April 5

How to Dehydrate Food: A Beginner’s Guide

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Instead of canning or freezing food to preserve it, you can dehydrate food. Dehydrating food is very inexpensive and requires less storage space than canned foods, plus there is no need for a freezer. If you will be dehydrating food at home, it will require some amount of time and you will have to know what you are doing for the process to be done properly. The good news is, dehydration hardly affects the nutritional content of foods. The length of time it takes will vary depending on factors such as water content, sugar content, food size, etc. To remove water from food, there are three main methods that are used. They include dehydration by the sun, in an oven or using a dehydrator. All three methods are quite effective; however, a dehydrator is the quickest and is more cost efficient than using an oven.

How Food Dehydration Works

Dehydration is a scientific term and involves a scientific process. The human body has a love/hate relationship with it. Your body hates how it feels when it’s dehydrated but loves the idea of dehydration because it means a ready food supply. In simple terms, dehydration is the process of removing water from a food product. The end goal is food preservation. Even more important is the ability it gives you to inhibit the growth of bad bugs or microorganisms. Your reward is an ample supply of tasty food without worrying about eating mold or bacteria. Removing moisture from foods makes them smaller and lighter. Dehydrated foods are ideal for backpacking, hiking, and camping because they weigh much less than their non-dried counterparts and do not require refrigeration. Drying food is also a way of preserving seasonal foods for later use. Food dehydration is an ancient practice probably used by prehistoric people as a way to dry seeds using the solar dehydration method. Thankfully modern man can preserve food faster and safer with a dehydrator. The process is simple yet fascinating. A food dehydrator uses a heating element, fans, and vents. Using a banana as an example, the heating element warms the banana slices, which releases moisture from the inside of each slice. The dehydrator has a fan, which pushes the moist air out of the dehydrator through air vents. Our banana should take about 6-8 hours but each type of food has its own dehydration time-table. At the end of the dehydration process, your food should have less than 20% of the water content you started with.

Preparing Foods for Dehydration

The way you prepare foods for dehydration determines the finished product you will receive and hence what you will end up consuming after rehydration. Here are some tips you need to know as you prepare your food for drying.
  1. One very important part of preparing foods for dehydration is the selection of the food item. Not all foods are suitable for dehydration and some may lose their original flavor after being dried. It is advisable to select fruits that are ripe and not bruised. This will ensure that the quality of the dried fruit remains good.
  2. Ensure that slices are as even as possible. Because you will not be drying whole fruits and vegetables, you have to make sure that as you cut them up, you get even pieces. If some cuts are bigger than others, the smaller pieces will dry before the bigger ones. This may cause problems, especially if you store the pieces that still contain moisture.
  3. Try to prevent browning by steaming, blanching or coating with lemon juice. Any other method to prevent browning may be used as well. It is also advised that you steam or blanch vegetables so that they do not get tough during the dehydration process.

Methods Used to Dehydrate Foods

As mentioned earlier, there are three main methods of dehydrating foods. All methods are equally effective and can result in perfectly dried foods. The method you use is totally dependent on your preferences, although the food being dried may play a part in the method used. Here’s a little detail on each method.
  • Sun drying: This method is mostly recommended for fruits. If food is being dried by the sun, the day must be very warm (at least 85°F) and humidity should be less than 60%. The process may take a few days, but it is very easy. After the process is complete, the food must be pasteurized.
  • Oven dehydrating: In this process, the food item is placed in the oven and heated until all the moisture is removed. It is a much quicker process than using the sun. However, using the sun will definitely be more cost effective.
  • Using a food dehydrator: There are dehydrators being sold today that make dehydrating food a much easier process. It is the fastest method of the three and it is more cost efficient that using an oven.

How Long Does it Take to Dehydrate Food?

The amount of time it takes to dehydrate food depends on several factors:
  • The sugar content of the food being dried: If there is more sugar present in food, it usually dries out much more quickly than if there is little sugar.
  • The size of the food item: Of course the smaller the item, the quicker the dehydration time. This is one reason why foods should be sliced thinly and evenly so they all can be dried quickly and at the same time.
  • The amount of water in the food: As you would expect, the higher the water content, the longer the drying time. If there is little water, the dehydration process is very short.
  • The method of dehydration: There are three main methods of dehydrating foods. You may dry foods in the sun, in an oven or you can use a dehydrator. The drying time is shortest if a dehydrator is used and longest if the food is sun-dried. While the dehydrator will take hours to complete the process, it may take days if the sun is used.

Tips for Storing Dehydrated Foods

Regardless of the method used for dehydration, you need to know when the food is dried. The best way to determine this is by touching it. It should feel hard, sticky or even moist. Check again once the food has cooled. If you are unsure if it is completely dry, continue drying it. Once you are sure it is completely dry, allow the food to cool to room temperature, and then it is time for storage.
  • Select the right containers: Choose something that insects and other pests cannot access. Containers with tight fitting lids are a good start.
  • Pack in portions that you will use at once: Once the food is exposed to air and moisture, its quality will be lowered.
  • Store in a dry, dark, cool place: These conditions are favorable for dehydrated foods; otherwise the shelf life will be greatly reduced.

Common Foods to Dehydrate

Bananas and apricots are the go-to foods most people start with when they’re learning how to dehydrate food. Strawberries, peaches, and apples are popular too. But what about cantaloupe? Yes, it’s a thing! People who dehydrate cantaloupe say it tastes like candy and melts in your mouth. Fruits and dehydration go great together but don’t forget about veggies! Don’t let your tomato harvest go to waste. Tomatoes are one of the easiest foods to dehydrate and you can use every part of them except the stems. Say “hello” to tomato powder. Since the holiday season is here, don’t forget cranberries. Cranberries show up once a year in most parts of the country. Get them while you can and dehydrate several bags. Choosing foods compatible with a food dehydrator isn’t difficult. Most fruits and vegetables work well. But why not learn to dehydrate meat? Create jerky! No more wondering what to do with your venison and elk from this year’s hunting season.

Dehydration and Nutritional Value of Foods

During dehydration, the nutritional value of food remains unaffected for the most part, and if the food item is ‘home dried’, even less damage is done to the nutrient content of the food. This is because home drying usually involves less harsh temperatures. Actually, the nutritional value of a food item is more likely to be affected if it is frozen or canned. Freezing and canning involve much more extreme temperatures, which affects nutrient content. Several tests have been done on foods that have been dried, and results show that the nutrient most likely to be affected is vitamin C. All other nutrients are retained because they are not very heat sensitive. On the contrary, vitamin C is an air soluble nutrient and some of it may be lost from the cut surface of the food item.

Benefits of Dehydrating Foods

Apart from preservation, there are other reasons why you may lean towards dehydrating a food item.
  • Dried foods are easy to store because they have lost water. The loss of water leads to both a reduction in mass and size. This means that the food will occupy less space.
  • No preservatives or additives are required for the process. It is a completely natural process and the food remains nutritious.
  • Because of the weight of dried foods, portability is enhanced. It will be much easier to carry since it is more compact. This means that you can easily take these foods hiking, backpacking or anywhere you go.
  • It may help you reduce waste. Instead of throwing out uneaten food that has become spoilt, you can preserve these items for later use. This will in turn help you save money.

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