A Beginners Guide: The Do’s and Don’ts of Food Dehydrating

How does a Food Dehydrator Work?

Food Dehydrating is a tried and tested practice for food preservation that has been around for at least 12,000 years. While the method has changed slightly over the last century or so, the produce is still the same – delicious and nutritious dried food that doesn’t spoil. This is extremely useful since dried food can be stored away for a rainy day, or during times of travel. It’s easy to think of why this would have been so handy for our ancestors, with arduous journeys and the lack of refrigerators making food preservation an absolute priority. Interestingly food dehydrating is still as popular as ever, which led us to the creation of this article, designed to help you navigate the The Do’s and Don’ts of Food Dehydrating.

Some Benefits of Food Dehydrating Are:

• Dehydrating makes food lighter and easier to carry
• Dehydrating will also extend the lifespan of the food
• Drying Food removes moisture content to around 5%-20% making the food less prone to bacteria.
• Food Dehydrators typically dry food at a very low heat, meaning that the food retains its beneficial enzymes and minerals, compared with other forms of cooking.
• Dehydrating food will remove water content, while retained the natural sugars, thus making the food taste sweeter than prior to dehydration
• A great way to make fruits and vegetables more appealing to children, such as fruit roll ups etc.

What are the Different types of food dehydrating?

Sun Drying

This is one of the oldest methods of drying food. It has been done for roughly 12000 years, with our ancestors slicing their food and placing it on rocks in the sun to dry out. This was common among people in warmer climates, such as Mediterranean regions around Europe. This method can be quite time consuming, since your food is at the mercy of the elements, and it can take a few days to dry certain foods (like fruits) using this method. If attempting this method for yourself, make sure you dry your food on a mesh screen, not something galvanised. It may also be worth considering a second screen to place over your food, to keep it safe from insects and other creepy crawlies.

Air Drying

Air Drying is another ancient method that has been around for as long as people have been eating. This is quite similar to the sun drying approach – except it takes place in the shade! This obviously makes the drying take a little longer, but is perfect for delicate herbs or greens, or anything else that requires protection from the suns strong rays.

Solar Drying

Solar dryers are food dehydrators that are powered by solar power e.g the sun. They don’t require electricity and usually sit outside where they are exposed to the sun (think solar panels). They can be designed like mini greenhouses, and are a great option if you live in a climate that provides plenty of sun!

Oven Drying

This method involves using your oven to dry your food – a great method although a little inefficient given the size of most modern day ovens. (the extra air and space doesn’t help either). This is a good idea for those who don’t want to purchase an additional electrical appliance. To do this method your oven needs to be able to be set at 60°C(140 F) or lower, any higher and you’ll likely be too warm to dehydrate food effectively.

Electric Dehydrating

This is the best of both worlds since it combines modern appliances with the ancient methods of food drying. Electric Dehydrators come in all shapes and sizes, and generally come with temperature gauge and adjustment dial, giving you flexibly to dry at your preferred speed. This ensures virtually no spoilage and a delicious result. This is probably the most efficient method available since it allows you to choose how quickly you want to dry your food – and also the option to change speeds depending on what foods you are dehydrating on a particular day.

Which foods are best for Dehydrating?

✓ Fruits & Fruit Juice Pulp
✓ Vegetables
✓ Meat & Fish
✓ Nuts & Seeds
✓ Sprouted Grains
✓ Herbs
✓ Crackers, breads, granolas

How do I Use a Food Dehydrator

Now that we’ve covered the different methods of Food Dehydrating available – you’re probably wanting to get down to business and learn how to prepare and cook using an Electric Food Dehydrator.

The Preparation Stage

Step 1. Select Fruit or Vegetable - We recommend you start with one fruit or vegetable for your first run. Opt for quality fruits or vegetables – anything that’s under ripe or overripe won’t taste as good!
Step 2. Washing - Once you’ve chosen a fruit or vegetable – you have to wash it thoroughly. Use a fruit or veggie commercial wash if you want to be 100% sure that you’ve removed all dirt and bacteria.
Step 3. Blanching - Once you’ve picked your fruit or veggie you can blanch it if you like. This entails immersing it in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then put it in ice water. Blanching keeps veggies fresh tasting and improves the color
Step 4. Cut Thinly and Evenly - To properly dehydrate foods, it’s necessary to cut them thinly and evenly. This ensures a consistent drying across all of the pieces, and should ensure that all pieces are ready at the same time.
Step 5. Prevent Oxidation - You’re almost ready to go – as a last check, make sure your produce isn’t susceptible to enzymatic oxidation. Potatoes and apples are prone to this, and it will usually present itself as the food browning and spoiling quite quickly. To prevent this happening – spray produce with lemon juice prior to placing in the dehydrator. 

Steps to Dehydrating

Step 1.  Add Seasoning -  Add sugar, salt or any necessary seasoning for enhanced flavouring.
Step 2. Place in Tray - Put your sliced veggies or fruits in a dehydrator tray – make sure they aren’t overlapping since this could slow down the drying time.
Step 3. Turn it on - Turn on your dehydrator after the food has been put inside. You’ll need to set it for between 8 – 12 hours depending on the dehydrator used, and the food you’re actually drying. Check the instruction manual for your machine to determine exact time required. (Or check out our check drying guide below)
Step 4. Check frequently - to see if food is dry enough for storage – to do this just take a slice out and check – it should be completely dry without any moisture beads or residue.
Step 5. You’re done - Turn off your machine when food appears ready – cooling may take 30 – 60 minutes before you can safely store away your food. Again drying time will depend on your machine.

How to Dry your Food

Food dehydration methods largely depend on the type of foods that you’re dehydrating. Below is a quick drying guide for the most commonly dehydrated foods.

Quick Drying Guide:

Vegetables - 52°C (125°F)
Fruits - 57°C (135°F)
Meat and Fish products - 68°C (155°F)
Herbs and delicate items - 35°C (95°F)
Yoghurt making - 46°C (115°F)

Food Dehydrating Frequently Asked Questions 

What’s the best way to store the food once it’s dry?

You can store your newly dried foods in to clean, dry home canning jars, plastic freezer containers with tight fitting lids, or in plastic freezer bags. Vacuum packing is a great option for preserving food also. As long as you keep to food dry and not exposed to outside air, you can’t go wrong!

What do Food Dehydrators cost to run?

Food Dehydrators are extremely cost effective. For example, a Kalahari 8 Tray Food Dehydrator costs approximately 1 dollar for 8 hours of use. 8 Hours is the typical drying time required for fruit or veggie chips - so you can see that they are quite cost effective. 

Can you give me a temperature guide?

• Vegetables - 52°C (125°F)
• Fruits - 57°C (135°F)
• Meat and Fish products - 68°C (155°F)
• Herbs and delicate items - 35°C (95°F)
• Yoghurt making - 46°C (115°F)

What’s the advantage in drying food yourself?

You control the whole process. Meaning you can control the quality of ingredients, and also the cooking temperature and time. This means you can ensure that the food retains maximum nutrition, and you can also be sure that no added nasties have been added to your dried foods. The other big advantage is that your own recipes will typically be far cheaper than store bought options, which again is a big win. Owning your own dehydrator also minimises waste, since you are able to dehydrate juice pulp, and other foods that would normally be thrown out as waste.

Can I use a dehydrator for when I’m backpacking

Food Dehydrators are fantastic for backpackers, since they let you store more food, and also delay the food spoiling on a trip. We recommend that you plan out your trip, along with food requirements, well before you go backpacking to ensure that you’ve packed enough for your trip. You can even dehydrate complete meals like casseroles or stews, the possibilities are endless!

Why can’t I use my oven?

You can! – but they can be a bit hit or miss. This is because ovens typically don’t offer precise temperature control at lower temperature levels, and most won’t let you go low enough to dehydrate a number of foods. Air circulation is another issue with using ovens, given that they can often be quite stagnant. Stagnant warm air can pose a potential food safety risk, and is best avoided for this reason.

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas, and inspiration, for future dehydrated food creations in your life. The possibilities are endless when it comes to food dehydrating, and it’s clear to see why this practice has been around for thousands of years. If you’d like to learn more about food preservation, we’d encourage you to roll your sleeves up and give it a go. After all, the best way to learn is through experience! If you’re a keen Food Dehydrator please drop us a comment below and let us know what your favourite dehydrated snack is. I can’t go past dried figs!

Happy Dehydrating,

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