How to Safely Dehydrate Canned Tuna for Backpacking Meals

four varieties of dehydrated tuna
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Some hikers love tuna as a backcountry staple, and others just bring it for their dogs. Either way, you might be wondering if you can dehydrate it at home. The answer is yes – you can safely dehydrate canned or pouch tuna for backpacking meals. You can also freeze-dry it using a home freeze-dryer. However, be forewarned that your house will smell like a fish processing plant! To minimize the odor, we recommend placing your dehydrator or freeze-dryer in a non-living space such as a garage.

What types of tuna can you dehydrate or freeze-dry?

You can dehydrate or freeze-dry canned or pouch tuna packed in water, but not oil. Tuna packed in oil will be more likely to go rancid due to the increased fat content. For the same reason, fattier fish like salmon is not a good option for dehydrating. 

Commercially prepared freeze-dried fish can be challenging to find and is primarily used for pet treats. Your dog may enjoy Grandma Lucy’s 100% freeze-dried Mahi, which is available on Amazon.

Continue reading, and you’ll see that home-drying tuna is quite simple and worth the minimal amount of work required.

Is it safe to dehydrate or freeze-dry tuna?

Dehydrating or freeze-drying tuna is safe as long as you follow recommendations from food safety experts. Pay special attention to temperature and handling guidelines.

Canned or pouch tuna is pre-cooked, so it does not need to be heated before dehydrating. If you want to dry fresh tuna, you must first cook the fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F (63 C).

How do you dehydrate or freeze-dry canned tuna?

Step One: Drain the juice from the can or pouch.

Canned tuna with juice.
My dog, Ella, loves the tuna juice poured over her kibble.

Step Two: Transfer immediately to the dehydrator or freeze-dryer trays.

  • Break up the tuna into small bits and spread evenly in a single layer on dehydrator trays using fruit leather tray liners or parchment paper.
  • Freeze-dryer trays do not require liners or parchment paper.
Wet tuna on freeze dryer tray
Wet Bumble Bee brand tuna on a freeze-dryer tray
Four varieties of canned tuna on freeze-dryer trays
Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Bumble Bee Chunk White Albacore, Bumble Bee Chunk Light Tuna, Wild Planet Alabore, Orleans Flake White Tuna
My dog, Ella, waiting for tuna to fall on the floor.
My dog, Ella, waited patiently for me to drop the tuna on the floor.

Step Three: Begin the drying process.

  • Dehydrate at 145-155℉ (62-68℃).
  • If freeze-drying, start the freeze-dryer and allow it to run its cycle.
  • Don’t forget to put your dehydrator or freeze-dryer in a location away from the living area. Your home will smell like fish!
The day my Harvest Right freeze-dryer arrived. Oh, happy day!
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Step 4: The tuna is done when it is completely dry.

  • The dehydration process will take approximately 4-6 hours or longer, depending on the humidity.
  • The freeze-drying process will take approximately 12 hours.
  • Be aware that the tuna will turn into “fish dust” if not handled carefully.
Four varieties of freeze-dried tuna on trays.
Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Bumble Bee Chunk White Albacore, Bumble Bee Chunk Light Tuna, Wild Planet Alabore, Orleans Flake White Tuna

Step Five: Prepare the dried tuna for long-term storage.

  • For dehydrated tuna, allow the fish to cool for 30-60 minutes. Then package it in an air-tight container.
  • For freeze-dried tuna, package the fish immediately in an air-tight container.
  • Once dried, the tuna will reabsorb moisture from the air, so do not leave the tuna out for more than an hour.
  • To lengthen the shelf-life of the tuna, consider vacuum sealing it in vacuum seal bags, mylar bags, or mason jars.
  • You can purchase a mason jar vacuum sealer accessory online.
  • Also, consider adding an oxygen absorber. Oxygen absorbers will remove any extra oxygen from your container.
Mason jars with freeze-dried tuna.
Left to Right: Wild Planet Albacore Tuna, Orleans Flake White Tuna, Bumble Bee Chunk White Albacore, Bumble Bee Chunk Light Tuna (freeze-dried)
Goscien brand vacuum sealer with Foodsaver brand mason jar accessory
Goscien brand vacuum sealer with FoodSaver brand mason jar accessory.

What is the yield?

  • A five-ounce can of tuna provides about 1/2 cup dehydrated and 1 cup freeze-dried.
  • The image above shows four 5 oz (142 g) cans of tuna stored in 16 oz mason jars after freeze-drying.
dehydrated vs freeze dried canned tuna comparison
The yield of 5 oz (142 g) can of dried tuna (left to right): 1/2 cup dehydrated tuna vs. 1 cup freeze-dried canned chunk light tuna

How do you rehydrate dried tuna?

  • Add enough hot water to cover the tuna and let stand for 10-20 minutes.
  • Dehydrated tuna will take longer to rehydrate. Whereas freeze-dried tuna will rehydrate quickly.
  • Rehydrate longer if the texture is still too firm.
  • You can use cold water, but rehydration will take longer (up to two hours).
  • Do not leave tuna rehydrating for more than two hours in moderate temperatures or one hour in temperatures over 90℉ (32℃). 

How long will dehydrated or freeze-dried tuna last?

  • You can store dehydrated tuna in an airtight container for 1 to 2 months at room temperature, up to 6 months in the refrigerator, and up to one year in the freezer.
  • You can store freeze-dried tuna for 10-15 years when vacuum sealed with an oxygen absorber.
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Give this keto-friendly dehydrated tuna recipe a try!

Keto-Friendly Tuna Salad

Backcountry Foodie
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NUTRITION (per serving)

cal/oz 205
cal/gram 7.2
Calories 246 kcal
PROTEIN 29 g
CARBS 0.7 g
Fiber 0 g
Added Sugar 0 g
Fat 14 g
Sodium 699 mg
Home Prep Time 3 mins
Field Prep Time 30 mins
WT/SERVING 1.2 oz (34 g)
MEAL PREPCold Soak, Cook
Diet TYPESBariatric, Gluten-Free, Low-Sugar, Nut-Free
Servings1 serving

INGREDIENTS
 
 

OPTIONAL

INSTRUCTIONS

HOME

  • Put the dry ingredients in a bag or container to be used in the backcountry. See meal prep tips below.
  • Pair with 1 packet (14 g) mayonnaise to be added when the meal is rehydrated.

FIELD

  • Add enough water to cover the tuna mixture and stir to mix well.
  • If using cold water, let the meal stand for 30-60 minutes, allowing the meal to rehydrate fully. If using hot water, let the meal stand for 10-15 minutes. Rehydration times will be much shorter if freeze-dried tuna is used.
  • Once the meal is rehydrated, drain off any excess water.
  • Add 1 packet (14 g) of mayonnaise and stir to mix well.
  • Pair with your favorite crackers, wrap, or pita bread and enjoy!

NOTES

MEAL PREP TIPS

  • If preparing the meal for long-term storage, we recommend packing the parmesan cheese in a separate container just before leaving for the trip. This will greatly lengthen the shelf-life of the meal. Single-serving packets, such as those used by pizza restaurants work well.
  • This is a low-volume meal. Consider making two batches for a hungry hiker.

 

NUTRITION

  • Please note that the nutrition information above does not include crackers, pita bread, or a wrap.
  • Total sugar (per serving): 0.3 g with no added sugar

MY NOTES

Did you make this recipe? We’d love to see it!Share photos from your kitchen or the backcountry below.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Aaron Owens Mayhew, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian and ultralight long-distance backpacker with over 20 years of nutrition and backpacking experience. She’s also the founder and owner of Backcountry Foodie, an online ultralight recipes and meal planning platform for backpackers. She also enjoys teaching hikers about backpacking nutrition via virtual masterclasses, YouTube videos, and podcast episodes. You can follow Aaron’s adventures in the kitchen and the backcountry via Instagram and Facebook.

Resources

MacKenzie, Jennifer, Jay Nutt, and Don Mercer. The Complete Trail Food Cookbook. Robert Rose, 2010.

McCallister, Glenn. Recipes for Adventure. Glenn McCallister, 2013.

USDA. Freezing and Food Safety.

USDA. Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart.

Backcountry Foodie Blog - How to Dehydrate and Freeze Dry Tuna

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