So you’ve heard a lot about the benefits of drying food, and what to hop on that bandwagon for yourself. Good for you! Now you have a few things to learn before you can start preserving your harvest or making any dried fruit snacks. Here is a handy primer on how to use a dehydrator for a newbie.
If you’re still figuring out the whole idea here, the main reason why people dehydrate food is to preserve it for very handy storage. Dried foods can last a very long time, and don’t require any special packaging or materials other than your dehydrator itself. Once all that water is removed, your dry food is very light and compact so you can store a lot in a tiny little jar. It’s handy and inexpensive.
Without moisture, bacteria and mold can’t survive. That’s why dried food stays safe to eat for months (years) without any more special treatment.
What Can You Dry?
Pretty much anything. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, grain, seafood and meat are all potential dehydrator fodder once you learn the ins and outs of doing them all safely. As a novice, I’d suggest you stick to the plants and deal with meat once you’re a bit more familiar with all this.The Machine
Before you get started, you’ll need a dehydrator.A guide on how to use a dehydrator for you as newbie. Well, technically you don’t need one, you can air-dry, or sun-dry or do some of your dehydrating in the oven but it’s really easiest to start with an actual machine for this.
There are 2 basic kinds: the stackable and the cabinet. Generally, the cheaper entry units are the ones with stacking trays, and you can invest in a better-quality cabinet unit once you have committed yourself to a regular dehydrating plan. Here are the details on each type:
Stackable dehydrators are the models that have a fan and heating unit at the bottom and you pile the slotted trays one on top of another to make a tower. This is likely what you’ll find at most department or kitchen stores. They’re fine and are the place to start for a newbie. The bottom trays tend to dry faster and the stacking idea can get awkward to move things around if you want to get at something in the middle. Really cheap ones offer no features but if you spend a bit more (around $100) you can get models with timers and temperature settings. These are the best deals for your money.
Now, the cabinet dehydrators are typically better quality but they’ll cost you $150 to over $300 depending on the size. These let you slide each tray out individually for less hassle and the air flows in from the back to keep all the trays drying at the same rate. Definitely a better quality machine but not necessarily the best place to start.
Now this is easily an entire book in itself, so this is just going to be a rough idea on what you need to do when dehydrating food. It’s far simpler than canning or even freezing but there are few things you have to know.
When you have a batch of fruit or vegetables that you want to dry, do some research to find out the right length of time for that specific item. Some denser foods can take 10-20 hours to dry properly and some will be done in less than 4.
Then wash up your produce, and trim off any peels, stems or bad spots. Slice everything up into fairly even pieces about 1/4 inch thick. Now spread them out evenly (no overlapping!) on each of your dehydrator trays, then get the machine going. Note the time and keep an eye on everything over the next few hours. Guidelines aren’t perfect and you’d hate to scorch your poor apple slices because they were done before you expected them to be. Depending on the food, they should be leathery or brittle when they’re done.
Now that’s a very simplistic look at basic dehydrating. Some fruits could use an acid bath (like lemon juice) to keep from browning, and many vegetables will preserve better if you dunk them in boiling water before drying. This blanching is a handy technique but not 100% necessary if you’d rather keep things simple for now.
When You’re Done
When everything is nice and dry, then what? Well, you just need to find a air-tight container to store your food in. Jars, plastic containers or even ziplock bags will all work fine as long as you keep everything in a dry environment. Needless to say, storing dried food in a humid place isn’t a smart idea.
Many fruits are eaten as-is, but the remaining foods should be rehydrated before you use them. A soak and simmer in water for 5 to 20 minutes is usually enough.