Dehydrating Food

I stumbled on dehydrating quite by accident. I was scouring the local yard sales and came upon a used dehydrator for $5. The man assured me it worked and that he had simply upgraded to a larger model. I had thought about dehydrating because my kids eat trail mixes and snack mixes all the time. I thought how great it would be to dehydrate my own fruits without all the added sugar and other stuff in so many of the store-bought foods.

So away I went with my dehydrator and I have enjoyed it so much that over the last 3 years, I have added two more. I now dehydrate all sorts of fruits and vegetables. I garden and some of nearly every crop I grow is consigned to the dehydrator. Why? I dehydrate so that I can enjoy that fresh from the garden taste all year long. When neighbors who’ve grown too many green peppers stop by to share, I fire up the dehydrators. When cranberries go on sale after Thanksgiving, my dehydrators get another work out.

What is dehydrating exactly? It is the preservation of food products by removing as much of the moisture from them as possible. It uses air and very little heat to draw out the moisture. The food is shriveled and reduced in size, making it easier to store. Dehydrated food can be stored in tightly-sealed mason jars, vacuum-sealed bags, even zipper locked plastic bags. They can be frozen, refrigerated or stored in a cool dry place.

For things like trail mix, the fruits and berries can be added as-is to the snack mix. Dried peppers, potatoes, onions and other vegetables can be added to slow-cookers, to soups and stews or to baked goods. These will rehydrate using the moisture from the surrounding food and impart their flavor to the dish.

If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use your oven on a very low setting for some fruits and vegetables, then air dry them in the sun. You need to be able to set the oven to lower than 200 degrees otherwise the food will bake. Some ovens have a “warm” setting and this may work. The oven door needs to remain open to allow moisture and vapors to escape. A fan, pointed into the oven will increase air flow and speed up the process.

Drying outside is a bit riskier. The food has to be exposed to the air but protected from insects and other pests. It also does not work well if it is humid outside. You have less control this way but it is a completely natural way to dry foods.

The benefits of dehydrating foods are plenty. You can save money by processing foods when they are in season and affordable for use later in the year, whether you grow your own, buy at a farm stand or get them on sale at the grocery store. If you decide to get serious about it, buy in bulk to save even more and then dehydrate some, can, some and freeze some to have a variety. Dehydrated foods take up far less space than any other food preservation method. 20 to 25 green peppers take up just 1 quart jar when dehydrated. You have the ability to supplement your diet with all sorts of fruits and vegetables you might otherwise not use during winter months and that’s good for your health.