Freeze dried food is nothing new, it has been around since the 1940s but lay in the realm of large commercial operations. In recent years the prospect of freeze drying your own food has become feasible. Drying with sun has been done for Centuries and various forms of heat drying have been popular for decades, so why not freeze drying.
Dehydrating and freeze drying are similar, but not the same. Dehydrating uses either light [sunlight] or heat to evaporate moisture out of food and is easily done at home. Freeze drying also uses heat at lower exposures. Freeze drying requires an investment in equipment that will freeze the food as well as expedite evaporation. Food that is freeze dried with rare exceptions will rehydrate for consumption more readily.
Freeze drying starts with freezing. The food is then placed in a vacuum chamber under low heat. The small amount of heat rapidly evaporates the crystalized water, it goes from ice to vapor bypassing the liquid phase, this is known as sublimination. A secondary drying phase follows durring which any moisture that escaped the sublimination process is extracted, this too invloves the use of heat.
The food is then refrozen and nitrogen sealed for storage. Free oxygen leads to food spoilage, it oxidizes when combined with oxygen. Nitrogen in this process replaces the oxygen present and lengthens the foods shelf life.
The end result, the freeze dried food once rehydrated, so long as nothing went wrong in the process is generally high quality so far as taste is concerned. Failure to rehydrate the food leaves you with a flavorfull snack with the texture of styrofoam.
A major drawback to freeze drying at home is the cost. Not only the initial investment in equipment but the energy expenditure as well. Freeze drying is an energy hog, it is one of the most energy intensive methods of preserving food. Commercial operations freeze dry their food in huge quantities, which makes it cost effective. Small batch freeze drying ventures, whether it be for resale or personal use need to factor in the energy expenditure as well as the carbon footprint before diving in. There are some products available retail that are designed to use less electric and claim to be more more energy efficient.
Harvest Right is the leading manufacturer that has pioneered freeze driers for the consumer and they lay claim to being reasonably energy efficient.
Freeze drying for personal use will pay for itself in the long run so long as you are able to process enough food. A cupboard full of freeze dried produce, either home grown , purchased 'in season' or in bulk or even leftovers can substanially reduce a families grocery bills.