Drying foods has been a technique of preserving them for hundreds of years. Although we don’t exactly use the same techniques as our ancestors did, the process is still handy. New machines make it easier to dehydrate foods at home. Before beginning, learn a few basic rules and techniques to have the best dried foods possible.
Dehydration, or food drying, is the process of removing all liquid from foods. The process inhibits the growth of microorganisms and bacteria that can make foods go bad. Most dehydrators work using the same basic process, so there’s no need to spend a fortune on your first dehydrator, but do make sure to purchase a quality product that has several trays.
It’s not hard to dry foods if you have the food dehydrator. Simply arrange the foods on the provided trays and turn the machine on. The dehydrator heats air enough to dry foods without cooking them, allowing you to store for a period of time longer than normal. Non-dried foods must be used up immediately but dried foods can be opened and shut repeatedly, without spoilage.
After foods have been dried they may appear different in color. Although it’s not an absolute must, many people pre-treat foods to enhance color, flavor and texture of some foods. Pre-treating can include marinating, blanching or dipping. You can get lots of online recipes that will help you to decide which process to do with which foods.
Foods that can be dried include fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, frozen foods or previously canned foods. You can also use the dehydrator to dry bread for croutons, make homemade noodles, and dry potato slices to make your own chips.
Your dehydrator will come with a pamphlet that will help you determine how long to dry various foods. The amount of time needed depends on how much water and sugar are in the foods, the amount of food placed in the dryer, and the actual dehydrator itself. Some dehydrators dry foods much quicker than others.
If you dry foods too slowly you could open them up to bacteria. Dry them too hastily and you could cook them instead of just drying. For meats and fish, use a temperature of 145 degrees or slightly higher. Fruits and vegetables should be dried at a temperature between 130 and 140 degrees. Herbs and flowers should dry at 100 to 110 degrees F.
Cut, slice or otherwise prepare the foods you wish to dehydrate. You can dry several different foods at one time but try not to combine pungent foods with mild foods. Onions should be dried separately from fruit, for example. Fruit assortments can be dried at the same time, though. Meats should not be dried at the same time as fruits or veggies, though, since meats need to be dried at a slightly higher temperature than other foods.
It’s slightly difficult to tell if a food is completely dried. Most people look at the food or even feel it, though these methods aren’t exactly foolproof. Since the amount of time needed to completely dry foods varies due to different factors, it’s hard to say exactly how long to dry them. The foods will feel much softer while they’re still warm, so it’s a good idea to remove one tray, for a few minutes, then look and feel the foods. If foods feel sticky, damp or squishy, dry longer.
Store all dried foods in airtight containers and label each food clearly. Keep dried foods out of bright sunlight or bright rooms. Dark cupboards are the perfect storing solution. Keep most dried foods about a year, but throw out after that amount of time. Herbs will last much longer. Meats will not last as long. After a month, place dried meats in the freezer to keep them fresh.