Food dehydrating has been a longstanding practice used to preserve food dating back to ancient times. It preserves food by removing moisture which in turn inhibits the growth of mold and bacteria. The reduction in water content also makes shrinks the size of the food making it easier to store for the long term.
In this article, we cover some of the best foods for dehydrating.
Benefits of dehydrating food
There are many benefits to dehydrating food for preservation.
- Preservation: The dehydration process preserves food so it is easier to store and has a longer shelf life
- Flavor: The process of removing moisture in many cases help concentrate the flavor of the food.
- Storage: The food shrinks as water is removed allowing it to be stored in a smaller space. Also, refrigeration is usually not required, making things easier to store.
- Versatile: Dehydrated food can be consumed as is for a snack or incorporated into recipes or even re-hydrated.
What equipment is required for food dehydrating?
There are two types of equipment required for food dehydrating: tools for preparation and tools for drying.
Since preparing food for the dehydration process involves cutting the fruit, vegetables or meat into uniform slices, a good quality chef’s knife and cutting surface are required. In some cases, especially for fruits and vegetables, a slicer or mandoline will help cut uniform pieces which will dehydrate more evenly.
For the actual drying process, you can use an oven or electric food dehydrator can. I find a countertop dehydrator the easiest, especially for items with longer drying times.
Read more about affordable food dehydrators.
What foods can be dehydrated?
Food drying works well for many types of foods. The most common are: fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and meat. The preparation and drying process varies depending on the type of food.
Fruit is a great choice for dehydrating since it tends to concentrate the flavor and sweetness making it a tasty snack that is also nutritious. Dried fruit from the supermarket often contains added sugar and preservatives, so making your own is a much healthier option.
Sliced fruit such as apples, bananas, peaches, strawberries all are great dehydrated. The key to preparing them is to make uniform slices and briefly soak the fruit in lemon juice to prevent browning.
Smaller whole fruit can also be dehydrated. Some of my favorites are blueberries, raspberries, dates, figs, and apricots.
Tomatoes, peppers, onions, broccoli, green beans, carrots, potatoes are all good choices. The preparation varies a bit depending on the vegetable. All vegetables should be thoroughly washed and any brown or decayed spots removed. They should be chopped into uniform pieces to aid in the drying process.
Many vegetables require blanching prior to drying for best results. In particular, broccoli, carrots, beans, potatoes and similar vegetables should be blanched first. It helps preserve the color and texture during the drying process.
Blanching involves briefly cooking the vegetables in boiling water (3-5 minutes) to prepare them for drying. An interesting article from the University of Nebraska goes into more detail about the process.
Dehydrating your own herbs is an easy way to save money compared to store bought. Many herbs are easy to grow, even indoors in any climate and keep well.
Thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage, marjoram are popular choices to start with since they are relatively hearty. Mint, oregano, basil, tarragon, bay leaves require a little more care in handling but are also versatile choices for cooking. I like to dry my own marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano to make Herbes de Provence.
You can start harvesting and drying your herbs once the plants have grown enough leaves/foliage to sustain themselves. Peak time is just after the flower buds have appeared, but have not yet opened. Give them a quick rinse under cold water and pat dry to remove any dirt.
Herbs can be air dried, or to prepare them faster, use a food dehydrator.
Dehydrated meat is also known as jerky. All types of meat including chicken, beef, venison, pork can be dehydrated with proper preparation.
Various cuts of meat are sliced and prepared with spices then dehydrated. A variety of cuts can be used and some popular beef cuts are covered in this article on cuts of meat for jerky.
A special consideration for dehydrating meat (especially poultry and pork) is thorough cooking. In most cases, it is best to precook the meat in an oven to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees (165 degrees for poultry) to kill any pathogens.
Lean cuts of meat should be chosen for dehydrating, as fat does not preserve well and tends to go rancid during storage. Trim all visible fat during preparation.
Nuts are already dry, why would I want to dehydrate them? It turns out that soaking nuts in water help unlock nutrients and also make them easier to digest. After soaking, they need to be dehydrated to restore them to their original crunchy state. Here’s a guide to soaking and dehydrating nuts.
Storing Dehydrated Food
Food should be packaged in airtight containers. I like to portion it based on how it will be used, usually in smaller quantities. Exposure to air reduces the shelf life. For snack type foods, I like to package single serving quantities individually to make them easy to grab and go.
Be sure to store the food in a cool, dry and dark area for best results. Shelf life is affected by storage temperature, so a cool location will give better shelf life.
I found this resource for more information on packing and storing dried foods.