Comparison between freeze-fried/dehydrated meals
Meals that require rehydrating are convenient when you want delicious food while hiking, trekking, climbing, when running a self-sufficient race such as Marathon des Sables or even when sailing, but also if you want to shed weight. In fact, these ultralight meals are a must for multi-day activities that require food self-sufficiency.
Foods that require rehydration, especially of the freeze-dried type, are not bulky and have a long shelf life so they can easily be stored at home for emergency preparedness*.
*(storms, power outage, food supplies being cut off in grocery stores).
In Europe, there are many commercially prepared freeze-dried meals. If you go to www.lyophilise.fr, you'll be able to browse our collection of 400 recipes and make your choice. That's a broad range of meals, 400 recipes, that cover breakfast meals, main dishes, desserts, staple foods, fruits, cheeses, vegetables ...
How to choose the right meals to rehydrate ?
Many questions pop into your head while you're picking meals ! You may think about the number of calories to take on board, the constraints you have to cope with, the gear you already own without sacrificing the finer things in life.
Depending on your adventure trips, freeze-dried/dehydrated meals may play a secondary role if you can have fresh products on hand or if you can combine them with precooked meals. They may be there as backup meals and you need to be vigilant on your calorie intake. For example, navigators enjoy eating an additional easy-to-prepare hot meal at night. Freeze-dried/dehydrated meals are perfectly adapted to that situation !
If you select the option « every » meal should be freeze-dried/dehydrated from breakfast to dessert (Marathon in the desert, world sailing race…), the variety, the taste and the quality of the recipes must be your « leitmotif » for a perfect selection while making sure that you take the right number of calories aboard.
Freeze-dried/dehydrated recipes are so varied that you can choose the best fit for you if you have a food intolerance, and they are sure to delight all taste buds.
Finally, budget is a criteria to take into consideration because as you will discover in this guide, there are many recipes that need rehydrating… but they are not all freeze-dried food. Which has an impact not only on the cost but also on the nutritional qualities of your meal.
So we decided to make a small comparative table of all just-add-water meals based on their origin, packaging, cooking preparation, shelf life, calorie intake, portion size, type of meals, and budget.
What are the different meals that need rehydrating ?
- 100% freeze-dried meals
- Mix of dehydrated and freeze-dried ingredients
- 100% dehydrated meals
Each manufacturing process has its own advantages. We'll explain the different manufacturing methods below :
100% freeze-dried meals
All manufacturers mentioned below cook and freeze-dry their meals. Ingredients are slowly cooked together.
How is freeze-drying achieved ?
1. First, they cook their meals which are then transferred to a freeze-dryer to freeze the food down to -40°C
2. They remove air from the freeze-dryer
3. Foods in the freeze-dryer go from -40°C to 0°C. Water contained in the food goes from solid ice to gas without becoming a liquid, this is called sublimation
What are the benefits of freeze-drying ?
Freeze-drying products have a large number of benefits, including :
- They have a higher calorie-per-100 g ratio than dehydrated foods, around 500 kcal per 100 g depending on the meals.
- They can be rehydrated with cold water, if you cannot boil water, contrary to dehydrated meals. Beware : rehydrating with cold water takes twice the time used with boiling water
- They have a longer shelf life : pouches can be stored between 3 and 8 years depending on the brands and tins up to 25 years from manufacturing date
- They contain no additives nor preservatives (except for some egg-based recipes for example)
Their only drawback : their price, they are more expensive than dehydrated meals or dishes mixing freeze-dried with dehydrated ingredients. Actually, the bulkier the food the longer the freeze-drying time and the larger the amount of energy needed to complete the process like for the brand LyoFood. That is the reason why, in most cases, you will find small pieces of meat, fish, and poultry to reduce the processing cost. But freeze-drying is of a higher quality than dehydration, because it preserves around 95% of the food nutritional value. Other methods like dehydration only preserve 60% of the food nutritional value because part of the vitamins and minerals is lost in the heating process.
Did you know ? Only the sauce is in the form of powder. Ingredients such as starches, meats, vegetables are all separate in the pouch.
Here are the brands that prepare and freeze-dry their meals entirely, with their own specific features
100% dehydrated food
Dehydration, that is, heat is used to dry food, is an ancient method of food preservation.
The objective of dehydration is to remove moisture from a food product (up to 94%) to better preserve the food and to reduce its weight.
This process is consuming less energy than freeze-drying but taste and the nutritive value of food are affected by the reactions that occur during the process. Depending on the foods, it is assessed that 10 to 50% of the nutrients are lost in the dehydrating process.
Dehydrated meals have a shorter shelf life than freeze-dried meals, typically 2 years from manufacturing date. But this process is far less costly because only heat is required to dry the food.
You can dehydrate some ingredients yourself, like fruits for example, by using a dehydrator.
Did you know ? Dehydrated meals need to be rehydrated with boiling water contrary to freeze-dried meals that can be rehydrated in cold water.
Focus on a couple of brands :
- Firepot cook their meals themselves like homemade meals, then they dehydrate the food without adding anything.
- Tentmeals offer breakfast meals and main dishes, suitable for vegan diets, by mixing dehydrated ingredients.
Mix of freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients
All the brands below mix freeze-dried (freeze-drying method) with dehydrated (heat drying method) ingredients.
Why do they use both processes ?
Cooking a recipe from A to Z does not allow for large food production. To solve the problem, dehydrating or freeze-drying just one ingredient in large quantities can reduce manufacturing costs. To obtain a complete recipe, it is enough to add up freeze-dried or dehydrated ingredients and put them together in a pouch.
It does not necessarily mean that the recipe obtained this way is of « poor » quality. The less fragile foods, such as starchy foods, can be dehydrated and mixed with more noble freeze-dried ingredients, such as meat for example.
The disadvantage of these meals is that they cannot be rehydrated in cold water, because they contain dehydrated foods ; besides, since ingredients are not cooked and simmered together, they may lack taste.
Meals tailored to individual needs
Today, food manufacturers tend to develop a large variety of recipes that meet the needs of every customer, some of them having food intolerance. Their food recipes delight good food lovers even when these don't have any special food sensitivity :
- Biological selection
- Vegan selection
- Gluten free selection
- Lactose free selection
- Double-serving selection
Feedback : Do you have a favorite food brand ?
We remain in contact with all the manufacturers and suppliers providing our foods and have developed a strong relationship with them built on trust. We cannot select one brand in particular. It all depends on everyone's tastes, budget and culture. That is why we have such a broad selection !
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