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Dehydrating your own food is a great way to make healthy snacks for your family, or to preserve the summer harvest. In this article, I cover the best way to store dehydrated food and provide some tips that I have found to work well.
Introduction to Food Dehydration
Food dehydration is a wonderful way to preserve your food. A wide variety of foods can be dehydrated. Many homesteaders and disaster preppers (and just smart people) have been doing this for years. Whether you harvest food from a farm or garden or buy it from a grocery store, food dehydration is a great technique to make your food last longer.
Food dehydration is a simple process of removing moisture from foods. Indeed, it is the water content in our food that spurs the growth of mold, yeast and other harmful bacteria that can ruin our food and even make us extremely sick. The good news is that just about any kind of food can be dehydrated. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats can all be stored safely for many years through the process of food dehydration. Most foods retain their nutrients if dried properly.
Today, we have the advantage of freeze-drying and electric food dryers. In historic times, the methods were a little more nomadic. Food back then was air-dried, wind-dried, sun-dried or smoked. Food drying predates our modern era significantly and can be traced back to around 12,000 BC. The ancient inhabitants of modern-day Asia and the Middle East were definitely dehydrating their food for preservation. Archeological finds have proven this.
Tips for Storing Your Dehydrated Food
Dehydrating your food is a great way to preserve it for long periods of time. Overall, it is a fairly simple and straightforward process. However, it does need to be done the right way. With proper storage, dehydrated food can last a long time. So here are some tips to help you do it right.
Let your dried foods cool before storing them
Dried foods should not be placed in storage until they are cool to the touch. The warmer air around your just-dried food will naturally hold more moisture. If you store the food while it is still warm, you will trap that excess moisture in with the food once you seal it.
Use airtight storage containers
Dehydrated food should be placed in sealed containers and stored in a dark space such as a cupboard or pantry. Dried foods have three natural enemies; sunlight, air, and moisture.
Store your food in small batches
By packing your dehydrated food in small containers, you ensure that it isn’t being repeatedly exposed to any of its natural enemies each time you unseal the container to take food out. This also minimizes the risk of mold and contamination. It’s also very convenient. You can have perfect portion sizes ready to go.
Label the containers
Properly labeling containers is an essential step, especially if you dehydrate a lot. By tagging and dating your jars, you will make your life more convenient in the long-run. It will be easier for you to find and identify your dehydrated foods. Besides, you don’t want to have a bunch of mystery jars laying around.
Condensation can ruin your dehydrated food
If condensation appears in any of your home-dried food containers, it needs to be dehydrated again.
Use the oldest food first
Always rotate your product so that the older containers are stored in front or on top, ensuring that your oldest product gets consumed first.
Check the quality
Always check for quality before eating. If in doubt, throw it out.
Refrigerate open containers
If possible, store all open containers in your freezer or refrigerator to preserve freshness. Use open containers within a few days.
Tips for Storing Fruit
Fruits must be conditioned before storing. To condition your fruit correctly, make sure that your jars are loosely packed. Shake the jars daily for the first ten days of the conditioning process. Conditioning your fruit will allow any excess gases and air to disperse from the fruit itself.
Also noteworthy is the recognition that some fruits may appear to be dehydrated but are considered candied. Common fruits that are candied are pineapples, papayas, and kiwis.
Also from a culinary perspective, nuts and seeds are considered fruits in the food drying process.
Common dehydrated fruit
Most fruits can be stored for up to one year safely with proper storage.
Tips for Storing Dehydrating Vegetables
The same rules that apply to storing home-dried fruits also apply to vegetables. However, whereas I prefer to use mason jars to store my dried fruits, I prefer to vacuum pack and use oxygen absorbers with my veggies. I also like to store them in the freezer for maximum shelf-life.
Common dehydrated vegetables
Most vegetables can be kept up to six months safely with proper storage.
Tips for Storing Herbs
Unlike fruits and vegetables, not all herbs retain their flavor after they’re dried. Furthermore, if you’re harvesting your fresh herbs from your garden, there are a few points you should remember.
In order to retain maximum flavor, you should cut your herbs early in the morning after the morning dew has dried up. Air drying is the best method for low-moisture herbs. However, you should use a dehydrator or oven for high-moisture herbs.
High moisture herbs
Low moisture herbs
Most dried herbs can be kept up to one year safely with proper storage.
Tips for Storing Meats
Carefully remove all fat from your meat before drying it. Fat can become rancid and lead to meat spoilage. Unlike fruits, vegetables, and herbs, meat needs to be handled with extreme caution. Meat can become contaminated before and after the drying process very easily. Be sure that you cook your meats and poultry to their proper temperatures, typically 160° F for beef and 165° F for poultry.
It’s best to vacuum seal your dried meats to reduce the risk of contamination. Remember to season or marinate your meat before drying, not after.
Common dehydrated meats
Most dehydrated meats can be kept up to six months safely with proper storage.