Dehydrating – That Other Preserving Method

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What Is Dehydrating?

Dehydrating is one of the oldest forms of food preservation. There are varying degrees of dried food. For example, zucchini chips are dried until they are light and crispy. Grapes are dried until a large amount of water has evaporated, but they are not dried to the point that they are crispy. For our purposes here we’ll define dehydrating food as removing 90 to 95% of all moisture so that our dehydrated food can be placed into food storage.

My Top Five Favorite Benefits of Dehydrating

  • Save Money–Do you like kale chips? Have you priced them in the store? It’s very possible that you’ve never tried kale chips simply because you haven’t wanted to part with that much money! Yeah, they’re pricey, around $5 a bag around where I live. You can make an entire dehydrator full for less than $5.
  • Preserve The Harvest–You work hard in your garden all year and you want to enjoy your harvest. Of course, this is difficult because fresh produce doesn’t last forever. Fruits and vegetables are only in season for a short amount of time. Dehydrating some of your harvest is a great way to enjoy it well into the winter.
  • Saves Space–I just dehydrated an entire case of tomatoes and made tomato powder. The entire case fits into a quart sized Mason jar. How’s that for a space saver?
  • Light Weight–Along with taking up a small amount of space dehydrated food weighs a lot less than fresh or canned food because all the water has been removed, making them a portable shelf stable food that you can carry in your purse or bag.
  • Safe–The learning curve for safety is not as steep as it is for other forms of food preservation like canning or fermenting.

Methods/Types of Dehydration

Since drying food is an ancient form of dehydration there are a number of methods that can be used to dry food. I want to point out that even though this is an ancient method that doesn’t mean that our ancestors always dehydrated with 100% success. So keep that in mind if you try some of the more primative methods.

  • Dehydrator–Using a dehydrator to dehydrate is my recommendation. It might be fun to try some of the other methods listed below, but for successful dehydrating every time, I recommend using a device specifically designed for dehydrating.
  • Air Dry–Many people still air dry herbs and other flowers and you might have some success with air drying if you live in a dry climate.
  • Oven Dry–You can dehydrate in your oven if it goes down below 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If it doesn’t and you try using your oven you’re basically just cooking your food.
  • Homemade Solar Dehydrator–There are a lot of plans out there to make solar (or other) homemade dehydrators and they will work. However, it’s important to be able to regulate the temperature of meat and dairy products so you’ll need to figure that into your design.
  • Use Another Tool To Create The Right Environment–Some people have gotten pretty creative with their dehydrating. I’ve heard of people using their cars or other places that heat up in the summer. There is nothing wrong with doing this, just be sure you don’t do this with meat and dairy products, and since there is no way to regulate the temperature you’ll need to expect some failures.

Eight Steps To Great Dehydrated Food–The Process

  1. Preparation–You’ll need to figure out what preparation your food needs. That is what you do to the food before you place it into the dehydrator–this would be obvious things like slicing, dicing, taking off the skin of a pineapple etc. One thing to remember here is that the more even you cut or slice, the more likely that all your dehydrated food will be done at once.
  2. Pre-treatment–This would include anything to help the food dehydrated faster and be more appetizing. For example, you might use lemon juice or vinegar to prevent oxidation. Pre-treatment would also include things like–blanching, checking, pureeing, and cooking.
  3. Placement in Dehydrator–You’ll need to determine how much space you have in your dehydrator and how you’ll dehydrate things like liquids and certain fruits that need to be placed with the skin down.
  4. Temperature–You’ll need to determine what temperature your foods need to be dehydrated. This is especially true for meats, eggs, and dairy.
  5. Check Time–Some food needs to be checked to make sure it’s not too dry and then other food will need to be turned to complete the drying process, so make sure you have an idea of when to check your food if it needs it.
  6. Total Time–You also need to have an idea of the total time foods take in the dehydrator.
  7. Storage–You’ll need to determine how you’ll store your dehydrated food. If you live in a humid environment the dehydrated food could absorb moisture from the air. So storing your dehydrated food in an airtight container is the best option.
  8. Reconstituting–Before you dehydrate your food, begin with the end in mind. How do you actually want to use this food in recipes? This will determine what preparation you’ll need and sometimes will help you determine the pre-treatment.

Safety

There are no hard and fast rules for dehydrating safely. You’ll want to use common sense and throw things out when they have mold on them or you can tell they have spoiled.

It’s not a good idea to dehydrate things with a high-fat content. They don’t store well as the fat will go rancid relatively quickly. This includes things like avocados, bacon, and hard cheese.

Here are some general safety rules for meat and dairy products.

Remember to always practice safe food handling.

  • Milk–can be dehydrated but needs to be stored in the refrigerator after it is dried. The fat in the milk will go rancid at room temperature and the proteins will break down. So this would include non-fat milk too.
  • Soft Cheese and Yogurt–are fine to dehydrate but follow the same rules as milk. Store them in the refrigerator.
  • Eggs–can be dehydrated if they are pasteurized first. Pasteurized at 140°F for 3 minutes (5 minutes for large eggs). You can also dehydrate cooked eggs. They do not taste exactly the same as fresh eggs, so I would test them out to see if you like them before making a large batch.
  • Beef Jerky–can be made from raw meat as long as your dehydrator goes above 155 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Ground Beef–needs to be dehydrated above 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Here I’m referring to making ground beef jerky from raw ground beef. Cooked ground beef is fine to dehydrate at the highest setting on your dehydrator.
  • Chicken–is fine to dehydrate if it’s cooked. It’s never a good idea to dehydrate raw chicken. Chicken needs to be dehydrated at or above 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Although, your dehydrator might go to 165 degrees. That does not mean the interior maintains 165 degrees. So even if your dehydrator goes up to 165 degrees, I do not recommend dehydrating raw chicken.
  • Pork/Ham–Ham is fine to dehydrate if it’s already been cured. However, I do not recommend dehydrating raw pork. There are too many things that can go wrong and I don’t feel like it’s a safe food to dehydrate.
  • Salmon–You can make salmon jerky as long as your dehydrator goes up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

I use this source for safe food temperatures: www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts

So What About Equipment?

The two best dehydrators are the Excalibur and the Nesco. Check out this video I did comparing the two:

If you have another kind of dehydrator or an older model they can still work, just make sure you have some way to monitor or even better regulate the internal temperature.

Getting Started

I recommend getting a dehydrator. I think you’ll have more success and enjoy dehydrating more if you have a dehydrator rather than trying to air dry or make your own, at least at first.

I would start with fruit which is super easy, and you’ll get the kids on your side pretty fast if they can eat things right out of the dehydrator. This works with husbands too…….:)

Common Questions

  • Why did my food mold?
    Because it has moisture left in it or the food absorbed moisture from the air.
  • How do I store my dehydrated food?
    Mason jars, Mylar bags, even plastic bags are great options. Make sure it’s as airtight as possible.
  • How do I know if I need to cook my food first?
    Depends on how you use it. Here again, it’s always best, to begin with, the end in mind. The general rule of thumb (there are exceptions) is to cook the food before you dehydrate it if you’re going to use it in a cooked dish later. You don’t have to cook the food if it’s going to be a snack like dehydrated cherries.

Final Thoughts

Dehydrating is simple, easy and fun.

You can make your own powder mixes and your own instant rice. Basically, you can recreate most of the boxed food that the grocery store sells, but without the junk.

  • Anne Horn says:

    I have an old Harvest Maid dehydrator with nine trays (one of which the plastic tray was damaged but still usable). I bought this back in 1986 and it was about 15 years old at that time, spent $50, and I have used this for absolutely years. It doesn’t have a timer, but it has the variable heat control (which still works). I do not know what company actually made it, but as it is square like your American Harvest and the names seem to indicate that it was made by the parent company of American Harvest. I love this machine. It’s dried almost everything, but I have never done fruit leathers, so I haven’t ever bought the solid tray covers. I’ve done herbs, and have just placed waxed paper on the tray. It works well.

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