As gas and food prices rise, interest in growing a garden and finding sustainable food sources is becoming more and more appealing to the average person.
More people are beginning to ask the question, how can I become more self-sufficient? How can I bridge the gap when the supply chain breaks down? Can I care for myself when the shelves at the grocery store are bare?
Can I use a little bit of soil to grow a tomato plant or a pepper plant? How can I make the foods I grow last longer?
One way to help offset the rising cost of food and to become more self-reliant is through food preservation.
Knowing how to preserve food is a worthwhile skill whether you’re growing your own food or shopping for sales at the grocery store.
In this article, I will tell you 7 food preservation methods so you can begin preserving foods at your house.
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What is Food Preservation?
Food preservation is the act of keeping foods safe from spoilage, food poisoning, and microbial contamination. In other words, food preservation is the process of making foods safe for short-term, medium-term, or long-term storage.
The shelf life of a tomato on your counter is ~ 1 week. That’s not a very long time when you’re growing tomato plants and suddenly have 50-300 tomatoes ripe and ready to go. You can’t eat enough salads to run through that many tomatoes.
A tomato will last roughly two weeks if you put it in the refrigerator.
A tomato that has been safely and properly canned can last up to one year. Long enough for you to grow another garden and produce new tomatoes.
Why Preserve Food?
There are a lot of reasons to preserve food, but I’m going to give you some of my top reasons to get you excited for the idea of preserving your own foods.
- Preserve food to make it last longer. The number one reason to preserve food is to make it last longer. Every year we pick blueberries and strawberries locally. We like to pick a lot because we love them. But guess what? They go bad quickly. We couldn’t possibly eat them all before they go bad. BUT we can freeze them fairly easily and eat them for months.
- To save money on food. Growing a garden doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re saving money at the grocery store, but preserving food from your garden can make a big difference in your grocery budget. You can grow food for a few months that can last you through until the next year.
- To preserve nutrition. When you preserve things right away it can help lock in those picked from the vine nutrients. This works best for preserving food by freezing it.
- Complete control over what’s in your food. There are no surprise ingredients in your food when you preserve it yourself.
- Some types of food preservation give you new flavors and textures. Some types of food preservation can change foods. When you ferment or pickle foods it creates new flavors.
Food Preservation Method #1: Canning
Canning. Near and dear to my heart. This is my favorite type of food preservation because it was the first one I learned.
The benefits of canning are:
- It’s economical. It doesn’t cost very much to get the supplies you need to start canning.
- It’s easy. It may be time-consuming to jar your own food, but it’s a fairly easy process.
- There’s lots of information available about canning. There’s loads of information available about canning which makes it easier to pick up.
- You can jar (almost) anything. If you have a pressure canner and a water bath canner there are SO many options for what you can do with this preservation method.
There are two types of canning methods you can use. Water bath canning and pressure canner.
To make things simple… things that have a high level of acidities like fruits or things that have acid added to it can be processed in a water bath canner. Things that have low acidities like meats and vegetables must be processed in a pressure canner.
Home-canned foods last up to a year before they begin to lose its quality. Some sources say it can continue to be consumed after the one-year mark, but the general rule of thumb is 1 year for best quality.
What you need to can food:
Books about canning to help you on your way:
Ball canning books are safe and highly recommended for learning how to can.
Preservation Method #2: Fermentation
The second type of preservation is one that has become so trendy over the past few years: fermentation. What is fermentation, you ask? Well, we have a WHOLE HUGE blog post about it called “what is fermentation” which will give you a really in-depth overview of fermentation, but for the sake of this blog post, fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates into alcohol or acid with microorganisms.
These microorganisms are “good” bacteria or fungi that chomp down on the sugars found in food and convert it into something else. You can make alcohol through this process, but it can also help preserve food by converting the sugars into an acid.
I had a friend give me water kefir grains which can be turned into a fizzy soda-pop like drink.
Fermentation is also popular for preserving vegetables.
The benefits of fermentation are:
- Cheap. Fermentation can be even cheaper than canning as you don’t need special equipment to ferment vegetables.
- Extends shelf life. Vegetables that have been fermented can last for 6 months to a year depending on the type of vegetable.
- New flavors and textures. Fermenting foods makes it taste different which can be appealing to many people.
What you need to ferment vegetables:
Books about fermentation to help you on your way:
This book: The Farmhouse Culture Guide to Fermenting: Crafting Live-Cultured Foods and Drinks with 100 Recipes from Kimchi to Kombucha gets really good reviews.
As does this book: Fermentation for Beginners
Food Preservation Method #3: Freezing
Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve food, so long as you have a freezer with extra space.
- Vegetables can last up to 12 months in the freezer
- Fruit lasts around 8 months in the freezer
- Meat can last up to 6-12 months in the freezer
- Fish can last 3-8 months in the freezer
- Bread can last up to 6 months in the freezer
- Milk can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 weeks
- Yogurt can be frozen for 2 months
If you’re freezing berries this year, you can use my handy guide to freezing berries.
Benefits of freezing:
- Easy to do. Freezing foods is really easy and doesn’t take a lot of extra effort.
- Doesn’t require a lot of extra equipment. If you have a freezer and a freezer-safe container you can do it.
- Doesn’t take a long time to prepare the food. Apart from cutting vegetables and fruits or blanching vegetables, it’s not a labor-intensive method of preserving foods.
What you need to freeze food:
- A freezer
- Freezer safe containers or bags (I like to use reusable freezer bags for environmental and economical reasons)
There weren’t a ton of options for freezing food books on Amazon, but this one called Home Freezing Handbook (The Basic Basics) has good reviews and looks promising.
Food Preservation Method #4: Drying or Dehydrating
Like fermentation, dehydrating foods has become more interesting to me this year. We acquired an Excalibur dehydrator second-hand from my Dad and we’ve started experimenting with it. So far we’ve dehydrated:
- Oranges and other citruses
- Deer jerky
Next on my list is drying onions and I would also like to start making powdered seasonings in my dehydrator.
The benefits of dehydrating food are:
- Space-saving. Dehydrated foods take up very little space. It’s like getting a vacuum sealer for the clothes you want to store under the bed.
- Dehydrating food extends its life. Dehydrated food lasts between 4-12 months.
- Dehydrated food is lightweight. You can take dehydrated food easily on camping or backpacking trips and while some people think the higher calories found in dehydrated food is a bad thing, it’s a great thing when you’re walking lots of miles and need a healthy high calorie snack.
If you want a good first dehydrating idea, you can try our how to dry citrus guide, and have citrus that can be used to decorate your home or for food (hint: it can be used to make an orange tea or add orange flavor to your tea!).
What you need to dehydrate food:
- A tool to help you achieve standard thickness for dehydrating such as a sharp knife, a mandoline, or a grater.
- A dehydrator such as our Excalibur dehydrator, or you can use the oven or the sun for dehydration.
- Optional: parchment paper
Books to help you with dehydrating foods:
Complete Dehydrator Cookbook: How to Dehydrate Fruit, Vegetables, Meat & More looks promising and has good reviews.
I also like the looks of this book: The Beginner’s Guide to Dehydrating Food, 2nd Edition: How to Preserve All Your Favorite Vegetables, Fruits, Meats, and Herbs
Food Preservation Method #5: Freeze Drying
Freeze drying is a method of food preservation that I haven’t tried, but one that I’m interested in. Freeze-dried foods are extremely lightweight and taste good when you reconstitute them in water. It’s expensive to purchase freeze-dried foods, but they’re perfect for camping and backpacking. Preppers are also fans of this nearly weightless food option.
It is possible to freeze-dry foods at home with a freezer, but you can also purchase a freeze-dryer to preserve food using this method.
Food that is freeze-dried goes through a dehydration process in a vacuum. When you dehydrate food in a dehydrator, the moisture slowly goes away as it dries over time. In a freeze-dry method, the moisture in the food goes to a gaseous state.
Unlike foods dried in a dehydrator, freeze-dried foods maintain their original shape, and the taste is not changed much either.
The benefits of freeze-dried foods:
- Lightweight. The food is smaller and lightweight, making it easy to store in the pantry or as a good option for camping or backpacking.
- Stores a long time. Of the preservation methods listed here, freeze-dried foods last the longest. You can store freeze-dried foods for up to 25 years! Another reason why homesteaders and preppers are a fan of this type of preservation.
- Retains nutrients. This method maintains many of the original nutrients found in the food.
- Keeps its shape and taste. This method keeps the original taste, flavor, and texture (when reconstituted) better than other dehydration options.
What you need to freeze dry food depends on your method of freeze-drying. If you’re freeze-drying in the freezer you need:
- A tray
- Storage bags
If you’re using a freeze-dryer you will have everything you need to be built into the product. Freeze-dryers are pricey, but they’re probably the best route to take if you’re going to be freeze-drying a lot of food.
Food Preservation Method #5: Pickling
Pickling is another common food preservation method that is done by soaking foods in an acid solution. Most pickled foods are preserved in vinegar. Pickling is different than fermentation, although there are some similarities. In pickling, the food is placed in an acidic liquid and the foods take on the flavor of the acid. In fermentation, the foods are placed in a salt brine and the naturally present bacteria creates an acid.
When you pickle foods, you can either place them in the refrigerator or you can water bath process them so they can be shelf-stable. In the refrigerator, pickled cucumbers last around 2-4 weeks, but can last 6 months to a year if they’re canned first.
Some of the most popular foods to pickle are:
- Green beans
The benefits of pickling food:
- Creates new flavors. Pickling foods extend their life, but they also create fun new flavors. Even if you weren’t pickling for the preservation aspect of it, you can still enjoy new food taste options.
- Inexpensive preservation method. It doesn’t cost very much to pickle foods. If you’re pickling things to put in the refrigerator, you can even recycle glass jars from other food items you purchased at the store. (Do not recycle food jars for canning as this is not a safe way of canning.)
What you need to pickle food:
- A jar with a lid
- Canning jars if you’re going to can your pickled foods
- Water bath canner if you’re going to can your pickled foods
Books to help you with pickling:
I like that The Joy of Pickling, 3rd Edition: 300 Flavor-Packed Recipes for All Kinds of Produce from Garden or Market includes pickling recipes from items you’d get at the grocery store or from your home garden.
The book The Complete Guide to Pickling: Pickle and Ferment Everything Your Garden or Market Has to Offer has over 125 pickling recipes.
Preservation Method #6: Salting
Like freeze-drying, salting is another method of preservation that I haven’t tried, but it does have my interest.
To prevent food from spoiling you have to make foods inhospitable to harmful bacteria. One way of doing this is to remove moisture. That’s why dehydrating food or freeze-drying food makes it last longer. Salting can also cause this to happen because the salt draws moisture out of the food making it difficult for harmful bacteria to survive.
The National Library of Medicine writes, “Salt is effective as a preservative because it reduces the water activity of foods. The water activity of a food is the amount of unbound water available for microbial growth and chemical reactions. Salt’s ability to decrease water activity is thought to be due to the ability of sodium and chloride ions to associate with water molecules.”
After doing some research on the subject, I honestly can’t say how safe it is to preserve food with this method. Verywell Health suggests that in order to properly kill the harmful bacteria, you’d need to use a salt concentration of 10% or more. A degree of salt that would likely ruin the flavor of the food.
There’s also a concern that using high levels of salt in food can make it unhealthy for a human diet.
That being said, this form of food preservation has been used since ancient times, and there are some blogs, youtube videos, and tutorials you can look up to learn more about the process.
Here’s a book that talks about smoking and salt curing meat for a guide on how to do it.
Food Preservation Method #7: Alcohol
Foods that are preserved in alcohol go through a similar process to salting or dehydrating in the sense that the alcohol pulls water out of the food and inhibits the growth of bacteria.
People often preserve fruit in alcohol, but perhaps even more common is putting vanilla beans in alcohol to make vanilla extract.
Actually, preserving foods in alcohol is very similar to pickling in the sense that the food soaks up the flavor of the liquid. Alcohol and vinegar are both liquids produced through fermentation, the result of which is a liquid that is long-lasting and resistant to (bad) bacterial growth.
What Food Preservation Method is Your Favorite?
What about you? What food preservation method is your favorite, or which one have you been inspired to try?
What am I missing? Is there another type of food preservation method I missed? I’d love to hear from you! The comment section below is calling your name.