There is more to freshly preserving food at home than just canning and freezing. Dehydration is another option. It is a straightforward process that produces easy to use foods. Dehydration removes 80-95% of moisture to deactivate spoilage processes while retaining abundant nutrients. For best results, it is best to use an electric dehydrator.
Home food dehydrators are small appliances that are great for drying fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even meats. They are especially handy for those who grow fruits and vegetables and run short of freezer space or don’t wish to can. Dehydrators come in many sizes with varying numbers of shelves or drying trays. They are simple to operate. One places sliced food on the trays, turns on the power, and waits as warm air circulates through the unit to dry the food. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, most dehydrators are designed to dry foods fast at 120º-140ºF.
Food dehydrators are of two basic types—vertical or horizontal. Costs vary depending on the size and features that come with the unit. Horizontal units have a heating element and fan located on the side or back of the unit. The heating element and fan of a vertical unit are located below the trays. The major advantage of a horizontal unit over a vertical unit is that there is less chance of mixing flavors if different foods are dried at the same time.
Reasons to Dehydrate
Safe form of food preservation. Because dehydrators remove the water content of foods, there is a very low risk of bacteria and spoilage.
Taste good and are nutrient dense. Vitamins and minerals are not lost. Because dehydrators work at low temperatures, foods dried in a dehydrator are still in their ‘raw’ state. The living nutrients and enzymes unique to the fruits and vegetables are not destroyed or lost to heat or water. Further, you benefit from all the fiber present in the fruit or vegetable.
Reduced waste and extended shelf life. Most dehydrated foods have a shelf life of 2 years. As such, they make 100% natural, healthy snacks. In addition, they are light weight and portable.
Reduce cost. The average drying time for fruit and vegetable chips is about 8 hours at a cost of less than $1. Further, no additional electrical cost for refrigeration, freezing, or canning is incurred after drying.
Require minimal storage space. Dried foods take about 1/6th of their original storage space. Insect proof containers, canning jars, plastic freezer bags, or vacuum seal bags are all that is needed for pantry storage.
Allow for controlled drying. Foods can also be dried in the sun where climates allow or in the oven. Both sun drying and oven drying are not predictable.
Versatile. The kind of foods that can be prepared in a dehydrator is limited only by your imagination—fruit or veggie chips, fruit leathers, jerky, and herbs to name a few. A dehydrator can also be used to proof bread.
Easy to use. The dehydrator itself is easy to use. The foods made in the dehydrator are also easy to use; they can be eaten in their dried state or rehydrated in water and used in soups, stews, and casseroles.
For additional information on dehydrating foods, watch Using a Dehydrator by UNL Extension Food & Fitness.