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A Beginner’s Guide to Dehydrating Food

Whether you have a large garden or you’re looking for a productive hobby, a food dehydrator is one investment that can pay off handsomely in the long run.

With a dehydrator, you can make the entire drying process easier with less room for mistakes.

A food dehydrator can go a long way in preparing fresh foods, but it does require a bit of skill and know-how to perfect the process. 

In this guide, we’ll help beginners learn how to use a food dehydrator and provide some additional tips on dehydrating food.

What Is A Food Dehydrator?

A food dehydrator is a device that preserves food by dehydrating or removing the moisture content. The water content of most foods is high (usually 90% for fruits and vegetables, and up to 75% for meats).

The dehydrator is designed to run for as long as 72 hours. Once it is processed by the dehydrator, food items can last up to 30 YEARS OR MORE. It will also retain most of its nutritional value, especially when compared to other preservation methods, such as canning.

Unlike canned food, dehydrated food does not need to be stored in a vacuum-sealed container and takes up far less space in storage.

Today, most food dehydrators are electric and come in various shapes and sizes. There are also commercial dehydrators that are essentially large insulated ovens with several heater elements and fans that can dry food within hours.

How To Use A Food Dehydrator

Dehydrators vary in configuration, depending on the manufacturer, but all the appliances share several attributes. These are the five basic steps for using any dehydrator:

1. Prepare the food to be dried. Wash it thoroughly and remove any ingredients that are becoming too ripe, bruised, or are starting to deteriorate. For meat, make sure it is cooked thoroughly, as well ( see how to make beef jerky with a dehydrator or bacon jerky recipe ).

2. Chop the ingredients. Fruit and vegetables need to be chopped thinly, while meat has to be cut into cubes with the fat removed. Do not dehydrate pork unless you’re using sliced and cured ham. Make sure that the pieces are sliced evenly so that each one dries at the same rate.

3. Layout the ingredients in a single layer in the tray with the no overlapping. Set the temperature and timer on the dehydrator according to the recommended drying times in the owner’s manual.

4. Allow for cooling. Once the ingredients have dried completely, let it cool for thirty to sixty minutes (or until the pieces are cool to the touch).

5. Pack it away. Put all dried foods in sealed containers or freezer bags and store it in a cool, dry place.

Simple Food Dehydrating Tips

Dry at the right heat and time it. The temperature and time required to dehydrate your food items fully will depend on the type of dehydrator you buy and the food you have prepared. These are often detailed in the dehydrator’s instruction manual, so be sure to read it carefully.

Make sure that the food is 95% dehydrated. Anything below that and the food will become spongy and sticky and not store properly. Store the dehydrated food items in low humidity with minimal ventilation.

Dehydrate fruits and vegetables at peak ripeness. As soon as you pick fruits and vegetables, they will start to lose nutrients and flavor. You’ll want to harvest and dry the ingredients as soon as it becomes ripe. You should also take note that fruits may taste sweeter than usual when dehydrated due to the sugars becoming concentrated from the reduced moisture.

Warm up the dehydrator first. Like with an oven, turning on the dehydrator before use allows it to reach the required temperature before the food arrives. A steady temperature ensures that the food is consistently dried upon completion.

Storing Dehydrated Foods

Unlike other food preservation methods, dehydrated foods are more flexible with storage. You can store these items in mason jars, freezer bags, and even microwavable containers.

A certain amount of care is still needed when storing dehydrated food to prevent it from getting moldy or rancid over time, though. Here are some tips for storing dehydrated food effectively:

  • Allow it to cool. Once it has finished drying, wait until it is warm enough to touch before you put it into a container. Some food items, such as vegetables, may need to cool for longer.
  • Use glass. If you plan to consume your dehydrated food regularly, mason or glass jars are ideal storage containers. It is easy to access food quickly.
  • Freeze it. If you want your dehydrated food to last for several years, put it in freezer bags and remove all the air before storing it in the freezer.
  • Keep it cool and dark. Keep your containers of dried food in a cool, dark environment like in a refrigerator or pantry cabinet.
  • Watch out for condensation. If you notice any droplets of condensation inside the container, the product hasn’t dried fully. If the food was recently dehydrated, try putting it back in the dehydrator. If it’s a significant amount of time has passed, the food is more likely to be spoiled and should be eaten quickly or thrown away.

Choosing the Best Food Dehydrator

Purchasing the right dehydrator is just as important as knowing how to dehydrate food. Dehydrators vary in price, features, size, and other factors, and knowing how to balance these according to your needs will help you get the best value for your money.

  • Get a dehydrator with the circulating fan in the back. It ensures hot air is circulated evenly and the food dries at the same rate. If you must buy a dehydrator with the fans at the top or bottom, take the food tends to dry first at the level closest to the fan.
  • An adjustable thermostat and an automatic shut-off timer can simplify the drying process. The thermostat allows you to monitor the temperature based on the food you are drying, while the shut-off timer allows you to run it without supervision.
  • Choose the right size. Dehydrators vary from 4 to 10 square feet of space, usually in stackable or slide-out trays. Select a dehydrator that’s in line with the amount of food you plan to prepare.

That’s all you need to know about dehydrating food. What are you waiting for?