Freeze-Dryers are already set to freeze-dry most of the food we want without adjusting the preset time. However, some freeze-dryer owners like to adjust the time to allow them to check on the food earlier or later than usual.
The Harvest Right Freeze-Dryer allows users to customize the unit’s freezing, drying time, and temperature via touchscreen arrows. The exact steps depend on the firmware version. These features are important, especially when working with delicate food like herbs.
Here’s a guide on adjusting the settings of a freeze-dryer and some helpful tips that will help maintain the machine and get the best freeze-dried goods out of it. These are all great ways to enjoy freeze-dried snacks or meals.
How Do You Add Time to a Freeze-Dryer?
The freeze-dryer screen menu has two options on startup; the start or customize option. We can customize the time and temperatures in the freeze-dryer by selecting the customize button (new loads) or the countdown timer (on running loads) to adjust the time as needed.
This is the gist of how it works no matter what firmware version you have on your freeze-dryer; however, there will be slight differences between the various versions.
A basic freeze-dryer will allow us to adjust temperatures and extra dry time. Harvest Right freeze-dryers default settings have the option for an additional drying time of two hours. However, some people increase this time just to be sure. We are in that camp – we almost always add more time.
In addition, some ingredients tend to retain a bit of extra moisture even after the freeze-drying process, so many people add to the extra-dry time as an extra step to keep their trays warm before they store the product.
Other freeze-dryer models allow the owner to adjust the freeze and final dry time. However, according to the manual, adding and decreasing the freeze time is usually not advisable. To be safe, most people increase their dry time to ensure quality products.
One amazing thing about the Harvest Right Freeze-Dryer is that we can adjust the time on the fly. So, if the product is dry enough, even while the timer is still running, we can always change the timer to zero to finish up.
A touchscreen button on the right part of the countdown timer will allow us to adjust the time as needed.
How Do You Speed up Freeze-Drying?
The best way to speed up the freeze-drying process is by pre-freezing the food before processing it in a freeze-dryer. This shortens the freeze-drying process and keeps the food safer as it is kept out of the warmer “danger zone” temperatures.
A person can easily adjust the freeze dryer’s temperature and decrease drying time. However, this process may be a bit harmful to some of the more delicate produce like herbs. We suggest pre-freezing the food in a freezer before freeze-drying to speed up the overall process.
Meanwhile, for food with thick skin, many home users find it helpful to cut it up so that some parts are more exposed, allowing the heat to dry out the food easier. Others also suggest maximizing the tray so heat or cold will be evenly distributed throughout.
If you are working with fruit, this article will give further information for success! Complete Guide to Freeze Dried Fruit (with pictures).
Tips On Managing the Heating Cycle
Freeze-dried food will store best in the long term if it ends on a heating (or “warm”) cycle, as the food will be less likely to get condensation when it’s removed from the freeze-dryer, as it’s not cold. Always double-check freeze-dried food for dryness before storing.
The freeze-drying process is divided into “cycles.” Having control over the time of these cycles is a game changer for many people who don’t have much time.
Usually, the drying cycle takes up a lot of time, so it’ll be helpful for owners to know how to adjust the time to make it more convenient.
How do I get more dry time on my freeze-dryer?
Sometimes users want the extra time, so they do not have to worry about checking their food in the middle of the night. Hit the custom selection option on the freeze-dryer and increase the extra dry time.
By default, a freeze-dryer is already set to have an additional two hours of dry time, but we can always increase it to our liking.
How do you shorten the dry time on a freeze-dryer?
Similar to how we increase the extra dry time on a freeze-dryer, shortening the dry time has identical steps. The only difference is instead of clicking the arrow pointing up, we click the arrow pointing down. Then, the number on the timer goes down.
Even when the freeze-dryer runs, we can still toggle the drying process time. So, if the food is done drying, we can click the down arrow till the timer hits zero.
Tips On Managing the Freezing and Vacuum Cycle
Aside from adjusting the drying time, we can also manage the freezing time and vacuum cycle. Here are some useful tips on changing and adjusting the time on a freeze-dryer based on commonly-asked questions.
Are you interested in the science behind your freeze dryer? Learning more about how it works can help your food turn out better when freeze-drying: How Do Home Freeze Dryers Work? Science and Process Made Easy.
How do you add freezing and vacuum cycles?
When we click the customize option in the main menu, the freeze timer is one of the options we can adjust. Usually, there is a note stating that this is already pre-set and typically does not need adjusting. However, with thicker food, extra freeze time should be added.
On the right side of the freeze timer, click the upward arrow button to add time. Once we click “Custom Start,” the machine will begin freezing. If you’ve already pre-frozen your food, you don’t need to add it until the freeze-dryer reaches freezing. Adding it while it’s still warm could cause the food to thaw, leading to less-than-perfect freeze-dried results.
We can still adjust the time while it is in the middle of the job by simply pressing the upward arrow button on the screen next to the timer.
How do you shorten the freezing cycle time on a freeze-dryer?
To shorten the freezing time, instead of pressing the arrow that points up, press the button pointing down. Even while the freeze-dryer is in the middle of the freezing cycle, always lower the timer to zero, so it can move to the next process.
Normally, we wouldn’t want to shorten our produce’s freezing time. The main exception to this is if you pre-froze your foods. Shortening the freezing cycle is usually done by owners who have pre-frozen their goods in a regular freezer before putting them into the freeze-dryer.
Tips to Ending a Cycle
Sometimes we want to end a cycle a little earlier than usual. Usually, when we don’t want to over-dry a particular food or if we believe the process is already finished and want to test the food. Here are some tips on how and when to end a particular cycle during Freeze-drying.
End a freeze-drying cycle on cold if the food is already pre-frozen before putting it into the freeze-dryer. This is one way to shorten the total freeze-drying time. Also, pre-freezing the food is a great idea to save time if doing a lot of batches.
While the first batch is freeze-dried, keep the other batches in the regular freezer. Moving to the second batch, this way, we won’t use up all the pre-set freeze time. While loading the second batch into the freeze-dryer, we can also prepare another batch in the freezer.
The downside to ending on a cold cycle is condensation. Food pulled out of a freeze-dryer that’s cold will, once it hits warm air, begin to develop condensation. This means the food won’t be completely free from moisture and won’t last as long as it would have if it had been free of condensation.
To end the drying cycle early, I recommend checking the food from time to time. Take a bite of the largest or thickest chunk of food to see if there’s any moisture left. Or, if you don’t want to bite the food, snap it in half. It should split cleanly in half and have no visible moisture. If there’s still a bit of moisture, start the drying process again by setting another timer.
If we want it to be quicker, a good technique is to cut most of the food into bite-size pieces if possible. For example, if making jerky, then thin strips are recommended.
Making the food smaller will make it easier for the dryer cycle to heat up and dehydrate all the food quickly.
Don’t forget to always check the thickest piece for any bit of moisture left before packing the food and storing it. As long as it’s completely dried, the food will last for years and years.
I recommend ending every cycle on warm so that you minimize (or eliminate) the risk of condensation on your freeze-dried food. Freeze-dried foods will keep longer and better this way.
Why Would I Want to Adjust the Time and Settings of My Freeze-Dryer?
Some foods hold water and moisture differently than others and may need more (or less) time in the freeze-dryer to process properly. Sometimes, the size of the food will also determine the time required for the freeze-dryer to complete all cycles before it is completely done.
So, while the freeze-dryer is pre-set to freeze-dry everything within 24 hours, we should still check on our food before storing it. Click here to learn more about a freeze-dryer’s software.
Occasionally, people like more freedom with their settings to maximize the time before checking on the food while doing other chores in the house. Knowing how to adjust the time of a freeze-dryer will allow us to work with our investment more efficiently.
How Long Does it Take for Most Food to Freeze-Dry?
Most food will be completely freeze-dried within about 24 hours, but of course, there are still a lot of factors to consider. Some food retains water better than others, like berries, peppers, and other fruits and vegetables. Those foods may take 36-48 hours to freeze-dry fully.
So, when dealing with food, it’s best to cut them smaller or increase the drying time on the freeze-dryer.
Meanwhile, meats also take longer to freeze-dry, depending on how thick we cut them. It should take about 24 hours to complete the freeze-drying process if we’re planning on making beef jerky.
However, if we freeze-dry cubes of meat or even meatballs, it might take a little longer than usual.
How Will I Know When My Food is Properly Freeze-Dried?
The best way to see if food is freeze-dried is to snap it in half and look for visible moisture. Another method is to take a bite out of the food to see if it is ready. Some freeze-dried goods like powdered milk can be deemed finished from look and touch, other foods may need to be taste tested.
You’ll notice that some parts may be chewy or moist if they aren’t fully freeze-dried. To ensure the entire batch is appropriately freeze-dried, take a bite of the thickest piece from the freeze-dryer and check if there are signs of moisture.
Want to know how we check freeze-dried food? We do the snap test – and then I taste-test part of what I snapped. This way, I get both tests done. I usually test 1-2 pieces of food per tray, using the biggest and thickest slices of whatever we tested, provided it’s not raw meat. If we freeze-dried raw meat, I only do the snap test.
If there is, we can always continue the drying process where we left off.
What Happens To Food If It Isn’t Properly Freeze-Dried?
If we store food that is not thoroughly freeze-dried, there’s a high chance that the food will go bad faster than it should. Leaving any moisture on the food will allow bacteria to grow, causing food to rot, spoil or go bad before its expected expiration.
Even if one chunk of freeze-dried food has any form of moisture, this can quickly spread to the other freeze-dried food in the same container.
It’s imperative to check and test all food before storing it. Otherwise, a lot of time, energy, and resources will be wasted if we aren’t careful. This is why it is beneficial to learn more about the cycles of the freeze-dryer so we can adjust it according to the food we plan to freeze-dry.
How Can I Tell If Freeze-dried Food Is Already Bad?
Bad freeze-dried food will usually fail either the odor or appearance test. Some food that goes bad will tend to have a foul odor when we open the package, or it will have visible signs of mold, mildew, or have gone bad. Throw out any food once it shows signs of going bad.
Another easy way to spot bad freeze-dried food is that sometimes you will see mold or even droplets inside the stored food’s packaging.
Dispose of the pack right away when you see this. Don’t try to save already spoiled food. While it is a waste, it’s not worth risking your health.
Now that you know more about how and when to adjust the time on your freeze-dryer make sure you’ve got things set up to be as maintenance-free as possible. If you’ve got an oil-based pump, set up an automatic filtration system, so you don’t ever have to change the oil again. I’ve got the whole process outlined for you right here in our article: Complete Guide To Freeze Dryer Vacuum Pumps (Oil And Oil-free).
Even if you have an oil-free pump, that article has some great tidbits for you, so check it out next.
Learning from your own experience is essential, but learning from others is also intelligent. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Adjusting Cycle Times on Our Harvest Right Freeze Dryer – Where I Tell You When All Batches Finish! (2021, February 20). YouTube. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xqzr_6V8bn4
- Freeze Dryer 101: Everything You Need Know. (2021, April 5). BlvdHome. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://www.blvdhome.com/blog/freeze-dryer-101-everything-you-need-to-know
- Gardening Simplified – Polve’s Organic Farm. (2021, December 27). Adding Drying Time On Freeze Dryer. YouTube. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rquTS0Aa1Kg
- Howard, R. (2019, November 16). Tips to Freeze-Dry Like a Pro. Harvest Rightâ¢ | Home Freeze Dryers | Freeze Dried Food Storage. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://harvestright.com/blog/2016/tips-to-freeze-dry-like-a-pro/
- Neverman, L. (2022, February 24). 11 Freeze Drying Mistakes to Avoid for Best Storage Quality. Common Sense Home. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://commonsensehome.com/freeze-drying-mistakes/
- Utah State University. (2021, November 5). Food Storage Conditions. USU. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://extension.usu.edu/preserve-the-harvest/research/storage-conditions