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:

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

CANNING:

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

DEHYDRATING:

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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169 Comments

    1. Hi there! I have the 3900. I use all 9 trays often. The one I have now doesn't have the timer...I like this option better.

      Hope that helps!

    1. I have not but I heard about it and now I'm really scared to look--scared to look at the price of almost anything actually :(.

      What are we going to do? It's not good.

    2. If you can even FIND them! My hubby got the last few at Amish stores, but even there they aren't near as easy to find. *sigh*

      1. Well shoot. I guess that's another vote for the dehydrator - or the freeze dryer (which I just added to the post). Not that the freeze dryer is cheap, because it isn't. I guess I had better go and get my canning lids and figure out canning, LOL. I've never done it on my own. Isn't that crazy?

  1. I commented on facebook about the all american canner...and you wanted me to reply here instead of there, so here I am! LOL I use it for everything...I USED to do water bath for some things, but then started having issues with finding the lids coming unsealed in my pantry. So, have no idea if I was doing something wrong, or they just don't make lids like they used to (however...I recently heard one of our Amish friends was having some trouble with some she waterbath canned, so really thinking it wasn't just me doing something wrong.) So anything that the instructions say to water bath, I put in my all american canner and do it at 5 pounds pressure...most everything else is 10. I also do it for less time usually...especially if it was something that would get to mushy like pickles...than they say to do it in a water bath, but thats just a guess work thing there. Haven't had any issues since I started doing things that way with lids coming off in the middle of the winter. I am no expert...but do enjoy it unless I have to do a ton of the same thing...which for US I don't...but if I'm canning for my Mom or something, they use more tomato stuff than we do...so it does get a little old then. LOL It's sure fun seeing the full jars on the shelves waiting to carry us through the winter or however long they take us. So...if I were you I would get a pressure canner (all american if you can at all afford it) and some jars, and see how it goes. It's really not hard, just takes time!

    1. Wow......this is soooo helpful!!! Thanks for taking the time to come and share with me!!

      I have a water canner but never used it - sigh!

      I will have to figure out if this makes sense for us but I have really been wanting to learn. Thanks and I wish you lived nearby to teach me! Thanks again!

      1. It's not hard to learn...not sure I'd be the best teacher, but would love to help you if we were close enough! LOL You can always email if you have any questions and I'll see if I can help...just like I say, I'm no expert! The bad part about it is NOW it's been harder to find the flats...seems like the narrow mouth ones are coming back in stock a little here and there more than the wide mouth...I prefer the wide mouth, as I have way more of them because I have big hands, so it's easier for me to get them down into the wide mouth jars, which is why I settled on them more than the narrow mouth. We have been able to find wide mouth flats some at the Amish stores around us thankfully...so haven't run out yet...but they aren't the name brand ball lids I was buying before...not that I guess it makes any difference it seems. But if you can, I'd stock up on lots of flats, if and when you can...just incase...that is IF you do decide to start canning!

        1. Aww thank you!! I have no idea where to start. I have done freeze drying and some dehydrating but not this. I have some cans...surprisingly (or not so) I didn't even know what flats were!
          How many do I need. I guess my first question is what I should can. We lean lower carb.....so I have heard about meat and tomatoes...what is the best to go for so that there aren't too many carbs and not too much loos of nutrition.

          I don't have a great garden so that's another concern. I hope to remedy that this year :). Mostly I guess I would can something if I could get a really fantastic deal. I don't even know what things can't be canned..and I have seen some people use cans to store dried goods which is interesting as well (with oxygen absorbers). I guess I could ask on social media what people can to get an idea :).

          1. I can a lot of bone broth...both chicken and beef when we butcher a cow (or if I will be needing some and don't plan on butchering I will ask the Amish neighbors for bones from theirs). I also do salsa, tomato sauce, apple sauce & chicken & rice soup...thats most of what I do now, have done a few other things from time to time...but those are my main ones. I have canned meat before...If you will use it like that, it's handy, as it doesn't have to thaw...but mostly I don't do meat cause we like "fresh" meat for the most part, and freezing it makes it more like fresh. Stew meat could work good canned...I know some can ground, but I haven't done that. Meat has to be in the canner for over an hour...so it takes forever it seems...so it's not my favorite thing to can, but I do it.

            You need a flat for each jar you can...I've heard of reusing them once or twice, but have never tried it cause they always said not to...but since I heard that from a friend a few months back, I have saved flats, since they are harder to get...for just incase. LOL Would hate to do it though, but in a worst case...I might try them. I just try to have a bunch of flats stocked up...can't afford tons, but I probably have enough to do this years canning already, maybe two years worth. Not sure cause haven't checked exactly what I have...hubby bought me some a couple of times in the last few months, so really don't know what I have at this point. Just am pretty sure I should have enough for what I need this year at least.

            Mostly when it comes to vegi's...I prefer frozen, as they taste fresher. Canning most vegi's would make them mushy...well green beans seem to can well, but I can't stand those things so we don't have any of them. *giggle* My hubby doesn't like them either...so we are perfectly matched there! *wink* I remember helping Mom can them by the thousands (it seemed) when I was a kid...but not me! However, if you liked canned vegi's...then by all means can them yourself, gotta be better than the store ones for you! Get the Ball canning book...I use that or look online for how to can certain things. That will give you an idea of pressure and times.

            I have a vacuum seal machine...and have used the jars with the attachment, to store some dried things in, like dried green pepper, tomato's and such...so yes jars are good storage containers too, not just for canned goods.

            I suck at gardening...and can't handle the sun at this time (it makes me feel ill after I'm in it for half an hour or so) so we don't garden at this point...but do buy things from our Amish neighbors when they have extra, so thats sometimes how we end up with some things to can.

            1. So helpful!!! I can see me doing broth and tomato products. I am sorry to hear about the sun -- I used to not do well with it but since working on my overall health I love it now. Interesting, eh?

              The only thing is that I don't eat a lot of tomatoes. I love them but we don't eat tons due to them being nightshades but they are so yummy!

              Thanks again!

              1. Yeah...I'm working on my health issues, so hopefully it gets better one of these days!! πŸ™‚

                I don't eat lots of tomato stuff either, do have salsa some, it's probably the most tomato I have, but do like to keep a few jars of sauce around incase we need it...so either buy organic, or can my own of that. Just don't need lots of it...My parents use it all the time so if I help them, which I used to do till my Dad started helping, we had to make a bunch of it. Mostly if I use sauce, it is for pizza sauce... but we don't have that lots... or chilli, which we also don't have lots, so I don't need it all that much. Sometimes I make a bunch of pizza sauce and can it...but haven't for a few years I don't think, since we haven't been having pizza all that much...since I've been doing less gluten.

                Glad you have gotten so the sun doesn't bother you...gives me hope! πŸ™‚

                1. LOVE salsa!!! Ok you have me really tempted now. I just need to find a good source of cheap tomatoes :).

                  Yes, it should give you hope. I was sick for so long. I am putting some things together to share about my current thoughts (after 10 years of mess and seeing that resolved and now my oldest is edging off the spectrum and is losing his life threatening food allergies too. It's a miracle. I would be happy to talk via email (adrienne at wholenewmom dot com) or share a few things here too if you'd like to connect before I have things in place. I hope what I have experienced can help others and I think it can.

                  1. I will be happy to hear what you did...I am however working with a health coach right now, as I found out doing things on my own was only making things worse...so not sure I can add to much more to my treatment at this time...spending more than I should be right now anyway. LOL Do want to look into a "retraining my brain" program, if I can ever get the money together for one...a neighbor did one and it really helped, so while the current health coach has helped a lot, I think the other could maybe push me over the top into doing even better...least I'm hopeful. If God wants me to try it, he will find a way I'm sure. πŸ™‚ So glad your son is healing too!

                  2. I'm glad you found someone you like! I would love to hear what you did that you feel made things worse and what you are doing that you feel good about now.
                    I know how much it can cost! I'm almost done health coach certification but that is a fluid field anyhow...depends on what they know.

                    There's a simple book that's an OK place to start. I haven't done as much as I could have but it's been good: https://amzn.to/3IEphdf (affiliate link)

                    I have to pull my notes together but there are basic tenets with the ways we addressed those things.

                    One of them is the supplement line on this post. I think the vagus nerve is huge....of course that's just one part but I don't have posts about most of the things we have done. I'm working on it!

  2. I want to dehydrate for long term storage in canning jars, My question is this.

    Do I need to put one of those oxygen packets in everything ?I intend to vacuum seal the jars {if I can find a sealer.

    Thank you

    1. Hi there. It depends on how long you are planning to store them. I would look up what you are storing and how long. What are you planning to do?

  3. i like to can. I've gotten most of my jars at yard sales. You need to inspect and clean them prior to use but it's cheaper that way. I just got about 80 jars for $8. Some where old and may be worth money. You need new lids but rings are reusable.

  4. I'd like to know where you get a dozen canning jars for $4.39 per dz. To purchase new they are $10.00 and up.
    If you know of a resource that is less please share with us.

    I have all the canning equipment and an excalibur dehydrator but not much in freezer space.

    1. Hi there. The post was written awhile ago, so I assume prices have increased, particularly as canning has gotten more popular.

  5. I would love to see your input on freeze drying. Do you have any experience with this? Do you plan to try it if you have not tried already?

  6. This seems to assume that there is no value to labor/time. However, as a stay at home mom, I view anything that allows me to save money as very worthwhile. I’ve done all three, and will continue to do so.

    Also worthy to note: a pressure canner, though a bit scary, is worth the extra money because (1) it saves LOTS of time because the processing times are much shorter and (2) you can process all canned foods in it, including meats, vegetables, broths. The water bath canner is recommended only for high acid foods such as tomatoes and fruits.

    Dehydrating is fun to involve children. We loved dehydrated apples and peaches last summer.

    1. You are correct about the time issue - I was only thinking about money in this post but it is very important to consider. I have both canners but haven't used either. I'm nervous and could use a teacher :).

    1. I assume b/c of the cost of the machine that this would be cost prohibitive. I looked at a machine and wow are they pricey!?!?

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