Food Preservation for Self-Sufficiency
Food preservation is essential for everyone. The reasons are many: Natural disasters, food shortages, life emergencies/changes, convenience, and cost.
Preserving food is a great way to build our deep pantry.
Please keep in mind that although some of the techniques below are as simple a throwing some chopped green peppers into a ziplock bag and then freezing, other methods require some learning and skill. Preserving food should be done diligently, know the risks and the proper techniques to ensure you and your family’s safety.
The Deep Pantry
Deep pantry is a term used by preppers and is now becoming quite popular after the 2020 food shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A deep pantry is a backup of food, water, and other supplies that can last from 2 weeks to several years. How deep depends on the purpose of your deep pantry and the amount of storage available.
You can buy food to build your deep pantry, and/or you can preserve your own. If you have a garden, you know it is easy to have an abundance of produce. Many times it is hard to know what to do with it all. If you don’t have a garden you might want to consider it. Read, How to Start a Garden and Why You Should.
You can certainly give it to the neighbors and your local food pantry.
You can also save a little money and ensure you have highly nutritious food to last the winter or through hard times by preserving your food.
Types of food preservation:
- Freeze Drying
Each type of preservation has advantages and disadvantages. Some foods are better preserved with one method over the others.
Let’s look at each one.
Some people are surprised to find out the variety of foods you can freeze. You can freeze tomatoes, bell peppers, lemons, limes, ginger, kale, spinach, and much more.
* Equipment – You don’t need special equipment for freezing – just ziplock bags, a cookie sheet, wax paper, and a freezer. You can also freeze foods in Mason canning jars.
* Simplicity – Freezing does not require as much “fuss” as canning, generally speaking. There is no sterilization of containers or long cooking times.
* Safety – Many foods can be frozen without boiling water, steam, pressure, or the use of the stove.
* Longevity – Frozen foods are virtually immune to spoilage as long as they are in the freezer. Freezer burn can happen, but the low temperatures stop bacteria growth.
* Texture – There’s no doubt that freezing produce affects its texture. This is because water swells when it freezes. Plant foods are made up of mostly water, so when you freeze them, the water inside the plant’s cells expands and causes the cell walls to burst. The result is “floppy” produce.
* Space – If you don’t have a separate freezer, storing the harvest in your home freezer attached to the fridge can take up a lot of space.
* Electricity – If the power goes out for a length of time, you could lose your frozen produce.
According to Clemson.edu,
“Canning is an important, safe method of food preservation if practiced properly. The canning process involves placing foods in jars and heating them to a temperature that destroys microorganisms that could be a health hazard or cause the food to spoil. Canning also inactivates enzymes that could cause the food to spoil. Air is driven from the jar during heating, and as it cools, a vacuum seal is formed. The vacuum seal prevents air from getting back into the product bringing with it microorganisms to recontaminate the food.”
*Saves Money – If you buy your food in season from local farmers or take advantage of supermarket sales, you can produce large quantities of high-quality canned food for little money.
Dried beans are a good example – a 2-lb bag of dried beans for $2, cooked and canned, produces 4 to 6 pints of canned beans. A pint is a bit more than a commercial can, making your efforts well worth it.
Taking advantage of seasonal, local foods saves money, too. Many vendors at open-air markets will sell boxes of “canning fruits” or “canning vegetables.” These can be very reasonable, producing more than their worth.
*Healthier – When you can food yourself, you know exactly what went into the jar. Your canned food will not have all the added preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, or any other toxins and chemicals. You can control the amount of sugar and salt. And, the glass jars are free of BPA, which is a chemical in the can that has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and birth defects, according to past research.
There is a higher level of nutrients due to decreased amount of transport time. You can get your food from garden or market to jar in a matter of hours.
*Customization – Canning your own foods means you can choose how much and what combinations of foods to can. You don’t have to go to the store and get a can of corn, tomatoes, and green beans if you have a home-canned quart of these vegetables mixed already.
*Storage – You don’t need a special receptacle for canned goods as you do for frozen. If the power goes out, your canned goods will be just fine in the pantry or cellar.
*Gifts – Have you ever received homemade jam or salsa as a gift for Christmas? Canned goods make excellent holiday gifts, and they are inexpensive and come from the heart. My Christmas jam was a big hit last year.
*Nutrients – Some sources point out that cooking and heating destroys nutrients, whereas freezing tends to preserve them.
*Equipment – A pressure canner is pretty much essential for canning any low-acid food, and pressure canners are not necessarily cheap. You also need quality glass jars, tongs, and a wide-mouthed funnel.
*Precautions – You do need to take special precautions when canning, and you need to go to great lengths to ensure that everything is sterilized and the heat is high enough and applied long enough.
You have heard of freeze-dried ice cream right? or how about those military MRE’s? or Ramen noodles?
Well, these are foods that have undergone a process called lyophilization- aka Freeze-drying.
This high-tech freezing technique skips the liquid freezing and turns it directly into a gas (sublimation), removing all the water from the food.
*Retains the Nutrients in Food – Freeze drying does a superb job of preserving the nutrients in food. According to Harvest Right:
- Freeze-dried foods retain 97% of nutrients
- Dehydrated foods retain 60% of nutrients
- Canned foods retain 40% of nutrients
The International Journal of Molecular Science cited a study that found antioxidants such as beta carotene and linoleic acid were retained in most of the fruits that were tested.
According to a study conducted by Newcastle University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Global Ingredient Producer Chaucer, freeze-drying fruit retains almost all of its nutritional value and can help keep ingredient lists clean.
Sheffield University found that freeze-dried fruits retained 100% of vitamin C and only lost 8% of total antioxidants.
Vitamins and antioxidants are susceptible to heat, and this makes freeze-drying a fantastic option for preserving food.
*Better Taste and Texture – Foods are crisper and explode with flavor. If you have ever tried a freeze-dried strawberry, you will know what I am talking about. This does not apply to all foods, especially if you have to rehydrate them. The texture is not optimal once rehydrated, but usually better than canned or dehydrated foods. If you want to try some freeze-dried food, you can order them from Valley Food Storage and Wise.
*Shelf Life – Freeze-dried foods can last more than 25 years if kept from light and moisture.
*Lightweight – Unlike canned foods, freeze-dried products are extremely light. This is because all of the moisture has been removed. Your better freeze dryer machines have humidity sensors that won’t stop until all the food is completely dry.
Using this process is ideal for backpacking and stocking your Bug Out Bag.
Freeze drying is arguably the best way to preserve food, but there are a few disadvantages to note.
*Size – The machines are very big and heavy, so you need a place you can keep it without having to move it around.
*Sound – They are noisy so the place you choose should be somewhere out of the way and not in your TV room.
*Maintenance – There is regular maintenance that is required. It is a machine with a vacuum pump and will need the oil changed every 5-7 batches, power flush every 10-12 batches, and of course, the interior will need regular cleaning.
*Oil spray – One common issue these machines have is oil spraying. This is because it can be tricky getting the oil level just right. The oil level increases a bit once it is turned on. The oil may spray all over the place. This may also happen if the pump malfunctions and doesn’t create a vacuum.
Again, placement of the machine is important. Maybe like a garage?
*Home Freeze Dryers are VERY expensive.
Freeze drying may be one of the best ways to preserve food, but it is the most costly.
It may pay for itself over years of use, but for regular food preservation, it is probably not worth the money. You can buy freeze-dried foods for things like backpacking or your bug-out bag.
Dehydrating had been an effective method of food preservation since the beginning of time.
Low heat and airflow removes moisture through evaporation. The lack of moisture is what prevents the growth of yeast, mold, and bacteria.
There are different techniques, including using the oven or using one of the many styles of dehydrators on the market.
I have a very basic model which works great for me.
You can dehydrate meat, fruit, veggies, herbs, etc.
*Lightweight – Dehydrating food is similar to freeze-drying in that it removes moisture and is lightweight.
*Dehydrating may be better for certain foods, like beef jerky, fruit leather, drying herbs, etc.
*Cost – It is very inexpensive. You can even use this method in your oven. Although, a dehydrator is easier to use and is still quite inexpensive, especially compared to a freeze dryer machine.
*Much easier to use. Not complicated, and most dehydrators have a heating element and a fan. Simple to use and to clean.
*Quiet – You may hear the humming of the fan, but it is not loud and it can be used on your kitchen counter and put away in the cabinet or closet when not being used.
*Shelf life – Foods do not last as long as freeze-drying. We are talking 1-5 years compared to 25 or more years that you would get with freeze-drying.
*Nutrient retention – Only about 60% of the nutrients are retained with dehydrating as opposed to almost all of the nutrients being retained with freeze-drying.
*Convenience – It takes a little longer to rehydrate the food compared to freeze-dried.
*Texture – Once rehydrated, some food foods have a mushy texture compared to freeze-dried.
Cultured food, also known as fermented food has been around since 7000 BC. Back before refrigeration or electricity, people fermented food they wanted to keep from spoiling.
Fruits and vegetables they grew throughout the summer months could be stored and eaten throughout the winter.
The fermentation process relies on microbes. Microbes are found everywhere and are responsible for both illness and health. Our gut relies on good microbes to balance and keep the bad microbes in check.
Foods you may be familiar with are yogurt, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kombucha, and kefir.
The process used to ferment or culture the food depends on the type of food being cultured. It will be salt, salt and whey, or starter culture.
Vegetables are typically fermented using salt.
* Ingredients are minimal and typically consist of your produce, salt, and filtered water.
* Although more studies need to be performed, there is evidence of numerous health benefits. Antioxidant, antidiabetic, easier digestion, and due to the enhanced gut microbiome, may provide a modulatory effect on the brain and central nervous system.
* You do not need to use the stove, which makes this process handy in the hot summer months.
* Improves the flavor of food
* It takes some skill and practice to understand the fermentation process. There is a bit of a learning curve.
* It can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. If spoiled food is consumed instead of fermented food, it could cause illness.
* It takes time. Foods ferment at different speeds depending on the type of food, the temperature, and the desired level of fermentation. This can take from a few days to a few weeks.
* Once your food has obtained the level of fermentation you desire, you will need to slow down the process by placing in a cold cellar or your refrigerator.
* Changes the flavor of food, which may or may not be appreciated.
As you see, there are many differences, advantages, and disadvantages.
You will most likely not choose just one type, but a combination of these preservation methods.
I love canning soups, stews, beans, meats, and spaghetti sauce, but prefer to freeze vegetables. I love my dehydrator for jerky, mushrooms, and herbs.
I do not have a freeze dryer yet(waiting for the prices to come down, which eventually they will just like computers and TVs).
No matter which method you use, having food stored in your deep pantry will give you a sense of pride knowing you have delicious, healthy food available in case of emergency or when you are tired after a long day at work and just don’t feel like cooking.