Freeze dryers have been a game changer for several industries — most notably the packaged and long-life food industries (remember when dried bananas used to be brown?). However, foods and drinks are not the only things you can freeze-dry. Here are six surprising uses for freeze dryers that will have you rushing out to the store.
1. Ice Cream
Yes — you read that right. You can actually freeze-dry ice cream. The process of lyophilizing (or freeze-drying) ice cream removes the moisture from your ice cream sandwich or tub of Old English toffee, leaving a cake of sweet, dry powder that no longer requires refrigeration.
According to survivalist Taras Kul, freeze-dried ice cream tastes a little like a baby-milk powdered cookie. Not all that bad, but not all that much like ice cream, either. On the upside, Kul notes that the stuff can last for up to two years in air-tight packaging. No wonder they call it “astronaut ice cream.”
2. Cannabis Concentrates
Some of America’s favorite cannabis concentrates (like bubble hash) are made with large amounts of water, creating a sticky paste that needs to dry out. Traditionally, bubble hash (or ice-water hash) takes days to air-dry — a process that can contribute to the degradation of terpenes, flavor, and smell.
Now, freeze dryers cut the process down from several days to a matter of hours. Set at a temperature of 45°-55°, a high-quality freeze dryer can dehydrate thin cakes of bubble hash in approximately 18-24 hours, saving thousands of hours per year and preserving more of the terpenes and flavor.
Above and beyond edibles (and dabs), lyophilization also offers a novel way to memorialize your pets. Rather than investing in a traditional skin mount to preserve your pets via taxidermy, you can now simply freeze-dry your deceased companions and keep them around in a new, unmoving form.
If you are a fan of hunting (or collecting dead insects), freeze dryers are also perfect for preserving the remains of your most highly prized beasts. Rather than using taxidermy, freeze-dry the animal’s head (or the whole animal) and mount it as you would mount an animal that has been cured with taxidermy.
4. Blood Plasma
Blood transfusions are usually performed with fresh or fresh-frozen blood products, as blood is a highly perishable product. However, in situations such as a battlefield, fresh blood plasma is not readily available and researchers have been experimenting with alternatives.
In 2008 (just over 100 years after freeze dryers were invented), a placebo-controlled study showed that freeze-dried plasma was just as effective as fresh frozen plasma for resolving trauma-induced coagulopathy in pigs. While this isn’t something you would really want to try at home, it’s good to know that the option exists.
If you like the idea of preserving your germs, freeze dryers offer a great way to do it. Research labs regularly stabilize and preserve bacteria for later use, and many samples hold up well under the freeze-drying process.
If you want to preserve your germs for later use, research shows that gram-positive bacteria and fastidious microorganisms are the most resistant to the freeze-drying process and can last from one to several decades. In the meantime, it’s probably a good idea to have your bodily samples tested in a lab and treat any illness that you’re suffering from now.
Nanotechnology is a developing field with applications from carbon fiber to smart clothing. It’s still very much in the arena of something from a science-fiction movie, but the way that the industry uses freeze dryers could inspire some practical uses at home.
Before nanotubes are used for industry, they are trapped in ice and freeze-dried to remove the impurities (along with the ice). If you have anything made from graphite or metal that won’t be damaged by water and needs to be cleaned, go ahead and freeze it in ice. The freeze dryer will remove the ice and impurities, leaving you with a shiny, clean metal at the end.
Freeze dryers are useful pieces of equipment to have around — whether you’re interested in preparing for a wilderness adventure or preserving your mucus for future generations. Of course, the most commonly freeze-dried substances are things like fruit, soup, and beef jerky. But if you’re starting to feel a little bit creative, a freeze-dried ice cream sandwich could just be the cherry on the cake!