Which Saves the Most Money - Dehydrating, Freezing or Canning?

With the cost of food going way up, many are choosing to buy in bulk and store for future use.

But is it really worth it?

Many of you know that a week ago I started a series on How and Why to Dehydrate.  In the middle of that series, I had the opportunity to write a guest post at Kitchen Stewardship on Frugal Food Storage (that post is a must read if you are trying to eat well on less money).

Well, all of this talk about food preservation really generated a lot of interest and a lot of questions.

One reader commented that she was interested in purchasing a dehydrator and/or a freezer, but her husband wasn't sure about the cost savings, once one adds in the expense of the appliance and the ongoing cost of operating it.  Doing food preserving on your own certainly gives you control over the procedure and the quality of the food, and it is a great step towards a more "whole foods" oriented lifestyle, but we all want to know that we can save money while doing it as well, right?

Well, I did a little digging around and found a fabulous resource that outlined the costs in a very detailed manner.

And after seeing the following chart, any of you who have purchased a dehydrator will feel quite affirmed in your decision (and those who have not will have one more reason to do so). You'll also see what is the cheapest way to preserve food.

Food Preservation Cost Comparison

(Of course, costs have changed since this post (and since the book was printed), but I still find this very interesting.)


Freezing is also a great option for storing up food. And there are so many things you can freeze.

Check out these posts:

How to Freeze Tomatoes
How to Freeze Cucumbers
How to Freeze Avocados
How to Freeze Berries

Estimated cost - 16.2 cents/pound

Equipment Needed: Freezer @ $270 amortized over 20 years* = $13.50/year

Repairs: 2% of purchase price = $5.40/year

Packaging: $25.00

Electricity: To operate freezer at 5 cents/kilowatt hour = $35.28
To blanch 250 pounds of food (4 min/pound) = $1.99

Total to process 500 pounds of food: $81.17


Estimated cost - 5.5 cents/pound

Equipment Needed: Pressure canner @ $65 amortized over 20 years* =  $3.25
Water bath canner @ $10 amortized over 20 years = $0.50

Repairs: 2% of purchase price = $1.30

Packaging: 24 dz quart jars @ $4.39/dz amortized over 10 years = $10.53
24 dz lids replaced each year @ $.49/dz = $11.76

Electricity: To pressure can 140 quarts at 5 cents/kilowatt hour = $1.44
To water bath can 140 quarts =  $2.22

Total to process 560 pounds of food in 280 quarts: = $31.00


tomato halves on dehydrator tray

Dehydrating is one of my favorite ways to preserve food, and there's so much more you can do with a dehydrator too.

Before we get into the costs, here are some posts showing how we like to use our dehydrator:

Dehydrator Kale Chips
How to Soak and Dry Nuts
Homemade Sun-dried Tomatoes
How to Soak Grains

Estimated cost - 4.8 cents/pound

Equipment Needed: Electric Dehydrator @ $190 amortized over 20 years* = $9.50/year

Repairs: 2% of purchase price = $3.80

Packaging: $500 one-pound plastic bags = $2.50

Electricity: For drying food = $6.50
For blanching 250 pounds of food (4 minutes/pound)= $1.99

Total to process 500 pounds of food: $24.29

(*If the equipment is used for less than the full amortization period, the cost per pound of food increases significantly.  Also, if smaller amounts of food are processed, the average cost per pound will increase.)

The above information comes from page 5 of Preserve It Naturally (2010), a book about dehydrating that you can purchase from Excalibur Dehydrator.

The data I use above are from the book, but the costs of energy, equipment, etc. have clearly changed and will vary according to your personal situation, i.e. your energy costs and how good you are at finding bargains on packaging, etc.   Still, I think this is an eye-opening comparison.

Individual situations aside, it's clear that dehydrating and canning are extremely cost-efficient ways to store food.  Of course, that doesn't mean that freezing isn't a great option either.  I mean, if it costs 16.2 cents per pound to freeze something and you can secure the type of deal that I did at a local store about 4 months ago when we got grass-fed lamb for about 3.25 / pound, then paying an extra 16 cents per pound still makes the lamb a great deal.  Also, there are just some things that lend themselves better to one form of preservation than to another.  For example, I don't wish to can or dehydrate meat or chicken broth, but those items both freeze quite well.

So -- I think I have now put my inquisitive mind to rest.  And -- I am feeling pretty good about our second fridge, chest freezer, dehydrator, and even about the second chest freezer that we plan to buy later this week.  Bring on the sales -- I have room to store the surplus!  Now if I can just learn how to can :-)!More posts on dehydrating:

canned and frozen food with text overlay

And some great posts on freezing:

If you don't have a dehydrator yet, I whole heartedly recommend the Excalibur Dehydrator, but a blogger friend of mine told me that she has this dehydrator and loves it:

NESCO Dehydrator

A Helpful Dehydrating Book

Here is a great book to get to learn more about dehydrating, and it has tons of recipes in it.  I don't own it yet, but plan to get it soon.

The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook by Tammy Gangloff

Another Option--Freeze Drying

Since initially writing this post, another option for food preservation has come onto the scene--Freeze Drying.

I hope to add the cost comparison here in the future, but it will for sure be the highest, with the trade off being that the food retains an amazing amount of nutritional content, tastes like "the real thing" when eaten, and lasts a very long time.

This is the freeze dryer that we have--we need to branch out more with what we preserve but it's great to be able to freeze dry guacamole when avocados are on sale. Freezing avocados is an option, but freeze drying is SO much better.

Did you expect dehydrating to be the cheapest way to preserve food?
Which food storage methods do you use?  

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  1. In general I agree in that order. I to would like to know where you buy your canning equip. My canner was $200, Quart jars are $10+ a doz Walmart and lids $1.75 to $2+. That may change things a bit.

  2. In regard to canning; I have been doing this for a couple of years. There is a lot more to canning than just throwing some food in a jar and processing. If you read the USDA website or any of the University extension offices in your county, you will learn that canning food is a science that takes great care and preparation to accomplish safely and successfully. Just securing jars takes time. If you buy them at garage sales you cannot know the history of their use; if they contained food that spoiled there is a 'detoxification' process that must be followe. If uncertain, you have to do this.. Then, there is the washing of all equipment, boiling jars, and keeping lids and rings warm. Most vegetables have to be blanched in fresh water, and jars are packed and filled with distilled boiled water. Then its time to fill the canner-with water. All this water has to be heated, then discarded. If you live in the city--whooo, expensive. In the country you have to make sure your water has been tested and is ok for preserving foods. Then, there's the issue of processing for your local altitude. For years I didn't know I live in an area over 1.000 ft. Add an extra minute to processing time for each 1,000 ft. above sea level. If you have never canned before and want to follow approved methods, (remember, only approved and tested recipes are now recommended) it will take you some time (time=money) I have not yet decided if home canned foods are economical given the above, but I do know they contain only the wholesome foods I put into the jars. What is that worth in $$$? Decide for yourself, but when you begin home canning, please take the time to read the publications available on the web for guidelines. The most informative I've found, but certainly not an exhaustive resource can be found at: https://nchfp.uga.edu/

    1. I'm 45 years old and have been canning my own home-grown produce/helping my mom can food as a child nearly my whole life. I have canned meat, fruit, low acid foods, soups, you name it, and I've never encountered any of the problems mentioned in your post. I have a re-furbished canner I bought at a swap-meet for $3.oo that works like a charm. Most of my jars are hand-me-downs from family members or purchased at garage sales. As long as they are properly sanitized, they are perfectly safe. I have never calculated the money I've saved by putting up my own produce, but I'm sure it would be in the thousands of dollars. If you're worried about wasted water, house plants and garden plants love left-over canning water because it's full of nutrients! Yes, it heats up the house, but we're very conservative with electricity otherwise so the extra few dollars on our power bill is certainly money well spent. If you have a desire to can your own food, it is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

  3. I enjoyed this post. I do a little of each of these food preservation methods. I have found an inexpensive way to store some of my frozen meat. I buy from a local meat processor that buys the meat from the local farmers, so commercial farms. When I get my meat I asked them about getting a meat locker. They said the cost was 15.00 per quarter. I have bought my meat there for about 5 years, and have yet to have the 15.00 charge. I do have a freezer and keep my chicken and fish in it that I purchase in the stores. I also keep fruits and vegetables and like one of the other comments said, use it to stage my fruits and vegetables. I liked to see the cost comparisons. I would also like to link this on my blog for people that are reading my comments about food preservation. I currently don't have a food dehydrator, but have been looking for one at the second hand stores. We lost ours when we had a house fire. I liked using it. I've been using my oven to dehydrate while I have been without, I'm sure not as cost effective, but it works.

  4. Interesting!! I do some of all three, I know some people don't think canning is good, cause it's cooked and all...but there is a use for it all to my way of thinking. It's also better than what you buy in the store, cause you know what you put in it...and since I haven't stopped using some things, that comes in cans like tomato sauce I'd rather make it myself if possible than buy it. Besides, I actually enjoy canning, least to a point. :-))

  5. Interesting. It would be interesting to figure out the cost when items are purchased used, and when packaging is reused. Also, reusable canning jar lids could change this equation. Honestly, though, I'm surprised how economical ALL of them are.

  6. Adrienne
    In the last few years there has been a lot of progress in the canning world. There are two companies that make reusable lids.
    Tattler and 4everrecap. I have used the Tattler and have had no problems with them at all, but the 4everrecap are new to me so I have no idea how well they work.
    I just wanted to update you on this issue. Thanks for all the great work you do to inform the public on how to help themselves to save and stay healthy at the same time.

  7. Thank you so much for doing this research and pricing everything out! It is so great to know that there are many ways to save especially when the times are getting tough.

  8. Hi! I'm new to the blog - enjoying it. As far as learning to can, I am doing that this summer and so far have canned several pints of tomato sauce and tomato juice. In this day of the internet it can feel overwhelming to know how to learn something, as there are too many options! I am using the Ball Blue Book guide to Preserving (skinny and full of info) and it is pretty easy to follow - received it as a gift. But, freezing is likely better as far as preserving nutrients in foods. Canning often involves pre-cooking and then the heating process during the canning itself, which destroys a lot of nutrients. I like your idea of freezing tomatoes after chopping them in food processor as this uses the skin too, which is full of good stuff.

  9. People don't usually think about my favorite benefit of dehydrating over canning - you can plug in the dehydrator outside or in the garage, and it won't heat up the house. Since most of the extra produce we get is in the summer, this is a very big benefit to me! (I guess it's a benefit over freezing, too, if it's something you would need to blanch. I'll take any excuse not to turn on the stove in the summer.) I remember canning with my mom when I was a kid - it was already roasting hot outside and in our house, and then we'd have the stove on all day. Bad combination.

  10. One unanticipated cost of freezing is the need to own a generator for when the electricity goes out for a long period of time.

    I live in the middle of the current outage in Appalachia and watched my neighbors scramble to buy generators and find gasoline to run them. These blackouts that involve more than one state, well, it would be wise to plan for them as a certainty. The real problem was finding gasoline. People were driving for hours to buy some -- a strange scenario.

    After a week, half of my county still is without electricity.

  11. Thank you for participating in Creative @ Home Wednesday for 05/23/12! I'd love to have you join us again this week!

    (Link deleted by Whole New Mom due to it not working anymore)

    Susan Godfrey

  12. The one cost factor that was not shared or calculated was the cost of the jars in canning. The initial cost is huge to get enough jars to make a meaningful horde. I'm thinking dehydration is ideal.

    Great job comparing though!

    1. The jars are included --- under Equipment in the Canning Section. Probably outdated but they are there.

      Thanks for the compliment!

  13. I absolutely loved this post! I would love it if you shared this post at my Creative @ Home Link-Up Party, I think my readers would really enjoy and benefit from it!

    (Link deleted by Whole New Mom due to it not working anymore)


  14. Congratulations!
    Your post is featured on Full Plate Thursday this week. Hope you are having a great day and enjoy your new Red Plate!
    Come Back Soon,
    Miz Helen

  15. I found this post so interesting - it's a really great guide to frugal food storage techniques! I tend to use my freezer for most storage, but I can definitely see the benefits of canning and dehydrating as well.

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