dog treats

Destination Sublimation (The Basics of Freeze-Drying)

As a kid growing up in the 60s, I have fond memories surrounding the USA’s first lunar landing, especially all the crazy-fun space drinks and snacks that came along with it, like Tang, Pillsbury Food Sticks and astronaut ice-cream. Although Tang and the food sticks were kinda gross, the astronaut-ice cream was the stuff of magic. It was light as a feather, crispy and didn’t melt at room temperature. Best of all, it looked just like a regular old slice of ice cream. Behold the brainy beauty of freeze-drying.

When OuttaMyKitchen! dog treats were initially developed, they were dehydrated, not baked. While both are perfectly reasonable cooking methods, the shelf-life of the finished product is limited. And, for customers and retailers alike, the shelf-life of real food, like OMK’s yummy dog treats, is a valid and important concern. After conducting some research into methods of food preservation, freeze-drying was clearly the optimal means of retaining freshness of foods without altering their appearance or nutritive value.

What makes freeze-drying so special? How is it different from dehydrating? While dehydrating use circulating heat to remove moisture by evaporation, which changes it from liquid to a gas, freeze-drying employs sublimation, whereby ice (water’s solid form) is directly transformed to its water vapor (water’s gaseous form). This transformation is a function of atmospheric pressure. At sea level, ice will melt into water before evaporating. When pressure becomes sub-atmospheric (like inside a vacuum), that same ice will sublimate directly into water vapor as it heats, bypassing the liquid phase entirely, removing water nearly completely. In freeze-drying, this is achieved by creating a vacuum, which lowers the atmospheric pressure by sucking out air. So, in short, a freeze-dryer consists of freezing and heating elements and a vacuum pump. It’s a time consuming process that cannot be rushed; each batch of treats requires 24-27 hours to dry.

Freeze-dried foods are light and crispy and look exactly the same as they did before being processed. It’s sort of Willy Wonka-esque. A strawberry looks (and tastes) exactly like a strawberry, only it’s dry, crunchy and much lighter in weight. OuttaMyKitchen’s freeze-dried treats have a pleasing tendercrisp texture, much like that of shortbread. They can be easily snapped into smaller pieces for training or for smaller dogs. Same great flavor, new texture and extended shelf-life…what’s not to love? Oh, I almost forgot to mention, they’re now grain-free!

SteveBaxter, commandeering the freeze-dryer cart.

SteveBaxter, commandeering the freeze-dryer cart.

Buckwheat: It's Not Just For Pancakes Anymore

Dogs, just like humans, are omnivores. Like humans, dogs can also have food allergies. While dog foods and treats typically contain some source of grain as an ingredient, many dog-parents today—especially those whose furbabies are on limited diets—wish to avoid giving their puppers grains altogether.

Here at OuttaMyKitchen!, we want ALL dogs to enjoy our yummy treats…that’s why we have reformulated our original recipe without grain. We’re proud to announce that our chicken, salmon, lamb and venison treats are now grain-free! Here’s a little bit of insight into what went into that decision.

First off, what exactly do grains do for our dogs and why are they included in many of the foods they consume? Just as they do for humans, whole grains, like brown rice and oatmeal, provide nutrients as well as fiber and minerals. They also assist in keeping bowel movements formed and regular. Some dogs are unable to tolerate grain, a problem typically manifested by gastrointestinal upset. Doesn’t mean whole grains aren’t good for dogs, it simply means some dogs don’t tolerate them. What to do?

After a bit of research, buckwheat came to the rescue. But, you may be saying, buckwheat has the word “wheat” in it. How is it not a grain? Buckwheat is neither a cereal nor a grain. It is a fruit seed, related to rhubarb and sorrel. Best of all, it’s a nutritional powerhouse that’s also delicious and safe for dogs.

In closing, dog treats aren’t meant to be a primary source of nutrition for any dog. However, much like humans choose snacks wisely, the same informed deliberation goes into deciding upon snacks for our beloved canine friends. OuttaMyKitchen!’s grain-free treats contain meat or fish as the first ingredient. They also contain a tasty mixture of green vegetables, pumpkin and berries. Steamed buckwheat then marries these ingredients all together, along with a touch of rosemary and a sprinkling of sweet potato powder, ready for the freeze-dryer.

SteveBaxter, our mascot and the inspiration for OuttaMyKitchen!, heartily approves of these new treats. So does his girlfriend, Miss Georgia Sweet Tea, the pug. We hope your pup(s) will enjoy them, too!


The Label-Go-Round: Pet Treat Product Labeling

Update: as of September 2018, all OuttaMyKitchen! dog treats are grain-free and freeze-dried!

If you're like my mommie, you probably read the labels on on the food you buy for your family and maybe even for your pets. Food labels are designed to inform consumers of the ingredients and nutritional value contained in things we like to eat, which for me--a 5 month old bichon frisé puppy named SteveBaxter--includes yummy dog treats (especially the ones my mommie makes!)

The labeling on pet treats isn't a whole lot different than that on people food. As a rule, any person making and selling dog treats is expected to comply with their state's regulations regarding pet food production, sales and truth in labeling as well as legally conducting their business. It's a frustrating, expensive and time-consuming process that, as Mommie observes, is one of those necessary evils. Why? Because a company's integrity is reflected not just in the quality of its products, but in the honesty of its business practices.

The requirements for pet treat labeling in the state of Georgia are pretty basic. Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing quantity along with the guaranteed analyses for crude protein, fat, fiber and moisture and the net weight. The label must include a designated species and a nutritional adequacy statement. Since there is no established daily requirement for pet treats, they're usually designated for supplemental feeding only. Finally, the company name and location of the facility where the treats were produced must be displayed. Seems pretty simple, right? 

SteveBaxter's look of label perplexion

SteveBaxter's look of label perplexion


This is where labeling gets a little tricky. In order to use the claim "organic" in the ingredient list, you must first obtain USDA organic certification (or your state's preferred alternative organic certifying body). So, even if you use lots of organic ingredients to make pet treats (like Mommie does), you can't say they're organic without going through that expensive certification process. By the same token, if you see pet treat labeling that claims organic ingredients without the USDA organic symbol, you can't really be sure that what you're purchasing is organic. The same goes for claims like "natural" and "premium." Sigh. Mommie says, this is where the ingredients have to speak for themselves.

Venison Dog Treats AAFCO (2).jpg

A particularly deceptive practice in labeling is referred to as "ingredient splitting." Take corn, for example. In order to decrease corn's overall prevalence in the ingredient information, it might be listed as various separate components, such as whole grain corn, corn meal or corn gluten. This gives the appearance that corn isn't a major ingredient when, in fact, it really is. In short, the issue is not the corn itself, it's the deceptive labeling leading a consumer to believe the product contains less corn than it actually does.

Reading a pet treat label doesn't require an advanced degree. However, becoming educated about what a label is really telling you is the best way to ensure you're getting what you paid for in that bag of treats. Mommie takes the same care making her dog treats as she does making food for the rest of our family. She starts with simple high-quality proteins, like venison, salmon, lamb and chicken, which is why they're first on the ingredient list. Then, she adds sprouted brown rice, vegetables and fruits for digestibility, fiber and flavor, and rosemary or cinnamon for their preservative properties. Finally, she dehydrates the treats to crispy perfection. That's it. No hype, just wholesome ingredients that speak for themselves. Nom nom nom. Wanna know a secret? Mommie's treats are so good that my even human brothers like to snack on them...shh...don't tell Mom! :-D