Freeze Dried Food - The 21st Century Instant Meal

freeze dried food for outdoor trips

Nutritionist Aimee K. Hockett, MS interviews our founder, Deana Del Vecchio about her inspiration for starting Bushka’s Kitchen. We discuss how we got started with freeze drying and the health benefits of choosing freeze dried meals as your next instant meal option.

Every year new services appear to support the busy 21st century life we lead. These services (from uber, to instacart, spotify, venmo) have formed a connected infrastructure on how we interact with each other and how we structure our days. With so much sharing of information and data, consumers are now demanding more accountability and transparency, which is a great thing as the more information a consumer has the more educated of a decision he or she can make. In the food industry, this has manifested as a big push for ingredient transparency from food manufacturers, a bigger focus on incorporating less processed foods into our diets, and a rework of what micro/macro stats (such as calories, added sugar, and vitamins) we should emphasize. These are just some of the changes rapidly happening in our industry!

For many people, the technology that we utilize to prepare our freeze dried meals is unfamiliar. So, why do we freeze dry? I interviewed our founder, Deana, for her thoughts.

Benefits of Freeze Drying

Convenience health food options are fantastic for the fact that they increase nutrient intake into our diet by improving accessibility. The hardest part of healthy eating for everyone is including the full range of recommended daily micronutrients. Unfortunately, many of these convenience items lose a lot in the process of production or storage. While many people increase their nutrient intake just by opting to include these types of products, they still lose a lot compared to fresh ingredients because of the nature of their production or storage. Do we really need to compromise so much of our nutrition when we opt for convenience? Is fresh the only way to achieve healthy & accessible? The answer is no! The freeze drying method retains most of the nutrient density, taste and quality end result. What exactly do freeze dried products do for us that others don’t?

The science behind freeze drying shows that there a number of benefits to this method. One study reports, “Due to the absence of liquid water and the low temperatures required for the process, most of deterioration and microbiological reactions are stopped which gives a final product of excellent quality” (Ratti, C. 2001). Other studies conclude there is a higher micronutrient value across proteins, omega fats, vitamin C and antioxidants compared to frozen and sun or heat dried products (Chan, J. C. et al. 1997).

freeze dried food fits all lifestylesFreeze drying has a higher initial energy investment, but with a tradeoff of a massive shelf life with little maintenance or degradation of quality, and virtually no energy to use after processing minus standard cooking if necessary (though with Bushka's Kitchen products no cooking is needed, just hot water.) Compared to other preservation methods, freeze drying fits every lifestyle! One massive benefit to freeze dried food is how flexible and easy to transport it is - bringing freeze dried meals on roadtrips, travel, or outdoor adventures is easy and lightweight. With the long shelf life, freeze dried food is suitable for emergency and disaster kits. Because of the near identical flavor to non dried foods, freeze dried meals and ingredients are fantastic for home cooking as well.

Let's compare to other popular methods of preservation. Freezing introduces a good chance of spoilage during the wait for thaw and more careful meal planning, often resulting in more net waste. Unless you have a deep flash freezer you also have a much more limited lifespan with things from freezer burn. If the power goes out, your food might spoil. Or, if you want to travel, you have to consume rather quickly and make sure the food is kept appropriately cold. Canning is the most cost effective method on both ends, but with variable lifespan, larger storage/heavy to transport, a moderate level of risk (eg, botulism) and a limit to what can be successfully preserved, it's not even comparable really to the benefits of freeze dried food.

So, I turned to our founder, Deana, to learn more about why she chose this method.

Aimee: “What inspired you to tackle the freeze drying method over others in your food business?”
Deana: “I originally started with dehydration as that was the simplest, easiest, and most widely available for making dried food. I grew up with a Dad who backpacked a lot so I was familiar with making my own dehydrated fruits & jerky. After about a year of experimenting, I remember having this moment where I went on this long road trip with boxes of new recipes. I felt very disappointed in the texture and how no matter how long I seemed to wait, some ingredients never fully rehydrated and always had a ‘crunch’. I just remember sitting there thinking to myself, ‘Wow, Deana, is this the best you can do?!’ and it was a very solid, ‘No, I can do better than this.’ In that moment, I started to seriously consider freeze drying as a potential change in direction. I got home from my trip, contracted with someone a few hours from me to test out their freeze dryer, and loved it so much that I wound up buying the machine from them!
The texture of the reconstituted product is what inspired me to freeze-dry. My goal has always been to put forth products that you would never guess had ever been dried in the first place because it tastes so fresh. The porous texture of freeze-dried food allows the water added to the meal to absorb into the food immediately so the rehydrated texture is very similar to the texture it was when it was fresh! I also love how much quicker the cooking process is compared to fresh or dehydrated ingredients. In addition to texture, I really did not want to compromise the nutrient density of the food I was serving people. Beyond just making a delicious ready to eat meal, the food has to be good for you and I did not want to lose any nutrition in the dehydrating process. It doesn’t need to be ‘green juice’ level healthy, but it does have to use ingredients that offer many health benefits. I was on a quest to find a method that would preserve as much of the nutrition profile as possible.”
Aimee: “So why a food business?”
Deana: “I never imagined I would start a food business - never! I have a degree in Physics and worked in research for a while before making the switch to software. My previous job was actually as the general manager of a small software startup. But the story starts a few years back when I was bringing my boyfriend on his first ever backpacking trip (!) and he had the brilliant idea of asking me if we could make our own food for the trip. We’re big foodies, so good food is important to both of us - we both see food as more than just a fuel source. Food is where conversations and relaxation happen, food is what you make memories and moments over. This experience sparked a lightbulb, so I started researching and experimenting with dried food. After a while, I said to myself, ‘Hey, these are way better than the meals I can buy at the store. I wonder if other people would want these too?’”

In choosing freeze drying as an option to preserve ingredients at Bushka’s, we want you to feel confident that your choices are the best for you. With so much change occurring in how our food industry operates, we want to get ahead on prioritizing your options for nutrition and convenience.

The Impact of the Freeze Drying Method

What happens when you make the plunge to get fresh ingredients, prep your meals and then life happens so you decide to get take out instead of cooking? So much food gets thrown out and we end up feeling negatively about ourselves for our food waste and struggles to commit to a fresh food diet. Freeze dried meal options not only save you time and preserve your nutrients, but allows a certain level of flexibility that fresh does not. Freeze drying accesses an unknown area of healthy eating that includes the best of both worlds: optimal nutrition and optimal convenience.
freeze dried cherry tomatoes

I asked Deana what are her thoughts with respect to food waste and how freeze drying impacts this.

Deana: “Don't get me wrong, I think fresh is best for the majority of our diet. But sometimes, fresh isn't the most convenient or even possible depending on your circumstances! I'm not lugging fresh avocados on a 10 day backpacking trips. But it's really difficult right now to find an equal alternative to fresh food.
Often times we wind up over buying at the supermarket and throwing so much away. I'm guilty of this as well. I think freeze drying could change how we deal with food waste in this country. We produce so much that never makes it into the hands of consumers - but what if we could freeze dry all the almost too ripe or ugly produce. The nutrition is still there even if it’s not perfect. Food kit boxes are all the rage now - but they still do not address the problem of modern American life. The fact is that Americans are on the go a lot, and fresh produce and meats often spoil before they can be fully used up. Too many people spend late nights at the office, running errands, driving between several family activities all without a plan for dinner. These food kit boxes don’t solve that dilemma because how can you sacrifice all that just to make time for healthy food? After all, what does the person “on the go” eat if they don’t have the time (or energy!) to make the food? This is where I think healthy freeze dried meals will be the most impactful. Just like boxed rice and instant potatoes is a staple in the pantry, I see freeze dried meals or just freeze dried ingredients making their way into the average American pantry”
local manufacturing
Aimee: "Local manufacturing is a cornerstone of Bushka's Kitchen, and Bushka meals are produced in Bayview, which is where you also live. How do you see this impacting your local community?”
Deana: “My community is so important to me. One thing I’m super excited about is the fact that I just relocated the kitchen to Bayview. Bayview has historically been an impoverished area currently experiencing an economic rebirth that I want to participate in as I expand operations and grow this company. I’m excited to create jobs for the people who live next to me and have them participate in my mission to create change. I’m excited about the small impact that will have for us and surrounding communities who eat my food.
Where I live, takeout is burritos, pizza, or burgers. I love those things, but not as a consistent staple in my diet. Having healthy meals I can whip up as quickly as I make my cup of tea or coffee has been a game changer in my personal life. Getting home at 11pm? No problem, instant meal. Going to be on the road all day long? No problem, I’ll make an instant meal in my thermos OR I’ll stop at a gas station and grab hot water- it’s that easy. The flexibility to support my busy life has been amazing. I want to share that level of nourishment and freedom with other people!”

The Future For Bushka's?

At Bushka’s Kitchen, it is our goal to make sure we bring you the best experience with food. Whether you travel, eat on the go, spend a lot of time outdoors, or just don’t love to spend time and energy cooking your meals, we want you to experience the full nourishing benefits of your food. Healthy food can do more than fuel you through the day. Few convenience items will nourish your soul, excite your taste-buds and fuel your body as much as our freeze dried meals. Our goal is to help you enjoy your life to the fullest while prioritizing the health of our communities and environment.

Deana: “I started this company because I wanted to provide great food for outdoor adventures, whether that be backpacking, hunting, rafting, roadtripping - you name it! However you like to spend your time outdoors, I want to make sure you have an equally delicious and healthy meal to go along with it. I think as a culture, we do not spend enough time outside breathing in fresh air and feeling the sun on our faces. Time outdoors is one facet of having a healthy, peaceful mind and for that you need good fuel that also makes you happy. The outdoor community is the one I’m most passionate about.
I’m also on the go a lot. Besides working full time on this company, I also train a sports dog, participate in urban farming/gardening, and explore other entrepreneurial projects in the bay area. I’m at the gym 2-3 times a week and I try to fit in a day or night of hiking. I understand ‘busy’ and how easy it is to order takeout after a long day.
I want to be versatile because on one hand, I want to improve the quality of taste & nutrition of the food available to the outdoors community, but I want to work with busy/active people in general as that’s also a lifestyle I identify with.”

Traditionally, heat or sun dried methods have been popular for backpacking and emergency food items. With optimal nutrition becoming our main focus, freeze drying may answer that need to support many different elements of health. The goal is to reduce potentially harmful preservatives, maximize optimal micronutrient density and fill the need for immediate, convenient fuel that is also enjoyable. While traditional methods continue to be the trend, freeze dried foods are the next big pantry staple because few products can compete with the multitude of benefits they have to offer.

Simply put, we believe everyone should have access to healthy, filling meals no matter where you go or what your adventure is!
freeze dried food for camping adventures

Chan, J. C., Cheung, P. C., & Ang, P. O. (1997). Comparative Studies on the Effect of Three Drying Methods on the Nutritional Composition of Seaweed Sargassum hemiphyllum(Turn.) C. Ag.†. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 45(8), 3056-3059. doi:10.1021/jf9701749

Ratti, C. (2001). Hot air and freeze-drying of high-value foods: A review. Journal of Food Engineering,49(4), 311-319. doi:10.1016/s0260-8774(00)00228-4

Royte, E. (2016, March). How ‘Ugly’ Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger. National

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