Freeze-dried foods such as coffee and soup likely conjure images of bland instant food products with dried meat, fish or vegetables that are reconstituted using hot water. However, in Japan, advanced technologies are being put to use to develop freeze-dried foods that can be eaten anytime, anywhere and even enjoyed. Delicious freeze-dried foods from Japan are both finding their ways to tables around the world and also proving useful in research activities conducted in remote locations such as the Antarctic and on the International Space Station (ISS).
Freeze-dried foods made for the Antarctica research expedition. The foods were developed in a way that maintains their nutrients, color and shape, all at one-fourth the weight. © Kyokushoku
Food Fuels Antarctic Exploration
Antarctic expedition team members prepare freeze-dried foods in a tent. (Photo courtesy of Sor Rondane Mountains geomorphological research team, 53rd Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition [JARE-53])
From 2007 to 2012, the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition undertook geomorphologic surveys of the Sor Rondane Mountains on the eastern side of Antarctica. Expedition members traveled from their base of operations to the distant mountain ranges for two months to 100 days, living in small tents. This meant life outdoors and snowstorms with winds topping 70 km an hour and temperatures dipping to minus 25 C. Good food played an important role in the expedition, with tasty and nutritious food helping expedition members to perform at their best. Relying on snowmobiles for transportation and weighted down with tents, fuel and survey equipment, the expedition team could not have the luxury of carrying large amounts of food. Faced with these limitations, the team opted to carry the bulk of its food in light, preserved and easy-to-prepare freeze-dried form. Another reason for this choice was that being in Antarctica, there is of course a wealth of snow and ice that can be easily used to restore freeze-dried foods to their original states.
The food that the expedition crew craved the most every day was fresh, homemade fare. However, at that time, food manufacturers said they had never dreamed of making freshly cooked dishes into freeze-dried foods. The reason that no one had ever attempted this was that once a dish has been dried, the way the different ingredients (such as vegetables, meat and fish) dry, and the way that they rehydrate when hot water is added are completely different. Expedition members cooperated with freeze-dried food experts who analyzed the qualities and characteristics of each ingredient used in meals. Based on this, they predicted the way in which these would dry and rehydrate, and then devised cooking methods, such as by altering the thickness of meat used, to create over 100 types of delicious freeze-dried foods.
A large drying oven made by Nippon Freeze Drying Co. The oven was used to make freeze-dried food for an Antarctica expedition team.
It turned out that these freeze-dried foods were even more delicious than anticipated and were not only popular among the Japanese members, but also received rave reviews from team members from other countries such as India and South Africa as well. Ultimately, these freeze-dried foods were not just an enjoyable part of expedition life in Antarctica but also an important pillar that supported the safe implementation of research activities.