Freeze Dried Food – when there is no Alternative?
When a professional sports person is preparing to push his or herself to the limit and put their lives on the line in pursuit of their ultimate goal; be it walking to the South Pole, climbing Mount Everest or sailing single-handed around the world, the equipment that they take, will often determine the success or failure of that goal.
When we think of equipment, the first thing that comes to mind is usually the hardware associated with a particular discipline, if sailing, its your yacht, sails, ropes, navigation equipment, for climbers its their harness, crampons, axes and ropes.
Food is not necessarily at the top of the list when the average person thinks about essential equipment in any of the extreme disciplines. Yet it should be, if not at the top of the list, at least on a par with the other equipment already mentioned.
For a sportsperson who pushes their body and mind to the absolute limits it’s not just the nutritional value of the food, (on average they need to consume between 6,000 and 8,000 calories a day) it’s also essential to their mental wellbeing. If you’ve been pushing yourself continuously and often, due to the situations they are in, with very little sleep, to then face eating something that is unpalatable will have a drastic effect on their moral. So finding the right food for the task and also food that, they will at least want to eat, if not enjoy, is extremely high on the list when planning and preparing for a challenge.
There is a vast array of foods on the market to choose from, but for the majority of sports people, either due to the length of time they will be in isolation or where they are embarking on solo challenges and carrying all their own supplies, will opt for Freeze Dried Food as it tends to be the lightest and easiest to prepare.
It’s actually quite surprising how many companies there are that make freeze-dried food, very few of which are based in the UK, it tends not to be something that most of us would normally need to think about and up until about two years ago. I count myself among those. It was only after one of the clients that our catering company supplied food to, asked if we knew of any good producers of freeze-dried food, that I even knew of its existence.
The client in question was looking to break the Transatlantic sailing record at the time, which they later went on to achieve.
Unfortunately over the years Freeze Dried Food has had a bad press and some would say rightly so, perhaps this is due in part, to the complacency of many of the companies that produce it. I suppose, when you supply to a captive market that have little choice but to use Freeze Dried Food, it may be easy to become complacent.
When I started looking in to the whole question of freeze-dried food and actually tried some of it for myself, both my husband and I agreed that we couldn’t possibly do any worse, as the majority of the food on the market leaves a lot to be desired. So for the last two years we have been setting up and running a small concern in, what we feel to be, the gourmet end of the freeze-dried food market.
It’s certainly been an amazing journey and an even bigger learning curve. Not knowing how other companies produced their food, we went about it in the same way as we would any normal catering, with the ethos of
“if you use the best ingredients, you will get the best results!”
So we make every dish as we would normally, using all the ingredients that are usually associated with that dish and only when we are happy that, as a freshly cooked meal, it could be served to a paying customer, do we even start the freeze drying process. I have since learned that this is not the normal approach, as I am told that most producers freeze dry each component within a dish individually and only when it comes to the stage of packaging, do the ingredients then get combined in the bag.
In the whole process of setting up the business, apart from dealing with government legislation and bureaucracy, the most difficult thing was actually finding a company that could supply us with a freeze drying machine. It’s not like you can pop to your local Electrical superstore and pick one up on a Sunday afternoon.
The technology involved never ceases to amaze me and I even surprise myself these days at how much I know about the whole complexities of freeze drying anything, I could bore anyone senseless on the subject and I often do!
I’m sure that some would think we were completely mad in taking such an expensive risk, for what essentially was an experiment, but it’s one that seems to be paying off, maybe not financially as yet, but certainly from the satisfaction value.
If I were to be told a couple of years ago that I would be dealing with some of the most accomplished and famous sports people in the world I would have laughed, especially as I’m not particularly that way inclined myself (as those who know me will testify).
We still have a long way to go and no doubt an immense amount more to learn, but if the years to follow are half as enjoyable as the last two I am certainly looking forward to the future.
Editor’s note - Would you count freeze-dried food as something you would consider eating?