Food dehydrators continue to show their importance in the kitchen, and why you need one urgently. If you are yet to know the importance of food dehydrators, then you should read through this guide as we would cover the importance of food dehydrators here. Read through this guide keenly to understand.
What’s Food Dehydration?
Food dehydration as the name implies, it involves removing water and moisture from vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish through the use of a dehydrator, an oven, or through sun-drying. This helps prevent microorganisms like yeast, mold, and bacteria from growing and preserves food for future use while keeping nutrients intact.
The practice of dehydrating food has been going on since prehistoric times when people dried seeds under the sun for later consumption. There’s evidence that even back in 12,000 B.C., the Middle East and oriental civilizations already sun-dried their food. Indians sun-dried sliced meat, the Japanese dried their fish and rice, and the Chinese sun-dried eggs.
What is a Food Dehydrator?
Food dehydrators are small home appliances for drying fresh foods yourself. They come in a wide variety of sizes and capabilities and can dry fruit, vegetables, and meats. They work by very gently heating the air and blowing it throughout the food drying area. It can take a number of hours, or even days, to adequately dry and preserve juicier items.
What Food Can You Dehydrate?
There are so many options in terms of dehydrating food, there are almost no limits! You could start with fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, peaches, apricots, and cherries, or meats such as beef or chicken. For those following a raw food diet, this is the perfect way to prepare food as there is no cooking in the process, dehydrating simply removes the moisture content.
There are numerous recipes available across the internet, ranging from apple chips to beef jerky, so there are plenty of options and preferred snacks or meals that can be made from dehydrated foods.
Many people also use dehydrators to dry out herbs, such as oregano or basil, which can then be stored and used for much longer than the herbs grown fresh. Additionally, a dehydrator can be used to remove moisture from tea herbs such as lemon balm and mint.
A dehydrator is also a great tool for drying non-food stuff such as aromatic plants to be used in potpourri!
How does a dehydrator work?
Dehydrators dry foods out by circulating air at a very low temperature. The foods must be arranged in a single layer without touching so they can dry fully and evenly. Different temperatures are recommended for different foods based on water content:
- Water-dense ingredients, like fruit, usually benefit from a higher temperature, like 135°F, so they can dry quickly without becoming too crisp.
- Vegetables can be dehydrated at a lower temperature, like 125°F.
- Delicate foods, like herbs, should be dehydrated at even lower temperatures, like 95°F, to prevent over-drying and discoloration.
- For meat, the USDA recommends cooking it first to an internal temperature of 165°F and then dehydrating it between 130°F to 140°F. This method is suggested to kill any potentially harmful bacteria and encourage the cooked meat to dehydrate quickly and safely.
Here’s what else you can do with your dehydrator:
- Dry homemade pasta
- Ferment yogurt
- Make fruit leather, granola bars, dog treats, and more
- Make potpourri
- Recrisp stale foods like cookies or crackers.
- DIY art projects, like dehydrated flour and water molds that can be painted
How Long Does Dehydrated Food Last?
If the process is done correctly, dehydrated food can last for long periods of up to a year. When stored correctly or in vacuum bags, dehydrated food can last for several years!
If you are not vacuuming, dry fruit or dried food should be stored in clean, dry jars or freezer containers with a tight-fitted lids.
How To Use a Dehydrator
Using a dehydrator is relatively straightforward. The one key element is preparation. Failure to prepare properly will leave you with poor results.
In order to get an even and quality consistency, the fruit, vegetable, or meat needs to be prepared well and cut evenly. You can purchase tools that cut pieces evenly or just simply use a quality knife and try to be as accurate as possible.
Vegetables and fruits should be between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch thick when dehydrating for the best results. Meat should be cut even thinner if possible. You certainly want to remove the fat from meat, but you may also want to remove the skin or peel from fruit and vegetables which can often house the many imperfections that you should try to remove.
Once you have prepared the fresh fruit or vegetables, carefully layer them onto the trays evenly and well spread apart, and then set the machine temperature and time. This can vary significantly, dependent on what you are dehydrating, so it’s best to look online for guides or even within your machine instructions.
Types of Food Dehydrators
When you start shopping around for the best food dehydrator, you’ll notice that most models fall into two main categories: vertical flow and horizontal flow.
As the names suggest, you can quickly see the difference between the two types of dehydrators based on their orientation and whether the food is stacked vertically, or lined up side by side. But the orientation is only one way they differ, the two types of models work differently as well.
Vertical Flow Food Dehydrators
Most vertical flow food dehydrators, sometimes called stackable unit food dehydrators, have a heat source that’s located either at the base of the food processor or at the top.
Vertical flow food dehydrators tend to be the most affordable option, but that’s in part because they don’t spread heat as uniformly. Most vertical flow models do include a fan to help with this though. They work well enough for most vegetables and fruits, but you’ll have a harder time getting good meat jerky out of them unless you put some manual effort into switching the trays around during the dehydration process.
- Small & compact. These don’t usually take up much counter space and they are easy to store.
- They’re often expandable. Many of these dehydrators allow you to purchase more shelves to add over time.
To Keep in Mind:
- Don’t heat as evenly as horizontal models.
- You’ll want to take time to switch out trays for the best results.
- Work better with fruits and veggies, than it does with meats.
- Horizontal Flow Dehydrator
Horizontal Flow Food Dehydrators
Horizontal flow food dehydrators sometimes referred to as shelf tray food dehydrators work a bit more like a conventional oven, with the heating source located in the back.
They’re more expensive than vertical models but are known for dehydrating at a more even rate throughout the device. This makes them the ideal choice for making beef jerky and dehydrating meat. By far, this type of dehydrator is the easiest to use. You can just get them started and leave them without having to do any further work until your food is done.
- Even & efficient dehydrating throughout.
- Can be used for meats and tougher vegetables.
- Easy to use. Once you’ve got it started, no manual work is required.
- You can try more ambitious recipes.
To Keep in Mind:
- Tend to be more expensive.
- They are larger in size. Will require more counter or cabinet space to use and store.
Buyer’s guide for Food Dehydrator
Heat Distribution & Air Flow
Scientifically, food dehydration is a pretty simple concept. You merely need to keep the food at a consistent, high enough temperature for a long enough time to dry out a portion of the moisture. In practice, the biggest challenge is ensuring that the heat is evenly distributed for all the food you’re drying. Since some food items will necessarily be further from the heat source in the dehydrator than others, ensuring that the product is set up to have an effective airflow helps achieve this.
Before you buy a food dehydrator, research what the manufacturer has to say about heat distribution and airflow for each model. What have they done to ensure the food in the dehydrator will dry out all of its contents evenly? Horizontal flow food dehydrators tend to have the best design for this, but many vertical flow models include fans and other design elements meant specifically to help improve airflow.
Ease of Use
For the most part, food dehydration is easy and you won’t find that different models make just a huge difference in how much work goes into it. That said, there are a few features that can make the food dehydration process easier for you.
The main one is having a dehydrator that will cook evenly enough that you don’t have to bother switching around the shelves. That means the difference between having to make an effort to regularly check on your food during the dehydration process, or just being able to leave it, walk away and not worry until it’s done.
If convenience is an important factor for you, the other thing to keep in mind is how much work will go into cleaning the different models. The number of parts the food dehydrator has, whether or not pieces are safe to put in the dishwasher, and where the fan is located (on top is best) are all factors in how much work will go into cleaning it after each use.
The price of a food dehydrator can range anywhere from $30 to over $300, with some commercial-sized units priced at well over $600. On the higher end, you’ll find food dehydrators with a large capacity so you can dehydrate a lot of food at once, impressive heat distribution so everything cooks evenly, and lots of little perks like thermometers and timers that make the entire process as easy as possible. On the lower end of the price range, you’ll find some basic food dehydrators that can accomplish drying out some foods, but will require more maintenance, have a few more limitations on what types of foods you can dehydrate, and likely won’t last as long.
For most people interested in buying a food dehydrator, especially those purchasing one for the first time, the right model will fall somewhere in between the pricing extremes. Based on what particular features you value most and what type of food dehydrator you choose to go with, you can probably expect to spend somewhere around $50-$150.
Size and Capacity
As with most small kitchen appliances, you need to consider both how much food you’ll be wanting to make in one batch, and how much space you have available when adding a new appliance to your kitchen. While smaller models, particularly vertical flow ones, will take up less counter space, they typically have a smaller capacity and won’t hold as much. However, they will take up less space and be significantly easier to store when not in use.
However, if you have a lot of food from your garden that you’ll want to dehydrate in a short span of time, or if you aim to buy produce in bulk with the goal of dehydration in mind, then a larger model is probably the best fit for you. If you just want to make a few snacks at a time here and there and save the kitchen real estate, a smaller one will probably make more sense for you.
Since it’s typical for food dehydrators to come with a fan, you can expect many models to produce some noise. However, the overall decibel level will vary from unit to unit. If it’s important to you to stick with an appliance that is as quiet as possible, then seek out a model known for not making much noise.
Unfortunately, decibel ratings are not a commonly listed spec you will find listed on each model. Check out review sites and consumer reviews to see what people are saying about the noise levels of the dehydrator you’ve got your eye on.
That covers the main factors to consider when buying a food dehydrator. But, there are also a few extra features that are built into some models that can make a big difference in how easy they are to use.
Different types of foods will dry best under different temperatures, so being able to adjust the temperature in your unit is important in order to achieve the best results. Look for a dehydrator with an adjustable thermostat if you plan to dry more than one food type.
Food dehydration takes hours, which makes it potentially easy to forget about. A dehydrator with a timer helps ensure you can check on your food when needed and be alerted when it’s ready.
- Auto Shutoff:
If you want to start the food dehydration process and then go run your errands or go to sleep for the night, a food dehydrator with an auto-shutoff feature is the way to go.
Benefits and uses
Food drying is often used to extend the shelf-life of ingredients and help them last longer.
By reducing the moisture content of foods, this process can prevent the growth of harmful contaminants, including types of bacteria and fungi that may make you sick.
This can be particularly beneficial for seasonal foods like fruits and vegetables by increasing their availability throughout the year — even in remote locations where they don’t grow.
This method of food preservation also reduces the weight and bulk of foods, which can decrease packaging, handling, and transportation costs for manufacturers.
It also alters the taste and texture of food products, often giving dried foods like fruits a sweeter, more concentrated flavor.
While this may have both pros and cons, these foods can supply a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants if you enjoy them in place of sugary sweets or other processed foods.
In conclusion, Foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, sauces, syrups, and herbs can be dehydrated. On the other hand, certain foods may not be suitable for drying, including foods high in fat or oil.