Dehydrating food is a great way to preserve the food you harvest from your garden or the excess foods you buy at the farmer’s market. Some of the benefits of owning a dehumidifier are:
- Less wasted food. You can dehydrate food at the peak of ripeness.
- Food preservation. You are able to keep a supply of food ready throughout the winter and even stock up in case of an emergency.
- Help you cut down on the cost of snacks like dried bananas and kale chips
- Help you keep an eye on the nutrition in your snacks. You can be sure there are no artificial colors or flavors in your foods.
Dehydrated foods maintain their nutrients and vitamins making them a great choice for snacking and long-term storage. Dried foods are great for packing in your backpack for a hike or camping weekend as well because they don’t require any additional method of preservation like freezing and you don’t have to worry about the food spoiling as soon as you open it.
Two Types of Dehydrators
There are two basic types of dehydrators. Vertical and horizontal. Obviously, from the names, you can guess the basic differences, but there are other differences you should be aware of between the two units as well.
Horizontal dehydrators are also known as shelf dehydrators. This is the more expensive of the two. Horizontal dehydrators have a heat source at the back of the unit and a fan that circulates the heat and airflow throughout the cabinet. Horizontal dehydrators act more like a conventional range than a vertical dehydrator. Because of the air flow, Horizontal dehydrators are better for drying meats and heavier vegetables. Horizontal units are also larger than vertical units and will take up more counter space.
Vertical dehydrators are also known as tray dehydrators. They are much less expensive and tend to be smaller units that lend themselves to easier storage. Vertical units use a heat source either at the top or the bottom of the unit. Airflow in these units is not as good as in the horizontal dehydrators. Vertical dehydrators are usually expandable by purchasing more stackable trays and work well for drying most fruits and vegetables, but making jerky or drying other meats will be a slow process due to the air flow. Vertical dehydrators require more work than horizontal dehydrators as the trays need to be rotated often to get the optimum drying.
Things to consider before buying a dehydrator
Like I said before, there are two different types of dehydrators and each of those types have differences. How are you supposed to know which dehydrator to choose for your own personal needs. Well, I have compiled a list of items you should consider when buying the best food dehydrator for your needs.
Probably the most important factor in purchasing a dehydrator is the amount of internal space the unit has. The more space, the more fruits and vegetables you can get inside. And the more food you can get inside, the faster you can get your food dried and ready for storage. (or snacking). The time factor is especially important if you are dealing with fruits at the peak of their ripeness. Depending on the thickness of your slices, food can take anywhere from 10 to 24 hours to dry in a dehydrator. If you need to run three batches, three days could mean the difference between dried foods and a rotted mess.
- Adjustable Thermostat – Having an adjustable thermostat is a nice feature especially if you are making beef jerky. Dried meat should reach an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees for chicken) before lowering the heat and processing into jerky. This is tough to do in a dehydrator that doesn’t have an adjustable thermostat. Especially because most dehydrators on the marked do not go above 140 degrees. That means an extra step in processing. The meat would have to be put in the oven to reach the appropriate temperature for killing off the harmful bacteria before being placed in the dehydrator to turn into jerky.
- Timer – A timer is helpful when you have a specific recipe that you can follow or you have done enough of something that you just know how long it takes to dry. Say you are making banana chips for a quick snack at work for the rest of the week. You know it takes 10 hours for a full dehydrator of bananas to dry. Set the timer, go to bed, go to work, go to the store go do whatever you need to know with he peace of mind that your banana chips will be ready at the end of that 10 hours.
- Auto Shut off – Some dehydrators have a feature that automatically senses the humidity level in the food you are drying. just like a clothes dryer. Let’s use the bananas as an example again. It is the first time you ever did a dehydrator full of bananas. You have no idea how long it takes bananas or any other type of fruit to dehydrate. Wit the auto shut off feature, you can be sure that your bananas will get the proper amount of drying time. And again. have the peace of mind that the unit will shut off when it is done no matter where you are.
These features are going to be found mostly on high end horizontal dehydrators. So, be prepared to shell out a little extra money if you are looking for bells and whistles.
Even Airflow System
Dehydration is all about airflow. Unlike canning where air is our enemy in preserving foods, in dehydrating, air is our friend and we need a lot of it to flow around the fruits, veggies and meats we are looking to dry. Horizontal dehydrators tend to have a bit better airflow design than the vertical models. Because of this, it is easier to place your food into a horizontal dehydrator and walk away.
Having a dehydrator with slide out shelves makes it so much easier to check on the food you are drying. Just open the door, pull out each shelf one at a time, Make the appropriate switches if some are drying faster than others and close the door back up. It works just like your oven. The down side of shelves is that there are only so many shelves you can have in a unit. Once you meet maximum capacity, that’s it. Your only choice to do more food at the same time is to get another dehydrator.
Stacking tray are a great solution to the expandability issue that comes with shelves. You will find the stacking tray option in vertical units. If you need more room with the stacking tray system, simply buy more trays. The downside is that is checking and rotating the trays is awkward. You have to juggle the trays of food to check each one of them, and find room on your counter top to make the switches where they are necessary for the best air flow.
You know your kitchen better than anyone else. How much counter space do you have to dedicate to another appliance and it’s use? Do you have enough storage space to put the appliance away when it is not in use? If the unit is not convenient for your circumstances and your environment, you are not going to want to use it. If it is too much hassle, you will do without rather than using it and that is a waste of money.
Example. Several years ago, I decided I was tired of bags of microwave popcorn. I loved the taste of the butter too much to go to an air popper, so I bought one of the old domed plug-in models. It is so much fun to put the coconut oil and butter in and watch as the unit stirs the kernels until they pop. The popcorn tastes great, too. But, the cleanup was a beast. You know how I feel about cleanup. I found I can get the same results from my big stockpot with less cleaning and the same results. The popper hasn’t left the cupboard in 6 years because it isn’t convenient. Shame, too. I could use the space. Anyone want to buy an old-fashioned popcorn popper?
Before you go out and spend $1000 dollars on dehydrated foods, it might be a wise idea to a.) make sure you even like dehydrated foods. b.) figure out how much you are actually going to use a dehydrator and do some math to see if it will pay for itself. Let’s use the banana chips again. If banana chips sell for $4 per pound (trust me. It is right around there.) and you can buy bananas for .19 per pound. You will save $3.81 per pound by making them yourself. That’s some hefty savings. If the Dehydrator cost you $50 you would need to make about 13 pounds of dried bananas to break even. Thank goodness bananas aren’t the only foods you can dehydrate.
Ease of Use
This one is right up there with convenience for me. If the dehydrator isn’t easy to use. it will become a chore. Who in the hell wants another chore? I have enough to do around this house without having to babysit food in a box. I want to be able to set it up and walk away. so maybe, the convenience and ease of use outweighs the cost of the food you are drying in the long run. A decision I cannot make for you.
Some units are going to be noisier than others. Depending on the size of your house and where you plan to use your new dehydrator, this might be an issue. especially since it will be running for hours on end. If you plan on putting it in the garage or basement or somewhere out of the way like that, it won’t much matter. but if it is in or close to the main living area of the house, you want to get a quiet unit.
There are a lot of great dehydrators out there. Whether you are upgrading to a new unit or just venturing into the world of drying foods, keep these 9 things in mind when your are making your buying decision. Do your research. Make your comparisons, there are a lot of choices out there. But, don’t let analysis paralysis hold you back. Go get a dehydrator and give it a go. If you would like more information about drying food, check out this article on prolongtheharvest.com.
Thanks for visiting. If you have any other tips for shopping for a food dehydrator, please drop them in the comments below.