Easy DIY Survival Bars

Maximum Shelf-Life: Homemade Emergency Bars

Storage, Dehydration, and Freeze-Drying

“Preserve and treat food as you would your body, remembering that in time food will be your body.” – B.W. Richardson 

Sometimes you only need some ration bars to get you through a short disaster.  A high-calorie, nutrient-dense bar can provide you with sugars, proteins, and carbohydrates to keep you moving and keep you alive.  The problem with many bars is that you don’t know what they are putting in them.  The other problem is that they can focus on nutrition so much that they taste as good as wet cardboard.  While having some granola bars in your inventory is great, when you make a batch of bars yourself, you will find that they taste better, and you know exactly what kind of nutrients and calories you are taking into your body.  These are calorically-dense bars that will fuel you up through any disaster.

Let’s get one thing clear.  We are not much of a baker.  We have had more than our share of failures trying to develop a good-tasting calorie-dense bar.  We can make an occasional loaf of bread and maybe some cookies, and we can cook just about anything else in the world, but baking just isn’t our thing.  Sometimes, the trash can is the only place for some of our baking experiments.  With that in mind, this is our latest calorically and nutrient-dense bar.  It might not be the best, but it tastes good and has the calories you would need after a disaster to sustain you.  In this blog, we will make a calorically dense, nutritious emergency ration bar with a decent shelf-life.  We will take it a step further in this video and take moisture readings from one we left out overnight, one that we dehydrated, and one that we freeze-dried.  From this, we can try and determine shelf-life.  There are many recipes online for emergency ration bars, and we have tried many.   Let’s do this…

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WHAT YOU NEED

For this recipe, you will need:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tbsp corn starch 
  • 1 ½ cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup toasted almond flakes
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 banana 
  • 1 Tablespoon Chia seeds
  • 2 cups sunflower butter 
  • 1/2 cup water (I accidentally used a cup, so I’ll show you how to correct that mistake later in the video)
  • 1 cup coconut oil

You will also need two large mixing bowls, measuring cups, measuring spoons, a large wooden spoon, and a large kitchen knife.

THE RECIPE

Energy Bar RecipePreheat your oven to 325 degrees.

We like to dry toast the almonds slightly to coax out a nice flavor from them.  To do this, put them in a non-stick pan, crank the heat and keep them moving in the pan with a spatula.  When they start to brown, turn off the heat and put them on a plate or in a bowl to cool.  If you leave them in the pan, they will burn and be bitter.

Measure the various DRY ingredients and place them in one of the mixing bowls.  One cup toasted almond flakes, two cups oats, one cup almond flour, one tablespoon corn starch, and one-and-a-half cups semi-sweet mini chocolate chips.  Stir until all ingredients are well blended.

Separately, blend the salt, vanilla extract, water, coconut oil, chia seeds, and banana in a blender until all ingredients are one.  We accidentally used a full cup of water and not a 1/2 cup.  

Slowly add the wet blender ingredients to the dry ingredients bowl.  Fold in the Sunflower Butter until well mixed, and a moist dough consistency is achieved.

We told you we’re not a baker.  To correct this, we added in a tablespoon at a time of flour.  You could also add in a bit more oats.  This will absorb the excess water, but they will no longer be gluten-free.  You want it moldable and for it to stick together, but not batter-like.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Put the dough into the center of the cookie sheet and press down, and spread it evenly across the cookie sheet. Press well to make sure bars hold together.  You want about a one-quarter-inch thickness.

Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.  We had to drain off the oil in the cooking process.  Drain off any excess oil.  Turn oven down to 175 and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  Place the sheet on a wire rack to cool more rapidly.  Cut the bars on the sheet.  Let cool to room temperature, remove the bars and place them on a wire rack for further drying and cooling.

NUTRITION

NutritionThese are high caloric bars.  Here is a breakdown of the calories and how you can estimate the calories per bar on your final recipe.

  • 1214 calories – 2 cups oats
  • 648 calories – 1 cup almond flour
  • 31 calories – 1 Tbsp corn starch 
  • 1206 calories – 1 ½ cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 532 calories – 1 cup toasted almond flakes
  • 12 calories – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 105 calories – 1 banana 
  • 138 calories – 1 Tablespoon Chia seeds
  • 2,800 calories –  2 cups sunflower butter 
  • 1,951 calories – 1 cup coconut oil

This is a total of around 8,637 calories.  You can divide this by the number of bars you have made, in our case 24, to give you a general estimate of the calories per bar.  In our batch, each bar is roughly 360 calories, and which is two to three times the amount of calories in an average breakfast bar.  Each bar has about 26 grams of healthy fats, 8 grams of protein, 19 carbohydrates, and a low 5 grams of sugar.  The oats and protein will also help regulate the body’s sugar intake, which will help you avoid sugar spikes and troughs.

Because of the bars’ high calories and high-fat content, you don’t want to just snack on them.  We designed these for consumption when you are hiking, engaged in activities, or bugging out, which is why we also need to discuss shelf-life.

MOISTURE AND FOOD PRESERVATION

Moisture and Food PreservationOn the counter, these will probably last for about a week or two, as is, owing to the high-fat content.  In your freezer, they could last for years.  The coconut oil and the oil in the nuts will turn slightly rancid in taste, and that’s your best test.  When it comes to shelf-life, there are four main factors: pasteurization, storage temperature, moisture, and air.

We use the term pasteurization here loosely, as it is more generally applied to liquids.  There is probably a better term.  We mean the application of heat through the cooking process to kill microbes.  Essentially, all things have bacteria and yeast on them.  These single-cell organisms are mostly cooked off your food and reduced in numbers by heating.  Even transferring them after cooking, though, exposes them to yeast and bacteria.  When it comes to food preservation, we reduce the numbers of these single-cell food consumers and create an environment where they can’t multiply.  Still, that can of beans that has been pasteurized is suitable for a max of 5 years. After that, it could be poisonous or even swell up and explode.  This is where moisture comes into play.  For these single-cell food consumers to multiply, they need water to move around.  38% moisture is enough for them to move around.  Zero to 7 percent moisture really isn’t.  

The other two factors that slow these food spoilers are air and temperature.  If there is no oxygen, the food will last exponentially longer.  Vacuum sealing could extend the life of these bars, and an oxygen absorber could sequester all the oxygen and extend shelf-life.  Dry-ice storing or otherwise replacing the oxygen with heavier gasses could also preserve them longer.  Finally, the colder, the better.  You will get a longer shelf-life out of food that is stored in a cool pantry or root cellar than you will a countertop or somewhere the temperature fluctuates.  We have to mention here another factor– exposure to light, but light will not degrade food as rapidly as these other factors.

The bars we just baked had a moisture reading of around 45.  That’s too much moisture, and it provides too much water for microbial growth, so the bars will eventually mold if they aren’t dried further.  This mold can occur to the inside and may not be visible on the outside.  That’s why these would have at best two weeks in a sealed container on the shelf. The dehydrator, after 8 hours, brought the moisture down to 38.5%, which is similar to commercial bread.  So, like commercial bread, it will last that long on the shelf.  For reference, jerky is 23% moisture, so we could probably leave these in the dehydrator for several days and get these down to below 10%, which would be suitable for a couple of months storage in a sealed, oxygen-deprived container.  

The freeze dryer took the moisture level down to imperceptible.  When I really worked to find some moisture, we found 7.5 percent moisture, and this was with an additional 8 hours drying time.  That level of moisture is equivalent to powdered milk, so it’s super dry.  If we seal these in mylar with an oxygen absorber right now, we’re confident they will be suitable for up to 18 months.  

CONCLUSION

Having a bar that is high-fat and high-calorie after a disaster can be a lifesaver.  You want to know for sure that it’s edible and not spoiled or rancid.  Do you have a go-to recipe for a calorie-dense homemade bar or a suggestion on how to store them longer?  Let us know in the comments below.  We would love to give your recipe a try. 

As always, stay safe out there.

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