Quick! What’s the best way to preserve food?
If you’re like most people you’ll answer canning, refrigeration, or freezing. But what about drying?
Dehydrating is the world’s oldest form of food preservation, it requires no preservatives, and it yields great tasting food with months of shelf life. So why isn’t it more popular? The simple truth is, food dehydrators aren’t a mainstream kitchen appliance, so many people are not familiar with how and why they would use a dehydrator. But, there are many good reasons to add food dehydration to your DIY skill set.
Benefits of dehydrating food
Dehydrated food tastes great
As water is removed, taste is deliciously concentrated. The result is a convenient food with a taste that, depending on your personal preference, may be better than the original.
No preservatives or chemical additives
Food dehydration requires just one ingredient – the food you’re drying. The result is 100% natural food that will stay tasty and nutritious for many months. If you like a brighter color, and don’t mind some zing, you can often use a little lemon juice in your dehydration projects to maintain good color.
Storing dehydrated food is efficient
Dried foods tend to take less than one sixth of their original storage space, and don’t require the ongoing electrical drain of a refrigerator or freezer. A case of peaches, after dehydration, will fit easily into a handful of sandwich bags and sit neatly in your pantry where you can eat them at your leisure.
In addition to making dried foods that cost less than those you can buy in a store, dehydrators can help you save money in several other ways:
- buy foods on sale or in bulk and preserve for later
- save foods that would otherwise spoil
- replace store-bought snacks or candy with your own healthier creations
- dry your own herbs
- make homemade treats that you can give as gifts.
Because you’re drying your own food, you can be choosy about the foods you dry. Dry your favorite locally sourced foods with confidence, knowing that they are chemical and pesticide-free. Even better, because dried foods are so portable, you can take them with you anywhere, as we discuss next…
Dehydrating your own food means you can easily bring real, natural food with you anywhere you go. For busy people on the run this is a major benefit. Dried food is compact, light weight, and it travels well. An entire bunch of dried bananas will fit into a sandwich bag, which can be tossed into a purse or backpack. If you like camping, owning a food dehydrator opens up a world of new possibilities, allowing you to make foods out on the trail – sauces, soups, even pizza – that rival anything you can make at home.
Replace store-bought snacks and eat healthier
Use your dehydrator to make tasty treats as a replacement for store-bought snacks. For salty snacks, consider kale chips, crunchy sweet potato chips, or flax crackers. If you have a sweet tooth, many dehydrated fruits make chewy snacks with an intense and satisfying taste. Try bananas, cherries, strawberries, apricots, mangoes, or pineapple. Together with a little good chocolate, or some nuts, you’ve got a quality desert.
If you’re on a raw food diet, or just trying to eat more raw foods, a dehydrator provides a good way to prepare food at temperatures below 115° F, which is considered the threshold temperature where enzymes and nutrients are maintained. In addition to dehydrated raw fruits and vegetables, you can also make raw crackers, breads, granolas, and cookies. You can even use a dehydrator to warm sauces and soups at low temperatures to take off the chill.
A dehydrator will help you preserve food that would otherwise go to waste. You can manage a bigger garden (or accept more from your friends’ gardens), rescue food in the back of your refrigerator, and buy that case of ripe bananas you find on sale in January.
Buy more quality during “peak” season
Food dehydrators allow you to buy and preserve the highest quality seasonal foods at their “peak.” For example, you can buy (or pick) an extra case of apricots, cherries, apples, etc. and not worry about having to eat them within the next week; just dry them for later.
A practical DIY project
Finally, drying your own food is a fun and practical DIY project with almost unlimited possibilities. Take the quality food you have today and extend its life into the future. Whether for snacking, cooking, camping, or even emergency food storage, you are taking advantage of the world’s oldest form of food preservation.
There are many food dehydrators on the market, ranging in price from under $50 to over $500. For most people, an electric food dehydrator with both a fan and heating element is the right starting point. These machines allow you to easily regulate the temperature and provide even airflow across all food trays. Remember that airflow is just as important as heat.
Note: Matt and Betsy recommend Excalibur Dehydrators.
In evaluating food dehydrators, make sure you look at temperature control, proper airflow, design (stacking trays vs. shelf trays), and capacity. In general, cheaper dehydrators are smaller and have less drying area, and in some cases may not have a fan. If you’re on a budget, keep your eye out for dehydrators at garage sales or thrift stores. I’ve heard stories of people finding functional food dehydrators for less than $20.
As an example I included these photos of some bananas we recently dehydrated.
We started with 28 bananas, weighing almost 13 pounds.
Here’s a shot of the sliced bananas in the trays before being dried.
Here’s how the bananas look when they’re done.
After drying, the bananas weigh only 2.3 pounds and can be easily stored.
Dave and his wife Lisa are outdoor enthusiasts, and long-time dehydrator users. They run a dehydrator review website together with the goal of becoming the best source of dehydrator information on the net.
Visit them at DehydratorReview.net.