A successful shopping spree from your local farmers’ market or a bountiful harvest from your garden may leave you with an overwhelming amount of fruits and vegetables. We all know what happens if we don’t eat them on time. They turn into “science experiments” in our fridge. (Yuck!) The great news is, there are many methods of preserving food that you can do safely at home.
People have developed various methods of preserving food. Food preservation extends the safety and freshness of the food to keep its supply stable. Among them, are methods like refrigeration, freezing, canning, pickling, and more that prolong the shelf life of food at your home.
The great news is that food experts continue to research new and improve on innovative food preservation methods. For instance, in recent years, steam canning was approved as an alternative to water bath canning (source)
Why You Should Learn Various Methods of Preserving Food at Home
First let me say that you don’t need to preserve food yourself to build a successful prepper pantry. But learning to preserve food at home opens up a wide variety of options for building a prepper pantry compared to relying solely on what you can buy at the grocery store.
Home Food Preservation Saves Money
Saving money is one of the ultimate reasons why you should preserve food at home. Preserving food at home also helps you save money, because you can stock up on meat and produce when it’s on sale and use it in months and in some cases even years to come.
When food is preserved properly, you don’t have to worry about it going bad before you can eat it. Not only can you stock up on food when it’s on sale, you also don’t waste money since you don’t end up throwing out food that’s gone bad.
A Hedge Against Inflation
Another way that preserving food saves money is that it’s a hedge against inflation. As I write this article, the United States is experiencing record inflation. It’s showing up everywhere, but most of us feel it the most at the gas pump and the grocery store.
Since food prices keep going up, preserving as much food as possible is a way to stretch every dollar, so you can continue to feed your family well.
Preserving Food from an Abundant Harvest
The second reason it’s valuable to learn various methods of home food preservation is that it enables you to preserve food from a bountiful garden. Even if you don’t garden yourself, you may have a neighbor, friend, or family member that does. They may choose to bless you with their abundant harvest, and it may be more than you can eat before it goes bad.
One personal example is that one of my neighbors has a fig tree. If you’ve ever grown figs, you know that they ripen at pretty much the same time. They had more figs than they could handle, and gave us a huge box of figs. There is no way we could eat all of them before they went bad, so I dehydrated them.
Preserve Food to Maintain Quality
All types of food are bound to spoil with time. In addition to that, produce is at its absolute peak when first harvested.
To gain the most nutritional benefits from fruit and vegetables, it’s best to eat them immediately after harvesting. But let’s face it. Even if you grow your own food, you can’t always eat it the same day you harvest it.
Pro tip: As a side note let me say that growing food in quantities that you can eat when harvested is a terrific way to feed yourself and your family the most nutritious food. I’ve found that indoor gardening in general, and specifically growing sprouts and microgreens, is one of the best ways to do this. To learn more about this, check out my article, Why Every Prepper Should Add Sprouts and Microgreens to Their Prepper Pantry.
Other than eating food as soon as you harvest it, preserving food is the best way to maintain the most nutritional value and quality.
Home Food Preservation Provides Food Security
When Covid first hit, I experienced something that I never experienced before – food shortages. Even now, there are times when it’s not possible to purchase what I want, when I want.
There are times when eggs are out of stock. Wars such as Russia attacking Ukraine has the potential to make grains and related products such as bread scarce.
Extreme weather can wipe out crops and result in shortages.
I’m sure there are many other things beyond our control that cause food shortages. But we’ve all experienced enough food shortages to know that if we want to ensure food security for ourselves and our families, we had best stock up.
Buying canned and shelf stable foods at the grocery store is certainly one way to go about this, and I recommend it. But preserving food at home is another way to ensure food security.
Minimize Pathogenic Bacteria
The ultimate purpose behind food preservation is to keep food from spoiling before its consumption.
Bacteria only requires moisture, warmth, and time to reproduce rapidly in food. When you eat such spoiled foods, food poisoning may occur which is extremely harmful to our health and can lead to fatal cases. However, food preservation interferes with these factors, halting their growth.
Enjoying Food in the Days to Come
Whether you buy food in bulk, grow it yourself, or are blessed by receiving produce from others, learning various methods of food preservation enables you to enjoy the food you get now in the days to come.
In the rest of the article, we walk through some of the most common food preservation methods you can do yourself from the leisure of your home!
7 Common Methods of Food Preservation
Different food preservation methods result in different textures, smells, and flavors. Different foods also store better in one method compared to another.
So, learning to preserve food in different ways is the best strategy.
Here are some of the most common methods of preserving food that you can do at home.
Canning is one of the most common methods of preserving food at home. There are three methods of canning you can do at home:
- Pressure Canning
- Water Bath Canning
- Steam Canning
Pressure canning is ideal for low acid foods such as meat, beans, and most vegetables.
Water bath and steam canning are both excellent options for preserving high-acid foods such as fruit, salsa, and jellies and jam.
Depending on the type of canning you’ll do, you need either a pressure canner, water bath canner, or steam canner. Here are the ones that I recommend:
- Nesco or Carey Smart Canner for both pressure canning and water bath canning
- Granite Ware Water Bath Canner for water bath canning
- Presto or All-American stove top canners for pressure canning
- Kitchen Crop Steam Canner for steam canning
A basic set of canning tools also comes in handy. I like this one from Amazon.
You will also need canning jars and lids. To make sure you’re getting the best quality jars and lids, I recommend purchasing them from Lehman’s or your local Walmart. Many canning jars and lids sold on Amazon are cheap knock offs, and don’t work as well.
To learn more about canning, I recommend starting with The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
Recommended Canning Articles
To learn more about canning, check out these canning articles:
- When is Canning Season and How to Prepare for It
- Is Canning Without a Canner Possible?
- Pressure Canning Vs. Water Bath Canning
- Is the Nesco Smart Canner Safe?
Dehydrating is one of easiest methods of preserving food at home.
Since most microorganisms grow in moisture, eliminating this factor from food is an efficient preservation method.
There are a couple of effective ways to dehydrate food at home. The best way is by using an electric food dehydrator. I use both a Nesco and Cosori dehydrator, and I recommend both of them.
You can purchase the Cosori dehdyrator here on Amazon. One thing to be aware of is that the Cosori is made in China, so if you prefer to purchase items made in America, then the Nesco is a better option. The Nesco is also less expensive than the Cosori. For both of those reasons, I recommend the Nesco over the Cosori.
You can purchase Nesco dehydrators here on Pleasant Hill Grain. Note: Whenever possible, I’ve started buying from smaller companies like Lehman’s and Pleasant Hill Grain, but if you prefer, you can buy the Nesco dehydrator that I use from Amazon.
To learn more about dehydrating, I recommend checking out all of my articles on home food dehydrating. I also recommend The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook by Tammy Gangloff.
With pickling, you preserve food by putting it in a high-acid solution. You can do pickling either through natural fermentation or by adding vinegar. Spoilers can’t survive in an acidic environment. You can obtain this high acidity either by using salt or vinegar.
Pickling Process: Start by soaking your food in a brine that has salt. After pickling the produce for a certain amount of time, transfer the content into a jar full of vinegar. If you want to, you can use the canning process to create a vacuum seal as well.
To learn more about pickling, check out my articles and pickling recipes here. I also recommend picking up a copy of DIY Pickling: Step-by-Step Recipes for Fermented, Fresh, and Quick Pickles
Fermentation is an extremely popular and ancient method of food preservation that is popular even now. Fermenting food is a form of food spoilage itself. But when microorganisms stay tightly controlled, it produces positive effects and protects the food against harmful organisms.
Fermentation Process: The most common way to ferment vegetables is to use salt brine or simply rub them with salt. The food mustn’t be exposed to air once prepared. You can do this by submerging fresh vegetables in liquid to avoid food spoiling. This is how you can make kimchi or sauerkraut. You can also make yogurt, beer, cheese, and other delicious foods with this method.
Pickling and fermenting are terms that are often used interchangeably, because there is a lot of overlap and similarities between the two. Because of that, I’ve lumped them together in this category on my blog.
To learn more about fermenting, I recommend picking up a copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.
Removing the Intimidation Factor when Learning Fermenting
I don’t know about you, but I put off fermenting for a long time, because the process scared me! I just felt intimidated by the thought of letting food “sit out” so that it could “go bad.”
One thing that really helped me to get over the fear of fermenting was to pick up a few kits that would make the process easier for me. Here are the ones that I recommend:
- Stainless Steel Fermenting Kit (for use with mason jars)
- Complete Mason Jar Fermentation Kit from Cultures for Health (great if you don’t already have mason jars)
- Fermented Hot Sauce Kit from Cultures for Health
- Sauerkraut Kit from Cultures for Health
- Pickle Kit from Cultures for Health
Frozen food can survive for months if properly preserved. Frozen food can be safe to consume for nearly an indefinite time because germs cannot grow when food is frozen. However, the quality of frozen food degrades with time and becomes unappetizing. So, it’s best to use up frozen foods within a few months or a year.
Freezing Process: The best way to freeze fruits and vegetables is to do it in batches. You can place sliced fruits or vegetables on a baking tray and freeze them. Once they have frozen, you can place them in a Ziplock bag and store them without worries.
Another thing to keep in mind with freezing food is that if your power goes out, or if someone unplugs the freezer and you don’t realize it on time, all of your food in the freezer can spoil. Because of this, unless you have a backup power source, it’s best to not to use your freezer as your only method of home food preservation.
Recommended Article: Canning Vs. Freezing for Long-Term Food Storage
Helpful Tools for Freezing Feed for Home Food Preservation
Thankfully, other than a freezer, you don’t need a lot of tools. freezer bags that you can purchase at your local grocery store are a great option. For longer term food storage, I recommend vacuum sealing your food. I recommend this vacuum sealer that you can get on Amazon.
If you plan to freeze food on a regular basis, I recommend purchasing good quality freezer containers such as OXO brand storage containers that you can get on Amazon.
For more information, check out The Home Freezing Handbook.
Smoking is a method of cooking, flavoring, and preserving food by exposing it to smoke by burning wood. Smoke is antibacterial and antioxidant, and it is commonly used to prepare meats and seafood. Smoking techniques include hot smoking, smoke roasting. cold smoking, and smoke baking.
Smoking Process: To do this, you will need a smoker, some wood chips, and sliced meat. You can use different types of smokers such as gas smokers, water smokers, or electric smokers. No matter which one you choose, you need wood chips to create smoke.
The type of wood you get determines the flavor your meat will get. Prepare the meat by rubbing some salt and desired spice on it. Skewer the meat strips and place them a few feet over a hotbed of coals. Let them sit for a short while. Depending on the type of smoker and recipe you’re following, the smoking time may vary.
Here are some smokers to check out on Amazon. If you want to learn more about preserving food through smoking, check out this book, The Complete Guide to Smoking and Salt Curing: How to Preserve Meat, Fish, and Game
Freeze drying is a food preserving method that includes freezing food and then removing the ice through sublimation. This process can be performed in a freezer, on dry ice, or with a modern freeze-dryer. A modern freeze dryer is the safest option.
Unfortunately, even the freeze dryers made for home use tend to be on the expensive side. However, if you can afford to buy a freeze dryer, then by all means, go for it!
The benefit of freeze drying is that you can freeze dry all kinds of food, such as meat, dairy products, and even food like casseroles!
Freeze dried foods can last up to 25 years if stored properly, so by all means, freeze drying is a great option for long-term food storage.
Since freeze drying opens up a whole world of opportunities when it comes to the types of food you can preserve, coupled with the long-term shelf life of freeze dried food, buying a freeze dryer as soon as your budget permits. Harvest Right Freeze Dryers are the freeze dryer of choice for freeze drying food at home.
Throughout human history, we have developed different methods of food preservation. Since different methods produce foods with unique flavor, texture, and smell, you may be curious to learn all the methods of preserving food.
In this article, I walked you through seven common food preservation methods that should satisfy your curiosity.
Note that few people preserve food at home using all seven of these methods! I recommend starting with one or two and branching out from there.