Dehydrating means nothing more than removing water. People have been drying food since before we even stepped food out of caves. Sure the methods were different, early man used fire and the sun to dehydrate food, but the principal and the results were the same. For these early people, drying their food gave them a way to get from point A to point B with a lightweight, nutritious source of food. This was very important because they didn’t know what was between point A and Point B. It meant life and death.
Today, we don’t really have any life or death reasons to preserve out food and in the space between point A and Point B, we pass about 6 Walmarts. So why do people still dry food? Why do we sell dehydrators? Surely there are large conglomeration companies that can dry our food and preserve it more effectively than we can. Sure. They can. But here are the three benefits to you if you do it yourself:
Saves Money – Those big conglomerates don’t do anything out of the goodness of their hearts. They are in business to make a profit. Once you realize just how easy it is to get started dehydrating your own foods at home, You will see just how cost effective it is to buy bananas at nineteen cents a pound and dehydrate them instead of buying a 12 oz. Bag of banana chips for $6. The food you dry will be better for you, too. You can also score some great deals on fruits and vegetables at your local farmer’s market when foods are at their ripest point.
Saves food – Gardeners know that even a small area can produce a lot of food. More than you can ever eat fresh in a lot of cases. Rather than leaving the results of a summer of planting, watering, weeding and general overall work go to waste, you can dry many of the vegetables from your garden and fruits from your bushes and trees to be enjoyed in the winter months. Because the best time to dehydrate foods is when they are at their ripest, you can wait until the very last minute to preserve them. This gives you more time to eat them fresh or procrastinate…whichever shoe fits. Not judging.
Brings you closer to your food – so many times we forget what it takes to have food to eat. Like I said earlier, the distance between point A and point B is filled with Walmarts, and Wegmans and Piggly Wigglys. We have access to so much food and think that it will be there when we need it. All we have to do is drive. Well, should something happen that stopped the trucks from getting to stores, our shelves would be bare in a week. It’s nice to know that you can take care of yourself a little if the need arises. It also allows you to be in control of what goes into your food from the growing to the table. No one is going to sneak any risky pesticides or hormones into your food without your knowledge.
What are the benefits of dehydrated foods
Dehydrated foods taste great. When you dehydrate foods, you remove the water content. That leaves you with a bite-sized piece of food that is concentrated with all of the flavor of the original. In a lot of cases, the dehydrated foods may taste even better than the original.
Dehydrated foods are easy to store. Removing the water form a food can reduce it’s mass by up to 1/6. That means that the resulting dehydrated food takes up less room. Once dehydrated, you can vacuum seal it and place it in a drawer or cupboard or even place it in an air-tight jar and place it on the shelf next to your other canned goods.
Cost savings. We already touched on this one earlier. By dehydrating foods, you can save money in a number of ways:
- Buy foods that are on sale and dry them for use later
- Dry food that is at the peak of ripeness to keep it from spoiling
- Stop buying store bought snacks that you can produce at home for a fraction of the cost
- Dry your own herbs and spices for recipes
- Dry fruits and vegetables to give as gifts
Portability. Just like out ancestors, you can take dehydrated foods with you anywhere, No need to be tied down to a refrigerator. Just pop some in a sandwich bag and throw it into your backpack or beach bag and you will have tasty nutritious snacks at your fingertips.
How to Prepare Fruits and Vegetables for Dehydration
Preparing foods for dehydration is really pretty easy. As far as fruits go, simply wash the food thoroughly. Slice everything at a uniform thickness. This is a lot easier if you have a home slicer. The slicer will allow you to get every piece of fruit exactly the same thickness this helps all of the food dry evenly and at the same time. This slicer from Amazon is a great buy and once you have it, you will wonder how you ever did without (I use mine for everything from pickles to roast beef). After everything is sliced, lay the food in a single layer on the rack of your dehydrator. Do not over crowd the rack. Air needs to be able to circulate around and between all of the individual slices of food in order to dry it.
Vegetables can be dried pretty much as is with the exception of potatoes and cauliflower. These vegetables have a tendency to turn black when dried and should be blanched in hot water and then shocked in ice water before being placed in the dehydrator. This will stop the unappealing coloration and preserve the nutrients of the food.
Is dehydrating food safe
Dehydrating fruits and vegetables is completely safe. You do need to make certain that the food is completely dry before storage. If you place the dried fruits and vegetables in a bag or container and condensation forms on the inside of the packaging, more drying time is needed. Fruits and vegetables dried with the skins on need to reach a temperature of 160º for a period of 30 minutes or placed in a freezer to reach 0º Fahrenheit for 48 hours or more to kill insect eggs.
Other precautions come into play when you are talking about making jerky and drying meats. The internal temperature for meats must reach 160º F for meat and 160º F for poultry before it can be dehydrated. Many food dehydrators leave this step out in the instructions. This can be an issue, because the dehydrator may never reach more than 140º F during a drying cycle. This is not hot enough to kill the Salmonella and E. Coli bacteria.
How long will dehydrated food last
There are four criteria that determine how long a food will last in storage. They are:
- Moisture Content
How dry the food is will play a huge role in the shelf-life. Conventional home dehydrators remove about 70% of the water from food. Freeze driers remove up to 98% this is why freeze the freeze dried foods you see in the camping stores are able to boast that the product will be just as good 25 years from the date it was packaged. If you are interested in trying some freeze dried foods, Take a look at my wife’s site. You can order all kinds of freeze dried foods there.
The difference between an air-tight jar and a zip-lock bag makes all the difference in the world. Different containers are better at keeping out air. Air is the number one enemy of dried food preservation. Not so much the air, but the moisture within the air. That takes us back to the first factor.
The cooler the temperature the better for storing your foods. Dried foods especially do much better in cooler temperatures. If you want to extend the shelf-life of your dehydrated foods, keep them in the refrigerator or the freezer. This will have a significant impact on the shelf-life.
You know those little packets that say “Do Not Eat” that come in everything from pill bottles to pepperoni packages? Those are silica packs and they are there to absorb moisture. These little guys are placed in products to control the atmosphere a product is stored in. they remove the moisture in the air that remains in the packaged product.
On average, with good storage practices, your home dehydrated foods will stay fresh tasting and are best used within the first 18 months of drying. That does not mean they will spoil after that time. The packaged food will still be good to eat for several years, however some of the quality will have dissipated.
Dehydrating food and nutrition
Dehydrating Fruits and vegetables is a fantastic way to preserve food and maintain the nutrition value at the same time. Because Dehydration works on such low temperatures the food retains almost all of the nutrition. In fact, even though dehydrating reduces the size of a piece of fruit or vegetable by up to 1/6 it’s original size, that smaller piece of food has the same identical nutritional value as the original piece that was placed in the dehydrator.
Dehydrating food vs canning
Both dehydrating foods and canning are excellent ways to store foods canning has only been around for about the past 200 years. Dehydrating is almost as old as man. They are two completely different systems and need to be utilized as such. There is an old saying that intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad. The same goes for dehydrating vs canning. You wouldn’t spread dehydrated jelly on your toast in the morning. And you probably wouldn’t want to pack a week’s worth of meals in jars in your backpack for a camping trip.
Dehydrating food without a machine
If you do not currently have a food dehydrator, I would recommend this one from Amazon if you are looking to get started. If you just can’t wait for the two day Prime shipping and need to give it a try now, there are other ways to dry foods without a dehydrator, although they are not near as convenient or efficient at getting the job done.
Dehydrating food in the oven
You can use your oven to dehydrate food. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Place your prepared fruits and vegetables on oven safe racks and place inside the oven. Leave the oven door open while food is drying. Food should be properly dehydrated in several hours.
Dehydrating food in microwave
Yes. It can be done. It takes a long time, but it will work, (sort of) The process here is to slice your fruits and vegetables very thin. Wash and dry the glass plate that rotates in the microwave and place your fruit directly on that plate. Leave room for the fruit to breath. Do not allow any to overlap. You will want to use the time defrost setting here and start it out at about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the food. When it is done, it will be kind of gummy in the center and crispy around the edges. If it is not done, flip the food and hit it for another 15 minutes. When it is done to your satisfaction, transfer to a cooling rack.
Dehydrating food in the sun
Sun drying takes a bit more time. The sliced food is placed in a single layer on parchment lined trays or wooden frames made with fabric stretched over them. Cheese-cloth is laid over top of the food as it dries in the sun to keep insects away. The food needs to be sheltered from any moisture such as rain storms and brought inside at night. Herbs and spices can also be dried by stringing them around the stalks and hanging. This can also be done inside away from direct sunlight.
The correct temperature for dehydrating foods
Most commercial food dehydrators are going to produce a temperature of 130º F to 145º F. As stated previously, the only real concern when it comes to the temperature of dehydrating foods is when dealing with jerky and other meats and fruits and vegetables with the skins on.
Is dehydrating food worth it
Absolutely. The benefits of dehydrating food make it a viable method of storing food for anyone who might be interested. And there is so much more you can do with a dehydrator than just making raisins and banana chips. There are recipes out there that will help you make seasoned, crisp kale chips for snacking and flavorful balsamic dried tomato. The possibilities are endless.