The history of freeze drying

For the first instances of freeze drying, people used their natural environment to their advantage.

Peruvian Incas made what they called chuño from drying potatoes and charqui from dried beef. They used the freezing night temperatures and low atmospheric pressures of the high Andes.

Inca ‘colca’ on the mountain side

colca of Sacred Valley, Peru
Across the valley, at the center of the photo, you can see the ‘colca’, where the Inca stored their surplus food. The cold wind helped to preserve their food supply. In the Sacred Valley Cuzco, Peru.

Inca city Machu Picchu

The high altitude and cold temperature of Machu Picchu made it possible to semi-freeze dry food. They made both chuño and charqui.

Eskimos, Buddhist Monks, and the Vikings were also known to freeze dry some of their foods.


Here is a timeline of the freeze-drying technology advancements compiled from many sources

Freeze drying using nature:
13th century Peruvian Inca [4]
?  Eskimos
?  Buddhist Monks
?  Vikings
Freeze drying with a chemical pump/vacuum:
1890  Altman – drying tissue [1] [4] [5]
The documentation of his research was “rediscovered” 40 after the fact, so he is not often attributed to the discovery
1905  Benedict and Manning – drying animal tissue [1] [4]
1906 Arsène d’Arsonval and Frédéric Bordas [2]
Freeze drying with a mechanical pump/vacuum:
1909 Shackell – first use of a mechanical vacuum [1] [4]
Independently “rediscovered” because Altman’s work was not known [3]
1911 Downey Harris and Shackle – to preserve a live rabies virus [2]
1927 Tival – first U.S. patent to mention drying frozen food under a vacuum [1]
1934 Elser – patent of dryer using dry ice [1]
1935 Flosdorf and Greaves – first commercial freeze dryer [4]
This allowed for the transportation of plasma to troops during WW2 [4] [5]
1938 Many online sources mention1938 as the date for Nestle freeze drying coffee, but the Nestle site claims the 1965 date. [6]
1965 Coffee freeze dried by Nestle – start of freeze dried food at scale [6]
1966 36 total U.S. freeze drying patents [4]
1968 Astronaut ice cream made [1]
1980s Flowers freeze dried
2013 Patent issued for Harvest Right home freeze dryer [5]


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