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It’s often said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Botched surgical procedures aside, there’s truth to this adage. In a SHTF scenario, few things can lift the spirits and restore energy faster than a perfectly seasoned hot meal. A hearty serving of good grub can have you back in action and ready to tackle the many challenges of staying alive in a hostile environment.
The catch-22 associated with our inherent desire for hot, flavorful, and nutritious food is that it becomes harder to obtain when times are tough. You can’t scavenge for cheeseburgers, and tacos don’t grow on trees (if only). This is why preparation is key. Stockpiling food in your pantry, vehicle, and bug-out bag can keep you running on all cylinders when the rest of society is stalled in panic mode. Unfortunately, emergency food storage has its own dilemmas — weight, bulk, and limited shelf life.
Dehydrated or freeze-dried food avoids many of these flaws by removing a single component: water. Due to its heavy weight, incompressibility, and tendency to promote growth of food-spoiling microbes, water content in food is detrimental to long-term storage. By subtracting this moisture, dehydrated food becomes significantly lighter and more compact, making it ideal for use in a camping pack or bug-out bag. It also offers a tremendous extension of shelf life; freeze-dried food can last 30 years or more in cool and dry conditions.
Fortunately for us, freeze-dried food isn’t just for astronauts these days. There are a variety of commercially available dehydrated survival food choices, ranging from grab-and-go snack pouches to huge buckets for long-term disaster prep. Flavors are equally varied, with a smorgasbord for every palate. We selected six of the leading dehydrated food producers on the market, and requested two entree flavors from each. After adding boiling water to rehydrate the meals, we dug in. Read on to hear the culinary impressions of our three-man taste-testing team (which consists of the head editor of RECOIL OFFGRID, Patrick Vuong; our network manager, John Schwartze; and this author, web editor Patrick McCarthy).
The terms “dehydrated” and “freeze-dried” are often used interchangeably, leading to some confusion about their true meanings.
Dehydration is a blanket term for any process that removes some (but not necessarily all) moisture. All of the food in this guide is dehydrated; items like beef jerky and raisins also fall under this category. Food can be dehydrated by subjecting it to heat and air circulation under controlled humidity, but these processes only remove a fraction of the food’s moisture content.
Freeze-dried food is a subset of dehydrated food. However, its production is more complex, so it’s typically only produced on a commercial scale. In order to be freeze-dried, food must be flash-frozen, then placed in a vacuum chamber at about -50 degrees F. This combination of low pressure and temperature causes moisture to sublimate from ice directly into water vapor, escaping from the food. Freeze-drying removes virtually all water content, resulting in an extremely long shelf life. It also maintains microscopic pores throughout the food, reducing the chewiness and shriveling effects sometimes created by heated dehydration.
Whether dehydrated or freeze-dried, these survival meals can be reconstituted through the addition of hot water.
Got a sweet tooth? In addition to the items reviewed here, we also collected six dehydrated sweet snack items to complement our survival meals — one item from each company in this guide. To read our thoughts on these dehydrated sweet snacks, go to www.offgridweb.com/survival/dehydrated-food.