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The market for freeze dried fruit and vegetables is shifting. Andy Ducker, CEO of Chaucer Foods, explores…

Freeze dried food is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been widely used for decades, from portable meals for armies and astronauts in space to dried soups and croutons. However, the industry is changing and the average consumer is increasingly likely to see freeze dried produce in their shopping basket, in the form of snacks or healthy cereals.

It is clear to see the industry is shaking off its previous associations and becoming increasingly relevant, due to the most recent significant consumer trend to affect the food industry: that of health and wellness.

 

What is it?

Freeze drying is the process of removing all the water from a product and – quite simply – nothing else. The product (be that fruit, vegetable or even cheese) retains almost all of its original nutrients, flavour and colour. Once the freeze dried product is put back in contact with water (or eaten), the product will swell back to its normal size, meaning you feel as full as if you’d eaten the raw product.

The exact process varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the main approach remains the same: freezing the fruit or vegetable and then reducing the surrounding pressure and targeting direct heat to transform the frozen water in the material to channel directly from the solid to the gas phase. No additives, as with traditional dried fruit, and certainly no extra sugar or added preservatives. And the finished piece? A piece of fruit or vegetable, which, if appropriately packaged, remains in this state for years with the colour and flavour intact.

Chaucer Foods collaborated with Sheffield Hallam University in the UK to fully investigate the nutritional benefits of freeze dried food – and the results make for fascinating reading. The study found that freeze dried whole strawberries had no loss of vitamin C and phenolic content (phenolic meaning phytochemicals/flavonoids with most dietary phenolics being antioxidants), and a mere eight per cent loss in total antioxidant capacity.

For the equivalent chilled whole strawberries stored over seven days, there were significant losses for vitamin C content (-19 per cent) and total antioxidant capacity (-23 per cent). The loss in total phenolic content was staggering at -82 per cent. This paints a very compelling picture for choosing freeze dried fruit and vegetables as a great, healthy snacking option.

 

Benefits and uses

The food industry is undergoing serious change; all scientific evidence points overwhelmingly to the need for a healthy diet, and consumers are responding by changing their eating habits and demanding healthier snacking options, coupled with a greater understanding of food provenance.

As food manufacturers it is our role to adapt to this trend, and it is clear to see that in recent years, food manufacturers have become increasingly focused on the nutrient content of their products. This is driven by the core consumer requirements for natural and nutritious ‘good for you’ foods.

The use for freeze dried fruit, in particular, is widening – food manufacturers have woken up to the benefits of using fruit in premium chocolate confectionary as a replacement for unhealthier, sugar laden ‘fake’ fruits and speciality beverages such as fruit teas and other hot and cold drinks.

A huge advantage of freeze dried fruit is that it allows the manufacturer to take out an artificial product, and make the final product cleaner and, of course, much tastier. Companies such as Kellogg’s have used freeze dried fruits in their cereals for years, and the process is increasingly finding its way into premium treats and the hot oat porridge market.

Another advantage of freeze dried fruit is that it is extremely light and is therefore  perfect for the breakfast cereal industry as the product remains in suspension with the cereal flakes or oats and does not, as happens to air dried or infused fruit, fall to the bottom of the pack.

 

What’s next? 

Looking ahead at the freeze dried market, growth, underpinned by an increasingly health conscious consumer, looks set to continue. Another angle lies within the products’ portability on a global scale, as the form and packaging allows manufacturers to move nutritious food in markets that may otherwise struggle with the correct temperatures and conditions for transporting fresh produce. One important consequence of this is freeze dried may not only be used in cereal bars and snacks, but also for disaster situations and greater humanitarian use.

The future for freeze dried is clearly multi-faceted and very bright indeed.

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