze dryer ?

Freeze drying food is its primary task, of course, but it can do more.  You may be familiar with “Astronaut Ice Cream” which, while interesting to the public, was too crumbly for actual use in space, according to former NASA food scientist Vickie Kloeris.

The crumbs don’t fall to the floor, like on Earth; they float around the cabin and make a mess of things.  Hopefully they get sucked up by the ventilation system before someone accidentally inhales them, gets them in the eye, or they end up fouling up some switches or gear!  But that doesn’t stop them from being favorite treats at roadside stands, or “Mom & Pop” stores, because they’re easy to make by anyone with a freeze-dryer, and quickly help pay off the investment in the equipment!

Regardless, freeze-drying did have a big role in the space program, allowing food to be made on Earth, preserved, and to remain usable in space for any length mission, even years later.  The same can be said of modern MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat), used by most militaries around the world.  The old R-Rations were just dehydrated meat and hard tack bread.  The nutritional value was low and they were hated.  They were replaced with K- or C-Rations, which were not very tasty, and generally still despised.

Flameless heaters and other improvements over the years have resulted in, perhaps not gourmet food, but much better options that many soldiers actually like!  In every one, dehydration pays a role.

The military can mess about with menus, but they always have to prepare hundreds of thousands of each kind, so they can’t be fancy.  What you make in your kitchen, with a pinch of basil, a shake or two of oregano, a hint of nutmeg, and lightly simmered for four hours to render your Grandma’s family secret tomato sauce will always be much better.  The best part is, however, that once it is freeze-dried, and rehydrated months or years later, it will still be as good as the day you made it.

You can do this with whole meals, too, of course, so the family can sit down to a whole lasagna platter together, or each can have a personal favorite.  And this all happens without the prep time for all these meals—just add water and heat!

Hikers will love yogurt dots, freeze-dried Skittles, even whole cakes that have been cubed into bite-sized snacks and lyophilized ([lie-off-fill-ized], the actual word for freeze-drying).  Now imagine the thrill for a truck driver pulling off the road and having what is essentially a home cooked meal in his cab before bedtime.  The idea of a roast beef dinner, chicken teriyaki, or a nice antipasto on the road or trail might be astonishing to some, but not to owners of a freeze dryer!

What else can you do with a Freeze Dryer?

Hey, Mom!  You can freeze dry breast milk for your newborn so Dad has got some backup if you’re out and about, or back at work already!  Or how about freeze-dried chicken hearts, or other meaty bits, chopped up into small morsels for training rewards when working with your new dog?

Oh no!  Did you drop your phone in a puddle?  Use the vacuum system to remove all the moisture and save all your pictures, phone numbers and data!  And the vacuum alone is useful in other ways.  Let’s say you have jars and jars of sunflower seeds, or other vulnerable items.  Drop in an oxygen absorber and try this trick!

Remove the door gasket, take out the tray holder (unplug if necessary) and put one tray (sometimes upside down is easier and gives more space) back in the cavity.  Now place all of your jars on the tray, with their seals in place but with the rings sitting loosely on top, replace the door gasket, seal it up and turn on the vacuum.

Those lids will suck down tight, removing a lot of air and oxygen.  Once you shut it down and open the door, you can just tighten the rings and you’re ready to pack away those items for a very long and safe storage period.

Other Really Different Uses

Chefs in high-end restaurants have started using freeze dried products to create new and interesting textures in food.  The may use freeze-dried fruits, or savory (umami) elements in unexpected places.

Taxidermists have begun using freeze-drying to more precisely preserve the shape and size of the animal, particularly for small, delicate creatures like birds, chipmunks, etc.

Similarly, science is aided by preserving biological samples for important research.  Not just animals, but tissue samples, and even microbial cultures.  It is arguably the best way to prepare many samples to be used in a scanning electron microscope.

Consider how Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical development is aided because freeze-drying gives them the ability to stabilize medications, vaccines, and other biological materials, such as antibodies.  The COVID vaccines, for example, were quite sensitive to temperatures at first.  They had to be kept cold or they became useless.  Freeze dried they could be shipped anywhere, revitalized with fluid and refrigerated for the remaining short journey to where they would be used to save lives.

It is even used to freeze-dry blood platelets so they can be stored or transported to remote areas where the blood supply is unreliable.  In emergencies, such as floods, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions, getting useful blood to where it’s needed is a matter of life and death!

Even dentists are starting to use it to preserve extracted teeth.  Mostly it is to preserve it for students to study and learn, but many patients like to keep one for themselves to make into jewelry, for example, if it has a gold cap.  I don’t know how “charming” this bracelet is, but gold plated teeth exist…

Historical documents, manuscripts, and books have been saved with freeze-drying after being exposed to water.  This has also been successfully used to restore water-damaged artworks.  Museums use it regularly to preserve ancient documents, clothing, and more for their collections, stopping further deterioration.

Archeologists also use it, on site, to preserve exceptionally delicate artifacts and biological materials.  This halts any further degradation due to being unearthed and exposed to air.

Artists who make “real flower” centerpieces will often use freeze-drying to preserve the shape and color of the plants.  Home collectors are finding that pressed flowers in books are not nearly as attractive and lifelike as when they are freeze-dried.

And in animal husbandry, semen samples can be shipped all over the world in a freeze-dried state, to help with animal conservation efforts, or to perpetuate a strong horse bloodline for equestrian societies or racing aficionados.  Can’t get to Armenia to mate your German Shepherd bitch to a Champion sire?  Not a problem—just call FedEx and you’ll be ready when she’s in season.

Entomologists use it, too.  Freeze-dried insects make the perfect addition to a collection, and they will stand the test of time instead of crumbling and falling off the pin because someone jostled the display case.

The Takeaway

We give a tip of the hat to Earl W. Flosdorf and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, during World War II for “inventing” freeze-drying.  They wanted to preserve blood plasma for very important battlefield use.

Researchers had seen extremely well-preserved biological artifacts in the field or archeology, particularly in cold climates where something died, and dry air carried away all the moisture.  Figuring out how to do that deliberately gave rise to everything we have today in the freeze-drying industry, including your ability to have that technology at home, right now, at your fingertips!

 Check out stay fresh freeze dryers!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published