In my previous blog we looked at the types of food that are available for medium to long-term food storage. These included canned, dehydrated, and freeze-dried foods. As you can well imagine, each on has its pros and cons. That’s where this blog comes in. Read on…
Canned food provides the widest variety of types of food products. You can buy everything from soup to nuts in a can. I once heard that you can even buy beer in a can. There are a lot of heat-and-eat or ready-to-eat entrees in cans (this can be a critical factor in an emergency situation), or you can buy individual recipe components in cans and whip up your own concoction. Canned goods are familiar and readily available. One huge plus for canned food is that you almost never have to add water to prepare them. If anything, you’ll be draining water out of them, rather than adding it in.
The downside with canned goods is their relatively short shelf-life, as compared to dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. Use it or lose it, baby. Although canned goods can be still be usable for years past their printed “best by” dates if stored in a cool location, those “best by” dates are often just one to three years out. People who base their food storage plan on canned goods need to practice rotation religiously.
Other downsides to canned foods are their size and weight. You don’t find many backpackers who lug canned goods with them on mountain trails. In the same way they make for a poor option for bug-out bags. Canned goods are fine for being stored on a shelf in your basement or stashed under your bed, but if you need to pack up and go, canned goods are a major burden to bear.
Dehydrated food is the best value among long-term storage (LTS) foods. As of this writing, Emergency Essentials, one of the leading vendors of emergency food and supplies, offers a 2,000-calorie-per day one-year food package for $1,300. By comparison, their 2,000-calorie freeze-dried kit sells for $4,500. (Let’s see — do I want three and a half years of dehydrated food, or one year’s worth of freeze-dried?) If you’re on a budget you’ll want dehydrated foods should rank pretty high in your long-term food storage plan.
Long shelf-life is a huge advantage – many LTS dehydrated foods are rated at 20-25 years. The food you last today can safely stored for longer than you’ll live in your current house, most likely.
Small storage footprint is also an advantage for dehydrated foods. Because the water’s been removed (and removed in such a way that reduces the size of the original product), they take up lots less shelf-space. You can fit a lot of food in a #10 can. That makes for the most compact storage option among the three types of food.
Another factor with dehydrated food has both pluses and minuses. You won’t find many, if any, dehydrated food entrées. (Well, there are a number of dried soup mixes, but I don’t always count that as an entrée.) Instead you’ll find separate ingredients. The bad news is that this means that you have to cook. No “just add water” and have a meal. The good news is that you can cook anything you want, any way you want. You can add things to a ready-made entrée to customize it to your liking, but you can’t take anything away from it that you don’t like. I’ve always marveled at Taco Bell. They’ve got something like 30 items on the menu, but they’ve only got about five ingredients in the kitchen. It’s all just different combinations and preparations. Same thing with dehydrated food. You can make anything you want, but you’re the one who has to make it. I’ve always felt that the flexibility provided by dehydrated food gives it the greatest potential for assembling the healthiest meals.
The most significant downside for dehydrated (and freeze-dried foods) is that they’ve been dehydrated — you have to have a supply of clean water to reconstitute them. When trouble comes, water may become a precious commodity. You need a minimum of a gallon per day, per person. That seems like a drop in the bucket now when the water is flowing freely. You leave the tap running while you brush your teeth. You throw a piece of tissue paper in the toilet and feel like you have to flush it. You take long showers. All of that goes by the wayside when water no longer flows from your faucets at will. So whether you’re bugging-out or bugging-in, the availability of clean water for re-hydrating these foods becomes an issue. Score one for canned food.
Here’s another related downside to dehydrated food. Cooking them is energy intensive. Do you ever cook with dried beans? (If you don’t, you should start now.) They take forever to cook. You soak them overnight, but they still want to simmer in your crockpot all day or cook on the stove for a couple of hours. That’s what I mean by energy intensive. Besides having enough clean water, you also need to have a sufficient energy source to cook dehydrated food. Dehydrated food is the worst of the three types of food in this respect.
I’ve already pulled this one into the discussion in the comparisons above, but more can (and will) be said about freeze-dried food. I pointed out that freeze-dried food is 350% more expensive than dehydrated. So why would anyone want to shell out that kind of money for it?
Because it’s good. Almost all the best features that you want for long-term storage food can be found in freeze-dried. The freeze-drying process retains the appearance, texture, color, flavor, and aroma of the original food it comes from. By comparison, some dehydrated food gets shriveled, loses its fresh color, and can be a bit tough or chewy if you don’t cook it thoroughly. When you add water to freeze-dried food to reconstitute it, you can’t tell it from fresh.
It’s also lightweight and portable.
And there’s plenty of variety. Freeze-dried can take you places that dehydrated can only dream of. Dehydrated cheese? You have to settle for powder, like the packets that come with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. You can make a cheesy sauce from it, but that’s it. With freeze-dried, you can have real shredded cheese. Or cottage cheese. Or blueberry cheesecake. Or freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches. Starting to catch the vision?
Freeze-dried fruits and veggies are very good, but one area where freeze-dried really shines is with just-add-water entrées. The leading brand of freeze-dried entrées is Mountain House. Their products are available from a lot of emergency supply vendors. They offer such family favorites as beef stew, beef stroganoff with noodles, pasta primavera, teriyaki chicken and rice, lasagna, and so forth. And it tastes good. Like real food. BTW, Mountain House has a sale twice a year. Watch this space and we’ll let you know when it’s happening.
Freeze-dried meats are good, too. You can buy cans of diced chicken, turkey, beef, pork, or ham. (Yeah, I know ham is pork, but it’s different.) You can get crumbled sausage or ground beef. You can’t do that with dehydrated. The closest that dehydrated can come with meat and poultry is TVP (textured vegetable protein) made from soy beans and gussied up to vaguely resemble bits of meat. I’ve had some TVP that wasn’t bad, but I’ve had some that was. The freeze-dried stuff isn’t TVP. It’s the real deal.
Like with dehydrated food, freeze-dried needs water to reconstitute it and energy to cook it, but it requires a lot less energy than most dehydrated food. For fruit, you just soak it in water. No heat required. For many entrées, you bring the needed amount of water to a boil, stir in the dry mix, cover it, and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes, and presto! Hot and tasty food.
The two biggest downsides to freeze-dried are cost and size. We addressed cost above. Freeze-drying doesn’t shrink the food, so it takes about the same amount of space as fresh, even though all the water has been removed. For example #10 (gallon-sized) can of sliced strawberries weighs only 7 ounces (less than half a pound), but it takes up a gallon of space. When reconstituted it provides more than 9 cups of sliced strawberries, but it takes up a lot of shelf space during storage.
So what type should you buy and store?
I’m not an “either/or” kind of guy. I’m much more of a “both/and” kind of guy. Why limit yourself to just one type when all three have certain advantages? I have canned goods on hand for short-term emergencies like a power outage after an ice storm. They would also make for good comfort food during a longer emergency. Freeze-dried can offer a lot of comfort food capability, but it’s also great for situations where you need mobility. Its light weight makes it a grab-and-go winner.
On my budget, dehydrated foods make up the mainstay of my long-term storage food plan. For the best value, go with the big six-gallon pails of staples such as wheat, rice, dried beans, and oatmeal. (After you’ve opened a pail, you’ll need a plan for using it all within a reasonable amount of time to keep it from going bad, or have a way to reseal it for later.) Round out your collection with #10 cans of dried veggies and fruits, powdered milk, soup and sauce mixes. And store more than you think you’ll need for yourself and your family. When it’s crunch time, you’ll want to be able to reach out and help others who weren’t as well prepared as you are.
There is a lot of confusion among prepper newbies about what types of food to store for emergency use. Canned? Freeze-dried? Dehydrated? Yeah, I can understand being confused. Been there – done that.
To help sort this out, we need to look at the different types of food preservation available. You can’t develop a food storage plan that works best for you until you understand these basics.
Everyone knows what canned food is. We’ve eaten it all our lives. I’m mainly talking about the stuff that you get at the grocery store:
- Canned vegetables, such as garbanzo beans, creamed corn, pickled beets, and sauerkraut. (Have I hit everyone’s favorites?) Also think tomatoes in all their forms (whole, diced, crushed, sauce, paste, juice). Some vegetables seem to can better than freeze. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a package of mushrooms or beets in the freezer at the grocery store. Beware of the sodium content in canned veggies.
- Then there are canned fruits, which include peaches, pears, fruit cocktail, and apple sauce.
- Don’t forget canned meats, like tuna, sardines, Vienna sausages (do they really count as a “meat” product?), and the ubiquitous Spam. OK, some of those are fish, not meat, but you get the idea. For that matter, you can buy canned poultry, too, in a variety of sizes. If you shop at the right places you can get canned bacon, too, precooked and ready to rock, but I find it to be a bit spendy for my budget.
- Ready-to-eat canned entrees include things like beef stew, chili, soup, La Choy Chinese dinners, and everything that Chef Boyardee has ever made.
That’s just hitting the high points of canned food. There are many others. I once bought a can of Pork Brains in Milk Gravy, just because I could. Let’s just say that you don’t want to be in a white elephant gift exchange with me. But I digress.
The shelf life of store-bought canned foods varies a lot. In most cases it can be from one to three years. Meat and fish seem to have a longer “best by” date than fruits and vegetables. Almost everyone has found that canned foods are still good for long past the stated “best by” dated found on the cans, provided that the cans are not dented and are stored at a cool temperature.
There is another broad category of canned food that we will cover extensively in an on-going series of blogs. This is home-canned food. Home-canned food that is properly prepared and stored can have a longer shelf life than store-bought canned goods, up to about 10 years. Watch this space for future blogs on do-it-yourself canning.
We buy more of these than we’d think. If the instructions say “just add water,” it’s a dehydrated food. Common store-bought dehydrated foods includes rice, dried pasta, dried beans, dried soup mixes, meal kits like Hamburger Helper, and spices.
But when preppers talk about dehydrated foods, more likely than not they mean the stuff from specialty vendors that comes in the big #10 cans (roughly one gallon) and is designed to have a shelf life of 20 years or more. These long-term storage (LTS) dehydrated foods include fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals, pasta, powdered milk and other drink mixes, sauce mixes, and baking supplies.
As with canned foods, you can also dehydrate your own foods at home. More on this in a future blog.
Freeze-dried is the new kid on the block. The process was invented during WWII to preserve medical serums that were being shipped to the troops. American astronauts were eating freeze-dried foods as early as Project Mercury in the early 1960s. Freeze-dried instant coffee was the first product that was available commercially.
They’ve gotten really good at freeze-drying foods now. All the water is removed from the food while it is deeply frozen. The resulting product looks like the original, retaining the same general size, color, flavor, and smell, but is much lighter. When properly packaged and stored, freeze-dried foods can have a very long shelf-life. We’re talking 25 years here.
Just about anything can be freeze-dried. For some foods (whole wheat, rice, pasta), dehydration works just as well and is much less expensive, so they don’t bother to offer everything in freeze-dried form. But you can buy long-term storage cans of freeze-dried vegetables, fruits, meats, and more. Anyone up for some yummy freeze-dried ice cream?
My next blog will discuss the pros and cons of each of these different methods of food preservation and where they fit into your food storage plan.
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