When I first got into prepping I immediately dove deep into food preservation. In my mind, the name of the game was figuring out how to preserve food and store it away for times of need. In my process of discovering the best ways to do this I ran across three methods – canning, freezing, and freeze drying. I started out with canning and freezing because those were the two methods most available to me at the time. I had everything I needed to start canning plus I own a large storage freezer where I freeze all my meats.
I quickly discovered the pros and cons to each of these methods and now prefer freeze drying to all other methods – although I do still can and I do still have my freezer full of food.
Before I dive into the a full review of my Harvest Right Freeze dryer I would like to outline a few reasons why I don’t like canning and freezing as a long term food preservation method…
The cons of canning
Don’t get me wrong, canning is a great way to preserve your food. But, it’s one of the most time consuming and difficult processes around. The cans have to be sealed perfectly and there’s a large margin for error at many steps of the way. Canning requires you to cook your food before they are canned. The process of cooking the foods prior to canning them leaches nutrients, leaving you with a food almost empty of nutrition. Canned foods contain only 35% the amount of nutrients as their fresh food counterparts. There’s also a lot of equipment you need to purchase prior to canning and the canning process takes the whole day. It’s A LOT of work and you need to carve out a lot of time (and kitchen space) to make any headway.
The cons of freezing
Freezing is usually the first thing to come to mind for those getting into food preservation. For those that already have a deep freezer, it seems like an obvious choice. Freezing is a great short-term food preservation method as long as you have power. Here you can clearly see the first major con of freezing your food – what do you do when the power goes out? Lots of people are getting into food preservation, otherwise known as “prepping”, in order to prepare for periods where the systems we rely on are no longer available (electricity.) Even if you have a backup generator, how long can you run that before you run out of gas? Your food will eventually thaw out and you’ll be forced to consume it before it spoils.
If you want to go long term with your food preservation preps, freezing can only preserve your food for so long. Fresh meats will preserve up to a year while many foods only last a few months.
How The Harvest Right Freeze Dryer Works
Freeze drying is by far the most effective and the easiest way to preserve your food for the long term. And when I say long term I’m talking decades. Freeze drying protects your food against the main spoilers – water and oxygen. When you place your food into a device like the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer, it freezes your food and creates a vacuum. The food is then warmed and the frozen water evaporates, leaving your food dry as a bone and ready for serious long term storage.
Personal review of the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer
My first response to the dryer was “holy cow, that’s expensive.” At just around around $3,000 USD, I had sticker shock and I’m fairly certain I went slack jaw for a minute or so. I had to do the research to determine if the investment was worth it. I wanted to know everything. How much power did it consume? How much food can I freeze dry at one time? How long does it take? What about maintenance? (I’m going to answer all these questions in just a minute.) One thing was for certain – there were a lot of people ranting and raving about this thing. Entire Facebook groups had formed around the product and people had a lot of good things to say about it. I saw some reviews where people received defective units but the problem was quickly sorted by Harvest Right customer service, which also seems to be fantastic. They even have their own techs who come on site to fix problems.
A few months ago I bought it:
I have since been relentlessly freeze drying foods and rehydrating foods to get a sense of the full capabilities of the machine. I love this machine. Below I have put together a FAQ in an attempt to answer as many questions about the freeze dryer as possible. Let’s start with the basic specs.
Specs, parts, and dimensions
The Harvest Right website describes the machine perfectly – “It’s larger than a microwave but smaller than an oven.” It is happy to fit inside any kind of nook in your home. I had mine sitting right on top of my dining room table until the wife could not tolerate it anymore. The dimensions are modest:
- Height – 30″
- Width – 20″
- Depth – 25″
- Weight – 100 lbs
- Power Requirements – 110 Volts
If you decide to order the dryer, you will find it comes well packaged. Both sides of the unit are protected by thick fitted slabs of foam and the top and bottom of the package are generously stuffed with expanding foam as well. The cardboard box it ships in is industrial strength thick. Not that the unit needs protecting – the frame of the unit is constructed out of stainless steel, looks slick, and feels solid. At 100 lbs you might need a second person to move this thing around but you can manage it into most places with any decent dolly. (Be sure to give the FedEx guy a hand with this one!)
Opening the door of the unit reveals the inner chamber, sealed by a thick rubber ring and chocked full of more protective packaging. Inside was the tray assembly and all four trays. The tray frame was easily installed and could only slide in one way.
Also in the box is the “brain” of the unit – the vacuum pump. The vacuum pump comes disassembled from the main unit and encased in its own packing material. Alongside the pump is a quart of oil and instructions on prepping the pump and connecting it to the unit.
I was happy to see the assembly and operations manual in the box, although you really don’t need them. Assembly is drop dead simple. Connect the vacuum pump into the unit with the supplied vacuum hose, plug the electrical plug from the vacuum into the unit, and then plug the unit into the wall.
After that you can fire her up and begin the pre-cooling process. The unit has a touchscreen LCD panel where you start the machine and control various functions of the dryer.
How much food can you freeze dry at a time?
The machine has 4 generous trays you can place food on. These trays can fit anywhere from 6 – 10 pounds of food. As long as you spread the food evenly on the tray there isn’t a problem. If you stack too much food on the trays not all of it will properly freeze dry. Here’s a recent batch of green bell peppers, berries, and apples totaling roughly 7 pounds:
Most of this weight is water weight. When they come out of the freeze dryer they are light as a feather and ready for long term storage.
What about noise?
I would say it’s slightly louder than your dish washer. It’s certainly audible but not intrusively audible. After a few times the sound becomes background noise. The nice thing is that it’s compact enough to fit anywhere in your house. You could easily stuff it away into a dark corner of your garage or a place where you can’t hear it.
Most of the maintenance is directed towards the Vacuum pump. The Vacuum pump requires 3 cups of oil to operate and needs to be changed periodically. Each time you use the freeze dryer you must remove a tablespoon of oil. After 5 – 7 times the oil needs to be changed completely. It’s an easy process but something you’ll be doing on a regular basis if you use the machine a lot.
It’s also recommended to perform a “power flush” every 10 – 12 cycles. This cleans the vacuum pump and aggressively flushes out any build up of heavy particles. The process is well documented both in the supplied documentation and on the Harvest Right website.
Power consumption is modest. I wouldn’t have bought the machine if it was an energy hog. Doing the research I found many owners only saw a marginal increase in their electric bill with continued use of the machine. Harvest Right has crunched the numbers if you’re looking for an exact estimate of power consumed by the freeze dryer:
What kinds of food can you freeze dry?
Any food can be freeze dried. Everything from meat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables can be turned in to dehydrated versions while retaining the same amount of nutrition. You can even freeze dry whole meals like spaghetti. Foods with a higher water content will take longer to freeze dry than foods with little water content. Here are some freeze dried ice cream sandwiches. Yes, you heard that right!
How does freeze dried food taste?
Without any water content, most food tastes and has the same consistency as chips. Some foods like vegetables can become great snacks while other foods like meats and dairies are better once they rehydrate. Basically, anything you would eat as a”chip” becomes very tasty once it has been freeze dried. Every food I’ve freeze dried has rehydrated back to its normal state and you can hardly tell the difference.
What I love about the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer
The freeze dryer makes preserving and storing food extremely simple. I no longer spend all day canning and I can spend my time doing things that produce food, like gardening and farming. I simply load up the trays and wait. From a long term storage standpoint it doesn’t get much better than freeze drying. My food goes into Mylar bags where they can be stored for decades at a time. The food retains all of its nutritional value and food tastes as fresh as the day you got it.
It has simplified the way I store and preserve my food.
Things I don’t like
Not everything is sunshine and rainbows. For starters, the freeze dryer is very expensive. It’s an investment which requires you to evaluate your food storage needs. The price tag will put this machine far out of reach for many people and that’s too bad.
Secondly, the maintenance can get annoying. While the process is simple, changing out the oil and remembering to cycle the vacuum through a power flush takes time. I don’t mind the maintenance but certainly wouldn’t mind a more hands off approach. Perhaps in later models this will become a reality.
The size of the machine is another consideration. You will need a place to store it. If you’re particularly sensitive to the noise, you’ll need to find a place that’s out of the way. Mine is in the garage and that’s a great place for it in my opinion.
Are you the type of person who wants to prepare for a fully blown catastrophe? Do you want an easy method to preserve and store food for the long term? Do you have the money to invest in the proper equipment? If so, the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer is a great investment for your home. Talk to anybody who has one and they will tell you – this is a great machine and makes the process of preserving and storing food an absolute snap.
If you haven’t already, check out the Harvest Right website and cruise around. There are also surprisingly active Facebook groups you can join if you have any questions. Feel free to drop a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Good luck!