DIY Dehydrated Meals: Save Weight and Money

A veteran co-guide of mine explained to me how he likes to dehydrates a majority of his personal food for his annual 21 day Denali climb. I was quite surprised at how much weight he was able to drop from his food alone. Plus the cost is a fraction of what freeze dried meals cost in outdoor stores! One of his, and many of our guides's favorite go-to meals is Tasty Bites. If you are not familiar with them, they are all natural Indian food entrees. They generally cost between $2.75 and $3.75 per pack and they are quite flavorful and healthy! The only problem is that they average about 300 grams per package. The process of dehydrating a Tasty Bite meal decreases it weight by more than 80%. Instead of weighing 300 grams, the entree alone will only weigh about 50 grams! The rest of this article is the process that I used and the results.

Choose the Tasty Bite flavor(s) of your liking. I chose a variety of them but the process is pretty much the same regardless of flavor. I chose the Bombay Potatoes for my first experiment. It had chunks of potatoes, lentils and other goodies that I felt would dehydrate easily and would re-constitute well.

The first thing that you will want to do is spread the entire packet as thin and evenly as possible on your dehydrators solid tray that is meant for liquids. Make sure that most of the solids are separated from one another. This will speed up and ensure the drying process is even throughout the mixture. Once the mixture has been spread our close up the dehydrator and set it for 135 degrees F. At this temperature it will take about 4 hours for the mixture to be dry enough for the next step.

After about 4 hours the mixture should look darker, feel mostly dry and kinda flaky. The potatoes and other chunks will probably still feel kinda leathery and not quite dry. Next I transferred the mixture into a food processor in order to chop up the chunks a little bit so that they could be dried further without having to over dry the rest of the mixture. About ten quick bursts on the food processor is all it took to break things down to a nice flaky mixture that still keeps some small chunks but is more uniform in size than the original. After running the mixture through the food processor I redistributed it evenly back on the tray. I made sure to wash the oils off of the tray that were left from the initial drying and thoroughly dry the tray before spreading the chopped up mixture again.

 

The dried mixture prior to 

running through food processor.

After running the mixture through a food processor to break up chucks

You will want to dry the chopped mixture for approximately another hour at 135 degrees to achieve full dryness. Once fully dried my Bombay Potato mixture weighed only 54 grams. The approximately 1/2 cup of dried Tasty Bite did not look like it was going to be enough of a meal, so I added 1/2 cup of an instant brown rice for a bigger meal. The brown rice by itself weighed 60 grams. Once I placed the rice and dried Tasty Bite in a vacuum bag and sealed it up the whole entree weighed a scant 120 grams. This allows me to carry three dried meals for the same weight as one that is not dried!


Chopped up mixture fully dried.

From 300 grams to 54!

There are many different types of foods that can be easily dehydrated. Generally foods with less oils in them will dehydrate easily. If the food has too much oil it can take a long time to dry, or will not keep for a long period of time. I had troubles trying to dehydrate certain types of canned chili because of the amount of oils. Just check the ingredients list and look for items where oils are listed close to the end of the list (ingredients with lesser amounts) rather than closer to the top of the list (ingredients in greater amounts).

My best advice it to experiment with different meals before trying to make up meals for a trip you have planned for the coming weekend. Generally it will take at least 6-8 hours to fully dry, and package a single meal. I only used one solid tray at a time. In theory you could have several meals worth drying all at one time. Dry times may be longer for multiple trays going at one time. You will also want to figure out how much water to add back into the dried meal to rehydrate it. Initially I took the difference in the dried and pre-dried weights of the meal and added back that weight in water to rehydrate the meal. This ended up being too much water. The dried food will not reabsorb all of the water that was removed. I find that adding back ~75% of the water weight to rehydrate the meal works out OK. This will vary so again experimentation is key.

 

Fully packaged and vacuum sealed 120 grams.


3 comments

  • Jeff Voigt - AAI Shop Manager

    @ScottK
    Thanks for checking out our blog and posting a comment. For dehydrating foods for climbing, I have just been using a pretty basic Nesco dehydrator just like this one: http://www.nesco.com/products/Dehydrators/Dehydrators/FD-37-Food-Dehydrator-Clear-Cover/
    It is pretty inexpensive and gets the job done just fine!

  • ScottK

    any suggestions on a good make/model of dehydrator for someone wanting to do more changes like above article? For all around use and affordable. Thanks

  • Ahsan Choudary

    This is awesome advice. I just bought a food dehydrator and food processor. I will be making my own meals for my climb with AAI in July. Thanks for the help!

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