I remember when I first tasted freeze-dried fruit. It was sometime in the mid-2000s, I had just graduated from college, moved into my first apartment and was doing all kinds of grown-up things. Like picking out cereal.
For one reason or another, I snagged a box of Berry Burst Cheerios. I dug in and popped one of the dehydrated-looking strawberries – I don’t even think I knew they were called freeze-dried at the time – into my mouth. It was still dry and not soggy because I’m a freak who refuses to put milk over my cereal and drinks it separately from a glass instead. (Only @ me if you agree, please and thanks.) Anyway, as the emoji says these days, mind blown. The fruit basically rehydrated and melted in my mouth and was so concentrated in sweet and tart flavors that I almost didn’t know what hit me.
From there, my love of freeze-dried fruit grew and took me to new heights – like Berry Burst Triple Berry Cheerios. Since those early, heady days, I’ve seen its availability and variety skyrocket, from natural foods stores all the way down to supermarkets (my local Safeway), smaller grocery stores (Trader Joe’s) and even the big-box stops (Target). Lately I’ve spied a Carmen Miranda fruit hat’s worth of options: Apples, grapes, bananas, mango, pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and cherries.
But first, a bit of science. According to “The New Food Lover’s Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, freeze-drying is also known as lyophilization. Save that for your next triple-word score! First, food is frozen and then subjected to a vacuum, allowing the ice to be instantaneously turned into vapor. That means what’s left behind retains more of its original shape and contributes to all those excellent air pockets that cause that melt-in-your mouth (think astronaut ice cream) texture.
Of course, the process means freeze-dried fruit is especially susceptible to losing its crisp texture when exposed to air and therefore moisture, which is why it’s often packaged with packets of drying agents and why you want to make sure to keep it in a well-sealed container. Even sealed freeze-dried fruit will eventually go soft, so be sure to use it sooner rather than later, which is not hard to do considering how easy it is to polish off a bag in a single sitting.
I fully endorse eating as much freeze-dried fruit out of hand as you want, but here are a few more ideas for taking advantage of this handy ingredient.
– In frostings and whipped cream. Incorporating freeze-dried fruit in your dessert decoration is a twofer, because you get both color and flavor. Unlike fresh fruit, the freeze-dried stuff won’t add liquid to your buttercream or whipped cream. Simply grind the fruit into a fine powder (you can combine it with a bit of granulated sugar) in your food processor and stir it into your adornment of choice. Just be sure to remove that inedible drying packet, and yes, I speak from experience! You may want to cover the bowl with a towel because dust tends to escape as the machine works.
– For rolling. Keep that food processor out, because you can also use ground freeze-dried fruit for dipping truffles, of the cake or chocolate variety.
– In meringues. No need to fear this magical combination of egg whites and sugar! It’s easier to make than you probably think. You have to be careful about what ingredients you add so as not to throw off the balance too much, but a few tablespoons of ground freeze-dried fruit will lend your meringues a gentle hue and flavor.
– As a crunchy garnish. Chopped up into bits or even left whole, freeze-dried fruit looks lovely on top of almost any dessert. Just keep in mind that it will go soft and chewy, so if you plan on storing the treats for an extended period before serving, you may want to hold off on the garnish until the last minute. Freeze-dried fruit will also add pizazz to a chocolate bark.
– Mix into baked goods. You can use freeze-dried fruit inside of baked goods where you’d otherwise think about traditionally dried or even fresh fruit. Again, the bonus: No added moisture to mess with your batter. Plus, they’ll plump a little and be pleasantly chewy after baking. So go ahead and stir them into your favorite muffin, scone, oatmeal cookie or quick bread recipe.