Topic by topic, we're giving folks a window into the world of how we create delicious backpacking meals. When we discovered that many packaged foods come out of facilities that “co-pack” on behalf of various labels, ending up next to each other on shelves, we set out to pave a new path so we wouldn't have to compromise when it came to your meals. We wanted to make your meals ourselves.
At Gastro Gnome, we cram a whole lot of skills into our building to establish a rare food business where everything can be accomplished by our team, under one roof. We bring in fresh ingredients from a local purveyor and take it all the way to a packaged product that ships nationwide. We are in a unique position to share about how our food, ultimately your adventure food, is crafted at a deeper level. 'Freeze Drying 101' breaks the ice below.
Here’s the gist of what allows us to send you off into the woods with ridiculously tasty meals, explained by our resident food scientist, Matthew Weaver. Dive into how we keep Gastro Gnome shelf, er, backpack stable for you.
Freeze drying is a process often applied to food to make it shelf stable, like the ones we’re used to carrying in our packs in the wilderness. But we’re certainly not the first to step foot into the wilderness, nor apply this method of food preservation. In the 15th century, the Incas discovered the most rugged form of freeze drying when they observed that food left on top of an icy mountain would become significantly more dry over time. The physics phenomenon they discovered is called “sublimation”, the same root process used in freeze drying today. While we no longer place food on top of the mountain to sublimate, we tend to eat our meals in places where this form of drying was first discovered.
Quick and dirty on sublimation: First, ice-filled (frozen) food is subjected to very low pressure, think a cold and high mountain environment. Then, when temperatures rise slightly under low pressure, like when the sun hits and warms it up, ice transitions from a solid chunk to a vapor without ever becoming a liquid (water). This leaves the food void of water with porous spaces where ice used to be. So, why the hell does this matter?
Well, it takes more than just a great Chef at The Gnome to create the perfect meal in the woods. Sorry, Shannon! But together, we’re all about the final product. The meal has to be just as good in our kitchen as when you rehydrate a meal way out in the backcountry- and that's not possible through dehydration. Likely you've noticed dehydrated backpacking foods have characteristics reminiscent of jerky. In the case of dehydrating, water is slowly removed via heat, compacting the space between and inside of each cell, making it very difficult for water to enter the space. Rehydrating freeze dried food is like adding water onto a sponge whereas rehydrating dehydrated food is well...like pouring water onto jerky.
Dehydrated foods often require additives to ensure it's safe to eat. Instead, our process eliminates nearly all water (re: weight) in a way that results in an extremely porous and lightweight product with no need for additives. Not only is this extremely shelf stable, but our meals rehydrate really quickly, and are almost identical in texture, flavor, and quality of the original delicious meal.
When it comes down to it, lightweight gear and fuel for the body are the two things that will make the backcountry significantly more enjoyable. Sure, you can have heavy gear and crappy food, but the end result won't feel as great in a few different places- if you catch that pun. Our team at Gastro Gnome Meals work with clean, tasty ingredients and use science and technology to ensure they are just as amazing in our shop as when you tear open a bag deep into the backcountry.
And with that, I'll let the drying lesson come to and end so you can get back out there and do whatever it is you love to do!
See, that wasn’t an overload of science- Just enough to get the basics and grasp why we choose to freeze dry for you and your adventures. If you like hearing about what goes on under the hood at Gastro Gnome, tell us. We'll have Matthew put down the calculator and share a few more stories. Want a specific topic covered? Holler. We'll get it in the line up.