Updated: Dec 25, 2020
Null Hypothesis 2 (Chicken): Freeze-Dried Baked Chicken, Once Rehydrated, is Indistinguishable from Fresh Baked Chicken
Conclusion: We could tell the difference. But also, the experiment needs to be improved to be sure.
Abstract: We baked chicken in the oven with lemon pepper seasoning and freeze-dried it. We baked a second batch the same way. We rehydrated the freeze-dried chicken and warmed it in the oven. Our three test subjects tried both batches. Three of the three testers thought the freshly baked chicken tasted better. Once we refrigerated both and reheated them the next day, it was not as obvious.
Appx. 2 lbs. - store-bought, flash-frozen chicken
Lemon pepper seasoning
1 Harvest Right freeze dryer tray with a silicone mat
Bowl for rehydrating chicken
3 cups water
Seasoned frozen chicken with lemon pepper seasoning and bake at 350° F for 55 min.
Spread baked chicken out on the freeze-dryer tray.
Put the tray in the freezer.
Started freeze drier to the non-liquid, pre-freeze setting (waited 30 mins.)
Once the pre-freeze cycle complete, place the frozen tray of chicken in freeze-drier (with 3 other trays of food; we did rice, hamburger patties, and shredded chicken)
Started the freeze-drying cycle.
Removed chicken from freeze-dryer
Baked second batch of chicken the same as step #1.
Rehydrated freeze-dried chicken in tap water for 10 minutes and reheated in oven for 60 minutes at 300 ° F.
Taste-tested the two batches.
Refrigerated both batches overnight.
Reheated the two batches.
Taste-tested the two batches again.
Our actual total starting weight of frozen chicken on the tray was 1 lb. 9 oz. (not including the tray itself). We measured by determining how much could be spread out in a single layer on the tray rather than by weight. Our total finished dried weight was . . . well, actually we forgot to weigh it.
The freeze-drier completed its ordinary cycle at 20 hours. The largest pieces of chicken breast weren't completely dried, so we added 7 hours. The largest pieces still were not completely dried, and so we added 2 more hours. After the additional time, the largest chicken breast still was not finished, but we called it close enough for this experiment since we were rehydrating it today. The largest piece was about an 1.5 inches thick at its thickest part. In the future, we'll cut all the chicken breasts into thinner pieces. The temperature scanner showed an approximate average temperature of 105° F across all the remaining chicken (we use an infrared food thermometer to scan finished trays of food to try and determine if there are ice crystals that measure as cold spots).
The photo below shows the freeze-dried chicken (you can see where we cut it to see if it was dried all the way through). These pieces are about an inch thick.
Each of our subjects (my wife and two kids), looked at the plates of chicken below to compare their visual appearance to freshly cooked chicken. All three testers could distinguish the fresh chicken from the freeze-dried chicken. All three agreed that the fresh chicken looked more appealing because the freeze-dried chicken, although rehydrated, looked cracked and less moist. All three also agreed that the freshly cooked chicken tastes better.
That doesn't seem like a fair fight though, so we refrigerated one of each of the chicken breast overnight to simulate "leftovers." The next day we reheated each in the microwave for 30 seconds. This time, on visual inspection, two of the testers were uncertain which was the freeze-dried chicken.
The first plate is freeze-dried, rehydrated and refrigerated overnight. The second plate was baked and refrigerated overnight without freeze-drying. Our testers agreed that the chicken that was never freeze-dried looked better. They also agreed that the rehydrated, freeze-dried chicken tasted drier. However, they all three agreed that both tasted very similar.
We believe there may be a flaw in the experiment, so we may modify the experiment and repeat it. The flaw is that the two batches of chicken were cooked separately. It seems likely that the first batch of chicken came out of the oven drier than the second batch of chicken, which would have impacted every other step along the way. We don't know for sure that the chicken tasted the same to begin with. In repeating this test, we'd start with the same piece of baked chicken and freeze-dry half of it.