If your kids have asked you for freeze dried candy seemingly out of the blue in recent months, you're not alone. Google Trends shows a massive spike in searches for "freeze dried candy" over the past four months, which left us scratching our heads. It turns out that the trend might be a pandemic phenomenon fueled by food, science and slime-themed YouTube channels.
So, of course, I bought a couple of packs of freeze dried candy to try it out myself, and did a little research on the freeze drying process to see if there's any way to make it at home.
Curious about freeze dried candy? Check out what I learned below.
Freeze dried candy review: What is freeze dried candy?
I was able to get my hands on bags of freeze dried Brightside Skittles and Extreme Sour Sweet Tarts on Amazon to review. The short version: They're all right!
Now for the long version. The flavor of the freeze dried candies is exactly the same as their hydrated counterparts. I'll explain why in the section below, but suffice it to say that freeze drying is meant to preserve both the food and the flavor where heat-drying changes the flavor. But if you like a candy, don't expect its flavor to change through the freeze drying process.
The texture is the big difference between regular and freeze dried candy. You'll notice in pictures that freeze dried candy puffs up so that freeze dried Skittles, for instance, look kind of like little colorful clams with seafoam coming out of their shells. The reason is that they've been frozen to an extremely low temperature very quickly, and you might remember from high school chemistry (or having to deal with burst pipes in the winter) that water expands when frozen.
Like all freeze dried foods, the candies were crunchy at first but melted in our mouths as we ate them. If you like a candy, do take note that its mouth-feel will be completely different when they're freeze dried. So if, like me, you enjoy smushing your Skittles between your thumb and index finger before you eat them, that won't be part of the experience this time.
Each bag of freeze dried candy weighs about four ounces and costs $10.99. A regular bag of Skittles weighs about two ounces and costs $0.89, making this an over 500% markup. So was it worth it? I'm actually going to say yes, solely on the basis that it was a new eating experience and I don't personally mind throwing ten bucks at trying something new. But my three-year-old son would be happy with candy whether or not it was freeze dried, so the only situation in which I could see myself buying it again would be if I wanted something visually interesting for a cake decoration.
What is freeze drying?
Freeze drying is used for a few different applications, but you probably know it best from freeze dried foods like freeze dried fruit, the marshmallows in Lucky Charms or "astronaut ice cream." You can also dehydrate food with a heat dehydrator, which is how foods like beef jerky are typically made. However, when you use heat to dehydrate food, it tends to caramelize any sugars and make the food chewier.
In freeze drying, food is cooled to somewhere between -58 and -112 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the product, in order to freeze the food to the point that it can only exist as a solid (rather than a gas or liquid). Then the food is dried by removing pressure and applying heat in two cycles. By the end of the process, the water content in the food is very low. Whereas heat-dehydrated food is chewy, freeze dried food breaks down, melting in your mouth.
Can you freeze dry food at home?
Yes! Kind of. There are freeze dryers you can buy for home use, and the smallest versions could fit on your countertop. However, they start at about $2,000 and get more expensive with different pumps and larger sizes. There really isn't a way to replicate the freeze drying process through other means, so whereas with heat drying you can sub out an oven and some fancy timing for a countertop dehydrator, you'd have to be an engineer to get your freezer cold enough to freeze dry food (not to mention vacuum-sealing it).
Basically, you'd have to be really into freeze dried food to do it at home (or ready to start a freeze dried food business!).
Why is freeze dried candy popular right now?
As far as I can tell, people (probably kids) are on a freeze dried candy kick right now because of YouTube. In late 2019, the YouTube channel TKOR, which has 12.6 million subscribers at the time of writing this article, posted a video titled " What Happens When You Freeze Dry Candy? This is Freeze Drying TKOR Style! " That video currently has 11 million views, and it appears to have kicked off a little bit of a freeze drying frenzy both on TKOR's channel and among other food and family YouTubers with young audiences. Now, there are even ASMR freeze dried candy videos .
While TKOR appears to be primarily responsible for the freeze dried candy craze on YouTube, my hunch is that a video from the specifically child-targeted channel Will It Slime is responsible for recent curiosity off of YouTube. In March, they released a video titled " Freeze Drying Candy! Gummy Worms, Skittles, and Starburst Tested! " just before Google Trends tracked a massive spike in interest in the topic. So there you go: As usual, your kids are asking about freeze dried candy because they saw it online.
The good news? Even if you don't want to drop $2,000 on a home freeze dryer, you can at least watch someone else doing it online.