SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
Food culture presently persists on stirring classic forms of cookery with modern procedure and artistry.
As we familiarize ourselves with artisanal, organic, farm-to-table and small-batch provisions, our unconquered appetites tell us that this is the kind of food we must eat, heaven forbid we consume anything out of package or convenience! In my own insatiable way I am guilty of this same “gastronomic high mindedness.”
But is there a new trend on the horizon?
As far from farm-to-table as ET from home, mention freeze-dried food to your average American and their frame of reference is likely limited to astronaut feed.
However, the market has flourished in recent years as the fare is gaining traction in kitchens alike, as they too have found that there are some benefits to this kind of aliment. We even saw it used in the very notorious MasterChef Canada kitchen this past season. They too hopped on the space food bandwagon, inviting Chris Hadfield (the first Canadian to walk in space) to the judges panel. They called for the contestants to a 45-minute mystery box challenge where the home cooks were asked to create a gourmet dish featuring freeze dried food.
The contestants chose from freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, candied salmon, freeze-dried beef, and nuts, in which the results were impressively surprising!
Smoked salmon parfait with walnut crumb, chicken congee with a Japanese omelet, and a strawberry-raspberry crème brûlée tart were all beautifully constructed.
It is believed that at some point during humanity’s campaign to modernity, freeze-dried food was likely developed by accident. As far back as 1200 A.D., potatoes were situated on high elevation stone platforms to freeze overnight and then dry out in the sun.
Today freeze-drying is a three-step process that begins with flash freezing. The food is then placed in a vacuum chamber, which draws out nearly all the moisture. This is done under low heat where the frozen water crystals evaporate directly from ice to water vapor in a process called sublimation. Lastly the food undergoes a "secondary drying," in which any remaining water molecules are removed under slightly higher temperatures. Finally, the food is packaged in air tight, moisture-proof packing, giving the food a longer shelf life.
First, despite its space-age connotations, freeze-dried food is truly a superb development. Companies can promise long-term shelf life, lasting up to 25-30 years, which is perfect if you’re a food storage affiliate preparing for inflation, natural disasters or the zombie/alien apocalypse. (Sorry I just couldn’t help myself…)
Second, freeze-dried food is relatively healthy.
Freeze-drying removes negligible amounts of the naturally occurring nutrients in food all the whole retaining most of their flavor. Fiber remains intact, as do anti-oxidants and phytochemicals, which are chemical compounds that may provide protective health benefits.
If you don't typically eat enough fruit, for example, the freeze-dried strawberries in your morning cereal could provide nutrients that you miss elsewhere in your diet.
Most of us are not suffering from cold, hunger or exhaustion, so I doubt all that often we will tear into package of freeze dried spaghetti, add some boiling water and exhilaratingly devour the contents. However, I have found that I not only routinely use freeze-dried fruit in many of my baking projects, but I prefer them. They open up a whole new realm of possibilities within the baking sector.
I have often found that using fresh or frozen fruit in bakery products has been problematic in many cases due to the high water content that can cause leakage and staining resulting in the spoilage of the finished product. Because the moisture content in freeze dried products is typically below 5% the risk of spoilage is reduced greatly and provides a number of additional benefits! The fruits not only maintain their fresh taste and natural vibrant colours, but only a small amount needs to be used within a product to have a big impact on visual appearance. When adding to a buttercream or ganache, I grind it into a powder, which acts as an emulsifier by absorbing the fat and water, rather than contributing to it. Not only that but it provides a beautifully natural and stable color and flavor. It can’t be beat! If you haven’t ever used freeze dried fruit in your buttercream or baked goods, let me tell you, you must try it!
Even with an acquired taste for the honest influence of a perfectly plump, ripened, strawberry, or the vividly rooted hue of a blood turnip straight from the garden, the essence within that shiny little pouch that was once meant for astronauts and survivalists alike, sometimes carries within it some leverage. Don’t take my word for it; go and see for yourself. Who knows, maybe that can of freeze-dried blueberries that has rested in the back of your storage room all these years might actually be your new favourite kitchen ingredient. Trust me, it's worth giving freeze-dried foods a shot!
My husband and I currently reside in AB, Canada. We have been blessed with 2 amazing little men, ages 8 and 9. The 3 constants in my life are family, faith and food. Nothing brings me more satisfaction than creating and introducing my children to unique flavor profiles and new foods. I am happiest here, home, in the kitchen with my boys. Finding joy in the simple things. Savoring the sweet, the wholesome, and the good.