An overview on dehydrated (dried) vegetables, freeze-dried and powdered,
things to look for and some of the most popular backpacking options.
photo credit: hikingmastery.com
Dehydrated vegetables are insanely popular in the survival market, but they haven't caught on as they should among backpackers. Look in any thru-hikers pack, and you'll see plenty of bars, trail mix, and jerky - you probably won't see any vegetables though. Why?
Maybe because vegetables are not as calorie-dense as most backpackers would like. But they are an essential part of a healthy diet and should not be overlooked. With the ready availability of dehydrated vegetables, there is no reason you can't make room for some broccoli or carrots in your pack.
We've talked about how to carry fresh fruits and vegetables on the trail, but it is challenging. Veggies are heavy to lug around and can spoil or bruise relatively quickly - not a great combination for the rugged and remote lifestyle of a hiker. Before you limit yourself to meat and grains though, you should experiment with a few bags of dehydrated vegetables and see how they work in your food plan. We’ve outlined only some of the benefits you may discover when start packing a stash of dehydrated vegetables.
NUTRITIOUS: Dehydrated vegetables are packed full of vitamins and minerals that your body needs, especially when it is depleted from long days of hiking.
*Tip: The most common question people ask about dehydrated vegetables is whether they are as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. And the answer is (mostly) a 'yes'.
Fresh is best for sure, but dried veggies lose very little of their nutritional value when they go thru the dehydration process. They retain most of the minerals, most of the vitamin A and some of the B-vitamins. What they lose are the volatile nutrients like Vitamin C and beta carotene. You can, however, minimize this loss by dehydrating at lower temperatures or pre-treating the food with chemicals like sulfur dioxide. You also can add back some vitamin C by dipping the food in citrus juice or citric acid.
PACKABLE: They are lightweight and take up a fraction of the size of their fresh counterparts. You can place them at the bottom of your food bag and not worry about them rotting or bruising while you walk.
EASY PREP: Similar to other dried foods, dehydrated vegetables are convenient for backpacking. They are ready-to-eat so you don't have to spend time cutting or chopping them. Just pull them out of the bag and drop them in your food. You also don't have to worry about spoilage even when you are on a long stretch between resupplies.
INEXPENSIVE: Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of low-price, quality vegetable blends. Pricing varies between manufacturers, but you should expect to pay about a $1 an ounce for smaller 10-ounce packages and less if you buy in bulk. Each ounce yields between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of dehydrated vegetables. Potatoes tend to be the most affordable dehydrated vegetable, while asparagus, mushrooms and sweet potatoes are more expensive.
*Tip: Buy more than one serving at a time and get a hearty serving for only $1 to $2. Like this quart size jar for $15.
Worried about not eating them? Well, some options, like those from Augason Foods, will last for up to a year. Unopened bags don’t spoil (25 year shelf life) so they ship well in drop boxes. As long as you keep them in a sealed ziploc, dehydrated vegetables will last one to three weeks after opening.
"Dried" vegetables are available in several forms based upon how they were dried. There are dehydrated, freeze-dried and powdered vegetables. Each one has its distinct advantages and disadvantages. Most people choose more than one-type depending on their personal preferences and nutritional needs.
DEHYDRATED VEGETABLES: are placed in a dehydrator which circulates heated air to dry them out.
Because it uses heat, the veggies tend to lose some of their vitamins in the process. They also shrink in size and harden during dehydration. This process costs less than freeze-drying which is why it is so much more common than other dried options. It also can be done at home with a counter top dehydrator. These vegetables rehydrate by cooking or soaking them in water, but they take some time. You can eat them in soups or add them to your noodles.
FREEZE-DRIED VEGETABLES: use a refrigerated vacuum to pull the moisture out of the vegetables.
This process minimizes the loss of vitamin and minerals. It also keeps the shape, size, and texture of the vegetables intact which may be important if you enjoy eating vegetables for their texture. Because they maintain more of their size, freeze-dried vegetables are not as packable as their dehydrated counterparts. They can be eaten directly as a snack or hydrated and added to a hot meal. They pop back to life quickly making them perfect for a hungry hiker.
POWDERED VEGETABLES: are "dehydrated vegetables" that have been ground up into a fine powder.
These are a viable alternative for folks who want the nutrient boost of vegetables without the fuss of having to pack and prepare them. You merely sprinkle the powder over your meals or add them to a smoothie. The powders store easily in a Ziploc bag that takes up minimal room and adds negligible weight to your pack.
Powered vegetables provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, but you lose out on the dietary fiber you'd get from fresh vegetables. Not having fiber makes them easier to digest, though. You have to be careful not to overdo it with the powders especially those that are high in vitamins that accumulate in your body. Carrot powder, for example, is dense with vitamin A, which can turn your skin a yellow-orange color in high concentrations. While it's hard to eat enough carrots to cause hypercarotenemia, it's relatively easy to go overboard with the powder.
*Note: When shopping for dehydrated vegetables, check the nutritional label to see if sulfites or similar preservatives were used in the processing. These chemicals help extend the shelf life of dehydrated foods but they may be unwanted additions for folks who are trying to avoid preservatives for health reasons.
Cooking dehydrated vegetables is simple and just the same as cooking any other dehydrated food. You just need to:
1: Add hot water. It depends on the specifics vegetables you are cooking. However, as a general rule of thumb, you should add 1 part vegetable to 2 parts water
2: Wait. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
You can drain the water when done, eat it plain, add to a soup or mix 'em into your noodles, rice, whatever. You also can use the freezer bag method of cooking. You'll want to choose veggies like carrots or broccoli that cook quickly with this method though.
Don't have a stove? Not a problem, you can rehydrate dried vegetables by cold soaking them a few hours while you hike. You also can eat them without cooking, Just chew them slowly so they will rehydrate in your mouth.
photo credit: Spiffyguy Adventures Youtube
You can get a variety of vegetables in a dehydrated form. Not all veggies are sold whole. Some of the dark green leafy vegetables like spinach are sold as flakes because they break easily when dehydrated whole. Our favorites include potato flakes because they hydrate readily and are packed full of carbs. Carrots and green beans also rehydrate well and add some color and flavor to a meal. Broccoli is another excellent choice because it is packed full of nutrition and doesn't require a whole lot of cooking to rehydrate.
Harmony House has a backpacking kit that provides 45 cups of food in a 3-pound package. The kit includes carrots, diced potatoes, green peas, tomato dices, sweet celery, cut green beans, sweet corn, green cabbage, mixed red & green peppers, chopped onions, black beans, northern beans, lentils, red beans, and pinto beans. They also sell individual dehydrated and freeze-dried vegetables in a variety of sizes. No additives or preservatives are added to the veggies, and they are non-GMO.
See Harmony House.
Augason Foods focuses on emergency preparedness and sells its vegetables in bulk containers. The company offers favorite veggies such as potatoes, carrots, peas and more. No additives or preservatives are used.
See Augason Foods.
Wise Foods sells freeze-dried vegetable kits in large serving sizes ranging from 120 to 1440 servings. Each package includes corn, peas, green beans, and broccoli. Some kits also include sauces. No additives or preservatives are used.
See Wise Foods.
Rainy Day sells both freeze-dried and dehydrated vegetables in a variety of sizes ranging from 7-ounce boxes to 16-pound buckets. You can purchase the veggies individually or choose the beginner vegetable pack with Broccoli, Carrots, Sweet Corn, Garden Peas, Green Beans, and Potato Dices.
See Rainy Day Foods.
NorthBay Trading has a wide variety of dried vegetables including flake and powdered versions. Each veggie is available in individual bags (8 to 10 ounces) and in bulk. No sulfites are used and all veggies are certified kosher.
See North Bay Trading.
Honeyville offers mostly freeze-dried vegetables in #10 cans that contain about 1.25 pounds of vegetables. Their most popular vegetables (peas, carrots, onions, celery, corn and potato flakes) are sold in a combo pack.
If you are looking for more than just plain dried vegetables, then you should check out brands like Good to-Go, Outdoor Herbivore and Backpacker's Pantry. Good to Go offers bold and unique flavors in their vegetable-based meals. The Indian Vegetable Korma and Mexican Quinoa bowl are recommended. Outdoor Herbivore makes great high-quality, one-pot meals as well - cold and hot water options. Backpacker's Pantry is known for its add-hot-water meals, but it also makes a freeze-dried vegetable medley that includes Corn, Peas, and Carrots in a light butter-flavored sauce.
Vegetable powders are growing in popularity and for good reason. You can quickly consume your daily allowance of vegetables without the hassle of preparation. You can purchase individual vegetable powders or “Superfood” grass blends like Nested Naturals Super Greens or Amazing Grass Green Superfood.
If you enjoy potato chips, you may consider trying some veggies chips as a way to get your daily vegetables and enjoy them, too. You can makes veggie chips at home or buy them at your favorite health food store. If you have one near you, Trader Joe's Vegetable Root Chips come highly recommended.
It's easy to dehydrate your own vegetables for delicious meals on the trail. The best resource for learning about self-dehydrating is Backpacking Chef. He not only has tips on drying foods, but he also offers recipes and meal plans for backpacking.
By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
650-calorie fuel in a ready-to-eat package.