Freeze-dried candy is incredibly popular, as home freeze drying opens up a cottage industry for small scale producers to take everyday candy and make it into something extraordinary. You’ll find freeze dried candy sellers at farmers markets, craft booths and country fairs, and increasingly online in mom and pop freeze dried candy shops. People have learned that making freeze dried candy is a great way to offset the cost of buying a home freeze dryer and a tasty side hustle to earn a little bit of extra money to pay the bills.
But what is freeze dried candy, and how is it made? I’ll explain exactly how freeze dried candy is made, and walk you through all the most popular types as well as where to buy them if you’re not setup to make your own.
Freeze drying is a process that’s been around for more than a century, but until now, it was reserved mostly for freeze dried camping meals and astronaut ice cream. Since it involves a bit more technology than simple dehydration, freezing or home canning, freeze drying was mostly done in an industrial setting…until recently.
Just as smart phones seemed like “space age” technology to any child of the 90s, but now are commonplace. Freeze drying used to be exotic and expensive, but now you can buy a home freeze dryer for about the cost of your average home refrigerator.
That means more people have access to freeze drying technology at home, and since it’s not all that expensive to run a batch, home producers have started experimenting with all manner of fun things…namely, freeze dried candy!
This past summer, I met a woman selling freeze dried candy at the state fair. I asked her how business was going, and she told me that she’s working round the clock to keep candy in stock because it was flying off the shelves. She’d just bought her 3rd freeze dryer, and her husband joined her in the business too.
Turns out, she originally bought her freeze dryer to make simple wholesome, easy to prepare, just add water meals for the elderly…and she started selling freeze dried candy to cover the costs of her charity work.
It ended up working out so well that in not only supported her charity work, but if became her full time gig…and her husband’s too!
The same is true of many gardeners, backpackers and homesteaders that I know. Not necessarily that they quit their day job, but simply that selling freeze dried candy became a lucrative side hustle.
They bought a home freeze dryer to put up extra produce from the garden or make easy to prepare just add water meals for hiking, camping or emergency preparedness. They just ended up selling freeze dried candy to help pay for the unit and make a bit of extra cash, simply because the demand is high and margins are excellent.
In bulk, you can buy skittles for about $2 per pound, but once freeze dried they can sell for as much as $16 to $20 per pound. You can fit several pounds into a batch, so that’s not a bad return on a simple 4 hour cycle in a home freeze dryer.
I know what you’re thinking, what about the cost of electricity?
That’s not free, surely, but it’s not as expensive as you think. On average, a freeze dryer pulls about 1000 watts an hour (or 1 Kilowatt Hour per hour of runtime, for a total of 4 kWhs per candy batch), and electricity prices are rated by Kilowatt hour and vary by state. The lowest cost state is around 10 cents (Idaho) and the highest is around 28 cents (Massachusetts). So a four hour batch run would cost between 40 cents and $1.12. Electricity does add to your costs, of course, but less than you’d think. Your time, and packaging materials are actually a bigger concern.
But still, there’s a reason that just about every freeze dried emergency food company is based in Idaho!
What is Freeze Dried Candy?
Freeze dried candy is candy of any sort that’s been processed in a freeze dryer. That means first freezing it to somewhere between -30° and -50°F (-34° and -45°C), and then creating negative pressure with a vacuum pump. You cannot make freeze dried candy without a home freeze dryer, as those temperatures and pressures just aren’t possible outside a sealed chamber with a specialized compressor for cooling.
The average freezer only gets down to about 0 F (-18 C), and there’s really nothing in an average household that can create the negative pressure that a vacuum pump is capable of.
(I know, there’s a viral social media video going around right now that says if you first freeze candy, and then put it in your dryer, you’ll get freeze dried candy. That fresh bit of wisdom was brought to you by the inventors of the tide pod challenge, and is simply a recipe for a sticky dryer and a lot of wasted candy.)
When you put most foods into a freeze dryer, it freezes them and then uses a vacuum pump to remove all the liquid. The result is something that is the exact size and shape as the original, and will re-hydrate back to the exact same taste and texture as the original. At least, that’s what happens with commonly freeze dried things like strawberries or whole precooked meals. You shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a fresh or freeze dried then re-hydrated meal.
But with candy, it’s different. The high sugar content, and low moisture content means that there’s really not much to dehydrate. When you put something that’s already dry into a freeze dryer, it usually doesn’t change. The sugar in candy changes that, and when sugary candy is chilled and then exposed to a vacuum pump it changes the crystaline structure of the sugar in marvelous ways.
Most types of candy puff up and turn into something that tastes similar to the original, but has a dramatically different texture.
Imagine a crunchy skittle, with a texture more like fresh pop corn or potato chips, rather than the chewy fruit candy it started out as. It sounds weird, but it’s actually incredibly delicious, and people that hated one type of candy when it was chewy may love it when it’s crisp, puffed and crunchy.
For candy, the process takes about 4 hours (much faster than the 24 to 30 hour cycles for regular food). Regular candy goes in in, and four hours later you open the door to find it completely transformed in appearance and texture.
What Happens to Candy When You Freeze Dry It?
Each type of candy reacts a bit differently when freeze dried, and some work out better than others. In general, high sugar candies and gummy candies tend to do the best.
Skittles, for example, is almost pure sugar with a bit of starch to give that nice chewy, gummy texture. The hard candy shell stays the same, but the inside puffs and they pop open a bit like popcorn.
Other candies that have multiple textures will react differently in each of their parts.
Nerds gummies were an obscure candy, but they’ve become a popular freeze dried candy because when you freeze dry them the “nerds” on the outside stay the same but the gummy on the inside puffs.
The result is a wonderful mix of textures and flavors, and a really neat looking alien treat that’s fun to give away in Halloween baskets.
Some candies contain chocolate, which does contain sugar but it’s actually mostly fats. Fats don’t freeze dry (or at least, they don’t change in the freeze dryer). That means candies with a mix of chocolate and high sugar ingredients like caramel will yield unique results too.
One of the most popular chocolate caramel candies to freeze dry is caramel M&Ms, as the candy shell and chocolate stay on the outside, but the caramel interior puffs and creates a really incredible contrast after freeze drying. Instead of a chewy caramel candy, you now have a crunchy candy that powders apart when it hits your tongue, so the flavor is much more intense.
Where to Buy Freeze-Dried Candy
Depending on where you live, the best places to buy freeze dried candy are at fairs, festivals and farmer’s markets. Really, just about anywhere that a small scale producer could setup a table and sell their wares.
Here in Vermont, many of the small scale producers have talked to owners of back roads country stores, and they’ve found shelf space there too.
But more and more people are selling their freeze dried candy online in small makers markets, like Etsy. One of the most dependable places to buy freeze dried candy is Etsy since they’ll pretty much always have dozens of sellers, and they have every type of candy imaginable.
I’ve had a few people contact me asking where they can buy freeze dried candy in bulk. Namely, a woman who owns an ice cream shop and wants to have it available as a topping choice. In that case, by far your best bet is to get your own freeze dryer, as they’re simple to run and you’ll save A LOT over buying the candy already freeze dried. That said, if you don’t have the time or space available, you can contact someone who freeze dries candy and ask for a custom bulk batch. They might give you a deal, but since demand is so high in the retail market, don’t count on it.
One vendor I talked to says she’s running 3 freeze dryers round the clock, and her and her husband take turns waking up every 4 hours at night to turn over batches. She can’t make it fast enough.
How to Make Freeze-Dried Candy
If you have a home freeze dryer, or are considering buying one, the process for making freeze dried candy is pretty simple.
Start by pre-freezing your candy in a regular freezer. You just toss the bags from the grocery store right in the freezer as is.
That’s optional, but it does help speed the process along if everything is chilled before you get started.
Next, turn on the freeze dryer and select custom cycle. The freeze dryer has a special “candy mode” that activates when you set the cycle to the following settings:
- Initial Freeze: 0 F
- Extra Freeze Time: 0:00
- Dry Mode: Fast
- Dry Temp: 145 F
- Extra Dry Time: 2:00
With these settings, you should see a note come on the screen saying “Candy/High Temperature Mode.”
Next, press start and the freeze dryer will pre-chill for 30 minutes.
After that, you can load the candy in on freeze dryer trays. Try to space it out a bit, as the candy will puff and needs space to expand. Everything should be in a single layer on the tray. I’ve found that using silicone tray liners really makes clean up easy, but that’s optional. (Parchment paper also works.)
Once it’s loaded, seal the chamber and press start.
About 4 hours later, you should be able to open the freeze dryer after the cycle and find your freeze dried candy ready to be packed up (or enjoyed immediately).
Best Candy To Freeze Dry
Whether you’re freeze drying your own candy, or trying to pick the best freeze dried candy to buy, a lot depends on your tastes.
There are a lot of types of candy out there today, and some freeze-dry better than others.
Generally, sugar hard candies, soft chewy candies, gummy candies, marshmallow candies or anything that’s mostly sugar works well in the freeze dryer.
Chocolate is high fat and low sugar (relatively) and does not freeze dry well, but there are still a few chocolate candies that work well. Mostly chocolate-coated candies, that are filled with a high sugar filling like caramel.
Freeze-dried milk duds, for example, are one of the best freeze-dried candies because the caramel filling works wonderfully, and the chocolate just dots the outside as it expands.
By far, the most popular freeze dried candy is skittles, but there are many good options out there and I’ll take you through them one by one.
Freeze Dried Skittles
Regular skittles are one of the most popular freeze dried candies, and with good reason.
Even people who generally don’t like skittles (like me) often love freeze dried skittles. They’re completely different, and if you’re going to try one type of freeze dried candy, skittles are the best place to start. They’ll give you a good idea of how a change in texture can really dramatically transform how you experience flavor.
Technically, the “flavor” is the same, but when something is crunchy rather than chewy the pieces dissolve on your tongue in a different way and change the way you experience the flavor.
Personally, I’ve only freeze dried regular skittles, but they have close to a dozen different skittles flavors out there at this point. I’ve heard in freeze drying groups that sour skittles don’t work well, something about the extra citric acid in the mix. Either way, be prepared to have a few hick-ups if you’re trying out other flavors, but know that regular skittles are one of the best freeze dried candies, and the easiest to freeze dry.
Freeze-Dried Jolly Ranchers
Hardy candies like jolly ranchers are pretty much entirely concentrated sugar, and they create massive balls of crunchy flavor.
Jolly ranchers get bigger than almost any other type of candy, and they explode in a crumble of flavor on your tongue when you bite them. Instead of just getting a tiny bit of flavor as you slowly nurse a hard candy, you get it all spread out across your tongue at once.
As a result, jolly ranchers are one of the most popular options. They’re also one of the most profitable if you’re selling freeze dried candy, since just 5 or 6 jolly ranchers fill a good sized pouch…and can sell for $6 to $8. That’s more than a dollar a piece, for a candy that costs just pennies each originally.
Freeze Dried Peppermint Candies
Similar to jolly ranchers, peppermint candies puff up like crazy and the experience of eating one is completely transformed.
Since it crumbles apart into a crunchy candy, all the tiny pieces hitting your tongue at once make it incredibly minty, and it’s actually too “spicy” for my kids to enjoy. As an adult, I can appreciate the intense mint flavor that borders on spicy from all the mint at once.
Really, there’s nothing like it, because you just can’t get that kind of intense mint flavor any other way that I know of.
Freeze Dried Warheads
So freeze dried warheads are kind of a unique situation, as they are a sweet hard candy, but coated with a powder of citric acid to give you the sensation of intense sour until you make it through to the sweet core.
When you freeze dry them though, you bite into them and get both flavors at once. There’s not an intense pucker followed by a sweet reward, but both sour and sweet hitting your tongue at once.
Freeze-Dried Gummy Bears
Gummy candies are also really popular choice for freeze drying, and since they contain either starch or gelatin to make them soft and chewy, they don’t crumble apart as readily as all sugar hard candies.
Gummy bears in particular hold their shape pretty good, and you can still make out the gummy bear shape in most freeze dried gummy bears.
They do have a crunchy texture, that’s very different than the gummy texture they started with, but they don’t crumble apart when you bit them. They’re a good middle of the road option if you don’t want something that explodes apart when you bit into it, but you still want a bit of crisp texture on your tongue.
Freeze dried gummy bears are great because they have so many different flavors, and each one will taste very different.
Freeze-Dried Gummy Worms
Gummy worms are a similar experience to gummy bears, but you can often find them with a sour citric acid coat on the outside.
Those are particularly nice because they give you a sour hit (not quite as intense as a warhead, of course) but enough to keep things interesting.
Freeze dried gummy worms also grow really large, so kids really get a kick out of the gigantic crunchy worms in their Halloween baskets.
Freeze-Dried Nerd Clusters (& Ropes)
Gummy nerds clusters are a gummy candy dotted on the outside by a hard nerdy candy. The nerds stay the same, but the gummy inside puffs.
That creates a really crazy looking alien candy that is popular for gifting, and does really well at craft fairs just because it looks so unique.
Freeze Dried Peach Rings
I’ll put it out there, I really don’t like artificial peach flavor. Freeze dried peach rings are some of my least favorite…but they are incredibly popular. My mother and daughter absolutely love them, and they have a devoted cult following.
If you love peach rings as they are, there’s a good change you’re going to love freeze dried peach rings.
They don’t puff up as dramatically as some other candies, but they still grow enough to make a big difference in the candies’ texture.
Freeze Dried Taffy
Taffy is also mostly sugar, but unlike jolly ranchers, it takes on an almost creamy flavor and texture.
This one got mixed reviews in my house, and some people love it, while others hate it.
With most candies, if you love the original, there’s a good chance you’ll absolutely lvoe the freeze dried version. Freeze Dried Taffy breaks that rule, and while my mother and I both love taffy, I couldn’t stand the freeze dried version while she loved it.
It depends on why you like it I guess, for the flavor, or the creamy/chewy texture. For my mom, it’s all flavor and crunchy or chewy, she still loves it. In my case, changing it ruined it for me, so to each their own.
None the less, I’m the exception, and most people that love taffy love freeze dried taffy. This is one of the most popular candies and it sells really well at fairs.
Freeze Dried Marshmallows
Like taffy, marshmallows have a creamy mouthfeel when freeze dried. They’re still crunchy, of course, but the gelatin keeps them creamy.
Freeze dried marshmallows are great to add to hot chocolate, or eat right out of hand.
Mini-marshmallows or giant roasters, it doesn’t matter, they’re all tasty.
Freeze-Dried Lucky Charms Marshmallows
Since marshmallows freeze dry so well, other marshmallow candies also work. You can get packs of fun marshmallows these days, with lots of colors, flavors and shapes.
They hold their shape wonderfully when freeze dried, and puff up nicely to a crunchy/creamy candy that does well at fairs.
Freeze Dried Caramel M&Ms
Though the candy shell and milk chocolate don’t change in freeze drying, the inside of caramel M&Ms explodes into a crunchy caramel puff. Contrast that with the creamy chocolate and solid crunchy shell and these are truly exceptional.
Freeze dried skittles are good, no question, but these are my personal favorite.
While I’m not a huge fan of regular caramel M&Ms, this is a good example of freeze drying taking something ordinary and making it exceptional.
Freeze Dried Milk Duds
When it comes to freeze dried chocolate candies, they can only have a small amount of chocolate and still work. Chocolate coated caramel milk duds, for example, work out wonderfully.
The caramel puffs nicely, while the chocolate stays in flecks on the outside.
These are actually one of my personal favorites, right up there with freeze dried caramel M&Ms.
Freeze-Dried Charleston Chew
This is more of an old fashioned candy that you don’t see much anymore, but Charleston Chew does particularly well in the freeze dryer. The inside is a flavored nougat originally, and the flavor depends on the type you choose (strawberry, chocolate or vanilla).
What happens to Charleston Chew when you freeze dry it, however, is you get basically something that’s a lot like a crunchy freeze dried marshmallow, but the marshmallow has flavor. And on top of that, the outside is coated in chocolate, which is extra nice.
Freeze Dried Twix
Twix are incredibly popular candies, and they really transform when freeze dried. The cookie base stays about the same, getting a little crisper if anything. The chocolate doesn’t change in freeze drying.
But what happens to freeze dried twix is the caramel puffs out incredibly, leaving it as a caramel puff on top of a chocolate covered cookie base. I used full sized twix bars, which was a bit unwieldy, and I’d recommend using smaller fun sized ones instead.
The main thing here is that eating a whole one seems like a lot, since it’s grown so much, but it is the same amount of calories as a normal twix bar that most people wouldn’t bat an eye at.
The fact that the candy is growing so much actually results in people feeling satisfied while actually consuming less, which is a nice perk.
Other Popular Freeze Dried Candy
There are so many different candies that freeze dry well, and this list is just the beginning. I’d suggest also trying:
- Freeze-Dried Carmel Apple Pops
- Freeze Dried Jelly Beans
- Freeze Dried Lemon Heads
- Freeze Dried Hi-Chew
- Freeze Dried Snickers
- Freeze Dried Candy Corn
- Freeze Dried Bits O Honey
- Freeze Dried Starburst
- Freeze Dried Peeps
- Freeze Dried Cotton Candy
Really, the possibilities are endless…but even if you just stick to freeze dried skittles, you’re doing alright.
Other Freeze Dried Treats
There are a number of other freeze-dried sweet treats, besides freeze-dried candy, that work out wonderfully. The texture completely transforms, and an otherwise perishable treat becomes shelf-stable for decades.
Even though it is a “preservation method,” most people are doing it for the unique flavor and texture, rather than post-apocalyptic enjoyment. These are definitely worth trying sooner rather than later!
- Freeze Dried Cheesecake
- Freeze Dried Ice Cream
- Freeze Dried Jello
- Freeze-Dried Rice Crispy Treats
Freeze Drying Guides
Looking for more ways to use your home freeze dryer?