Advantages of food drying
One of the most important advantages of food drying over other methods of preservation is the high retention of nutrients it provides. Up to 97 percent of the vitamins and other nutrients can be saved if a good food dehydrator is properly used.
Food drying not only preserves foods but also offers new and different nutritious snacks such as dried fruits, fruit rolls, and meat jerkier. Drying food offers one of the most economical and energy-efficient ways of preserving a variety of foods.
Dried foods take much less space than canned or frozen, and the process takes less electricity. What’s more, you can use almost any kind of old jar and can safely re-use canning lids for storing dried food.
As an example of the space saved by drying food, you will be able to get 20 pounds of tomatoes into 11 jars when canning. When dried they only weigh about a pound and just about fit into one-quart jars. Five pounds of mushrooms (buy them in quantities when the market price is down) reduce to a single pound. Four pounds of apples will become one pound of dried food.
While dried foods and snacks are popular on the market today, they can’t be compared to home-dried foods. They either have short shelf lives or have been chemically treated. Commercially prepared banana chips, for instance, usually have been sugared and fried in oil. Home dried chips may be more leathery, but they taste like real bananas. Sugar is not needed on home-dried fruits, and the flavor intensifies with the process.
Multiple uses for your food dehydrator
The uses of a good food dehydrator are endless. You can dry flowers, make sweet smelling sachets, prepare herbs, and make craft items. With a quality dryer, one with horizontal air flow, you can raise bread, make yogurt, liquify honey, sprout seeds, make noodles, dry garden seeds to save make baby foods, make cheese, even dry a rained on newspaper.
What to dry and what to avoid
Almost anything that has water in it can be dried. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, cheeses, yogurt, and lean meats. Also, dry leftovers and don’t forget flower petals for potpourri and crafts. When selecting foods for dehydration, choose only foods that are in prime condition and perfectly fresh, just as you would for any other method of preservation. You cannot dry oils and fats. Foods high in fat become rancid. Do not dry milk. The home drying method is not suited to this.
Although drying foods prevents microbial growth, certain chemical reactions caused by enzymes can still occur unless the product is pretreated before drying.
Suggested article: 8 Tips to Dehydrate Foods for Backpacking or Outing
With many of your green and yellow garden vegetables, results are best if you heat them in a steamer, above water, until they are very hot — at boiling temperature themselves. Don’t cool them in cold water. Put them right on the dehydrator rack to drain and dry. This way, you won’t lose most of the vitamins; in fact, tests have proven that more vitamins are lost in storage if the vegetables are not first “enzyme-treated” in this way. You won’t need to do it with herbs or fruits, or with some of the vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, onions, and celery, so follow a dehydrating guide.
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can be used in its pure form or in mixtures of ascorbic acid with citric acid or sugar. Sulfuring can be dangerous and is no longer recommended as a pre-treatment chemical due to the increased number of people reporting sensitivities to sulfating agents.
Preheat the dryer while you prepare the food. As a tray is filled, put it immediately into the dryer.
Wash produce but do not soak. Cut fruits uniformly so they will dry evenly and relatively fast. Each type needs somewhat different preparation.
Test for dryness:
Remove a small amount of food and cool a bit. Foods that are warm always feel softer.
Fruits should be dry and leathery; some may be crisper than others.
They are no longer sticky and must be dry all the way through.
Most vegetables should be dry and brittle. Corn should be crackling-hard. It is always better to dry a little longer than too little. You can’t really over-dry food.
Always dry herbs until they are crisp; also leave herbs more whole, don’t crush leaves until you are ready to season with them. This retains flavor.
Most dehydrating books do not allow enough time in their directions. Low humidity aids in the drying process, especially if the food naturally contains a lot of water. To dry food, the water must move from the food to the surrounding air.
Put dried foods in clean, air-tight containers. They must be moisture-proof and insect-proof. Glass is the best storage container. Glass jars that foods come in are ideal — peanut butter jars, mayonnaise jars, and pickle jars. They should have a metal cover, however, not plastic since the porous plastic will shorten the shelf life. Canning lids can be reused again and again. Small jars are excellent for herbs. Quart size works well for vegetables. A gallon size jar is ideal for fruit snacks such as apple rings.
Store food in a dry, dark, cool place. If you are cramped for room store the containers under beds, in closets or in the kitchen cupboards. Store them above ground level.
Rehydration is the process of restoring the moisture or liquid back to the dried foods. Don’t use more water than the food will soak up. This is done by using a good guide and trial and error. A basic rule of thumb is two parts water to one part vegetables. Over-soaking spoils the flavor and makes mush-foods. It is much better to use less than too much. It is quite simple once you have done it. It also depends on what you are making with the dried product.
Many vegetables can be added to soups and stews and casseroles without rehydration. By simmering in the soup and stew, they become properly refreshed and of excellent flavor. Herbs are added as is. Fruits and fruit rolls are many times eaten as snacks. Dried leftover meat casseroles are good as is. Vegetables can be powdered and reconstituted almost instantly.
Allow 30 minutes or an hour for vegetables to rehydrate in soup, depending on size. Using a microwave hastens rehydrating. Putting apples (dried) in water and covering them, heating to boil and let stand will bring them back in 30 minutes. Stir several times to bring moisture on all slices. Use the least water possible.
If foods are completely dried and stored properly, the food must be safe. Bacteria can’t grow without moisture. If you see mold, discard it. This means it hasn’t been adequately dried or stored.
Cleanliness is important!
Opening jars to take out the amount of food needed is safe as long as the jar is dosed immediately before moisture can get in. Once a jar is opened, try to use the contents within two months. Using sensibly sized jars makes this possible. Oven drying, air or solar drying and microwave drying are all methods of food preservation used with limitations, but the safest, most practical method that offers the widest range of uses is the food dehydrator, a small electrical appliance for drying foods indoors.
Most food dehydrators have an electric element for heat and a fan and vents for air circulation. Efficient dehydrators are designed to dry foods rapidly and uniformly. In general, 12 square feet will dry a half-bushel of produce.
Related article: Drying Herbs And Spices
Horizontal and vertical air flows
There are two basic types of designs. One has horizontal air flow and the other vertical air flow. The horizontal airflow offers the most benefits. It reduces flavor mixture so, as an example, onions and fruits can be dried at the same time. All trays receive equal heat penetration, and juices or liquids do not drip down into the heating element. The heating element and fan are on the side.
Vertical air flow has the heating element and fan located at the base. If different foods are dried, flavors can mix, and liquids can drip onto the base.
A dryer should be kept in a kitchen or close for year-round use. See a nice looking appliance and check how much room you have, then buy accordingly. A dryer should also have some weight to it and offer enough trays so you can make full use of it.
A good food dehydrator will save you money
There is a big difference in the operating cost of food dryers. A well-insulated dehydrator will cost much less to operate than one that is not. Fans must be set at the right speed as too much air being heated is costly. With proper air flow, you need not wait for one food to dry before adding another. You can make the most efficient use of the dryer if different foods can be dried at the same time without flavor exchange.
A good food dehydrator will have a solid-state adjustment thermostat, usually between 90 and 145 degrees and it should be made of non-flammable material, be properly grounded and shock-proof. It should also have a 100 percent safety shut-off control.
Place foods in a single layer and avoid overlapping.
Cut foods in uniform sizes and thickness.
Suggested drying temperatures:
- herbs 95 degrees
- vegetables 125 degrees
- fruits and fruit leathers, 135 degrees
- jerkies 145 degrees.
Get to know other people who dry foods. You can exchange recipe ideas. People in some parts of the country even form food dryers’ clubs. If there isn’t one in your area, think about forming one. Get together over a cup of coffee and share a special food you have prepared in your dryer. Exchange herbs with each other since it isn’t always practical to grow each type of herb.
A last word on food drying
When growing food for drying, plant different varieties that mature at different times. This will give your drier better time to handle the produce. Different varieties have different flavors, textures, and moistures. See which you like best.
Harvest at different stages of maturity. Early corn, for instance, will be great for a vegetable. If it is too mature, don’t throw it away. Dry it and put it through a blender for fresh cornmeal. Plant herbs in separate containers so they won’t spread. Label them to keep track of what you have. Give food drying a try, and you won’t regret it.