Dehydrating vs Freeze-Drying. Which method is superior, and which one’s best for you? Here’s a clear comparison.

Ever since the accidental discovery of food dehydration in 12,000 BCE, the way in which we preserve foods and transform them into easy-to-transport snacks has not changed much.

And why should it? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Now, although this method is nearly flawless, as technology has advanced, so have other inventions and alternatives to this ancient practice. Move over, dehydration, here comes freeze-drying.

This revolutionary method came into being during World War II, as a means of transportation and preservation of blood packets and other vital medical supplies which were essential in the field.

And while, in modernity, freeze dyers have made their way into kitchens, their use is still mainly commercial, as more often than not, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a real-world use for one in your home. But that’s not for me to decide, I’ll leave that up to you.

Knowing this valuable information, how can you make the right choice? You need information and data. Below, I’ve prepared a clear comparison, listing the advantages and disadvantages of both methods.

Are you ready? Let’s check them out!

How Does Each One Work?

Before looking into each appliance’s pros and cons, it’s important to understand how they work, to get a clearer idea of what they can do for you, and which one suits your needs best.

Dehydrators

These appliances remove about 92% of the moisture in your food, and go about doing that by recirculating air at moderately hot temperatures with the help of a fan, and a seal-tight chamber

Moderate temperatures are what allow dehydrators to do their job, as this is the key element that separates dehydrating, from cooking.

Freeze Dryers

These appliances are a lot more complicated than dehydrators, as the process through which they yield the sought-after results is much more technical.

In a nutshell, freeze dryers reduce your food’s temperature to about -40 °F, and then slightly raise it back up again to turn the water in the ice, into vapor, a process known as sublimation. These appliances will remove about 98% of your food’s moisture.

The Actual Comparison

Now that you have a clearer idea as to what both appliances can do for you, we can delve into the actual comparison, so that you can make the right choice.

The key aspects we’re going to be looking at are:

  • Ease of use
  • Price
  • Versatility
  • Nutrient preservation
  • Texture results
  • Shelf life
  • Durability

#1 Ease of Use

fruits on food dehydrator
Dehydrators are the simpler appliance

Having a sophisticated appliance does not matter if you do not know how to operate it. Both dehydrators and freeze dryers open up a world of possibilities to those who own them, which is why, being able to harness them all in the simplest possible way, is essential.

As stated above, freeze dryers are still more on the commercial side, as they have not yet made their way into households. The reason behind this is not only what they do, or their price tag, but also the fact that they can be a lot more complicated to operate than your run-of-the-mill dehydrator.

While the former will most definitely require you to read the user manual several times, and probably go through a long process of trial and error, the latter is practically ready to go from the box.

Unless you own a restaurant or are willing to go through the excruciating process of learning how to properly use your freeze dryer on your own, a dehydrator should be your go-to.

#2 Price

This is where dehydrators really shine. Talking about the price tags of each of these appliances is like talking about apples and oranges. Decent dehydrators can go for as low as $120, whereas a good freeze dryer will cost you no less than $3,000 or $4,000. Maybe $2,000 if it’s a used model.

Sure, you can find professional-grade dehydrators that will cost you between $300 and $500, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a model that is as expensive as your everyday freeze dryer. And there’s a good reason for this.

As I said before, while dehydrators are already optimized and designed to be used in common households, freeze dryers are still mostly sold as industrial appliances, which means that they are very big, power-hungry, and capable of freeze-drying, and storing several pounds of food at a time.

That being said, there are already some companies that manufacture and sell freeze dryers for domestic use, but they are still very expensive and appeal to a small niche.

If you don’t plan on storing and preserving large amounts of food at a time and are not looking to break the bank, a dehydrator is the best option for you.

#3 Versatility

tray with apricots into a food dehydrator machine
The features that shine will vary greatly from person to person

This is yet another concept where both appliances briefly touch and then go their separate ways.

Both dehydrators and freeze dryers will provide you with dried-out food, and won’t complain too much about what you put in them. But given how different their processes are, it should come as no surprise, that even with comparable amounts of versatility, the results they will yield will vary greatly.

Again, the right choice for you will depend on what you want the appliance for. If you own a restaurant and find yourself constantly in the need to dry out and preserve pounds and pounds of food, your best bet will be a freeze dryer.

Provided that you’re only looking to make your own preserves, and a little beef jerky, a dehydrator should be more than enough.

#4 Nutrient Preservation

I’d go as far as to say that for this concept, freeze dryers are the undefeated champions. Why? Let me explain.

While both appliances are great at preserving your food for months or years, their processes impact nutrient conservation significantly. Since dehydrators use hot air to dry out your food, some proteins, carbs, and minerals in it will inevitably be destroyed in the process, yielding a reduced final result.

Freeze dryers, on the other hand, freeze your food, and then transform the water inside it into vapor, which is a much less aggressive process, thus resulting in greater nutrient conservation.

Now, I’m not saying that dehydrators will eliminate the nutrients in your food altogether, you’re probably looking at a 70% remainder after the process is done, so it’s not that bad.

That being said, when compared to the 90-100% retention provided by freeze dryers, the decision becomes a little harder. That is, until you look at the price difference!

#5 Texture Results

Yet another point in favor of freeze dryers.

Perhaps if you look at the food both appliances produce, you won’t be able to notice a very obvious difference. But when your taste buds come into play, trust me, you’ll know exactly which food came out of which machine.

Dehydrators, on the one hand, will provide you with what you’d expect. A dried-out texture that is both crunchy and crumbly to the touch. This is great for things like beef jerky, or pork rinds, but not so much for fruits and vegetables, for example.

Freeze dryers on the other will yield a much airier texture. Granted, it will never be the same as it was before, but it will be pretty close, and an overall enjoyable experience to the senses.

Again, I’m not saying that a dehydrator will provide you with undesirable or distasteful results, but if you’re someone who really enjoys the texture in their food and are willing to pay a hefty price tag, a freeze dryer might be what you’ve been looking for. 

#6 Shelf Life

bottled dehydrated vegetables
Both appliances boast years of optimal preservation

As stated above, both machines can extend your food’s shelf life for months, or even years, but even in this scenario, they differ greatly.

While dehydrators can extend your food’s life span from anywhere between a couple of months, to a couple of years, freeze dryers can actually go as high as 25 years.

Now, being completely honest, it’s hard to see a scenario where you would want to keep something preserved for a quarter of a century, but hey, to each their own, right?

While hard data and evidence put freeze dryers much higher than dehydrators in this area, the right choice will be that which solves the most problems for you.

#7 Durability

Last, but definitely not least, let’s talk about durability.

Whether you’re looking into buying a dehydrator or a freeze dryer, you will be spending your hard-earned money, so it makes sense that you want your appliance to last for as long as possible. Especially if you’re buying the latter.

The best way to guarantee that your appliance will last for years is to buy from a reputable vendor and operate it correctly. While you might find cheaper off-brand alternatives out there, they might not be as durable as the originals. Remember, buy cheap, buy twice.

That being said, as long as you buy wisely, both your dehydrator and freeze dryer should last as long, if not more, than the foods they help you preserve.

In Conclusion, Which One Should You Get?

I know I’ve probably said this a million times, but it just can’t be stressed enough.

At the end of the day, the right appliance for you will be the one that meets your needs best and solves the most problems. If you’re looking for a domestic-use machine that will help you preserve your foods and prepare delicious meals for both you and yours, a dehydrator will most likely get the job done.

On the other hand, if you’re a proud restaurant owner and require a solution to keep your foods fresh for longer, and store them safely, a freeze dryer will be a godsend.

That being said, the demand for freeze dryers is increasing by the day all over the world. It would not be crazy to think that domestic models could be hitting the mainstream market any day now.

I promise that, as soon as they’re available, I’ll be the first to let you know.

Thank you for sticking with me all the way to the end. If you found this comparison helpful, why not keep the learning going with our other incredible resources below?

Happy shopping!