Dehydrating food is a great way to save money on produce and reduce waste in your home. Learning how to dehydrate food isn’t as difficult as some may think, and there are actually a few methods in which you can go about dehydrating foods. These methods include using a dehydrator, using your oven, or even using the sun!
Without further ado, let’s jump right in!
The Benefits of Dehydrating Food
At first glance, it may seem as though there aren’t too many benefits to dehydrating food — but there are actually quite a few!
1. You won’t have to worry about spoilage.
With a dehydrator, you won’t have to worry if that large bunch of bananas or giant bag of apples will go to waste after a week. Once you see your produce starting to reach the end of its freshness, you can simply cut it up and dehydrate it for a shelf life that will last for many months!
2. You’ll have an emergency food supply.
Many people choose to dehydrate and store food in the case of an emergency, whether it be financial, caused by the weather, or man made. Having your own store of dehydrated food will give you peace of mind for the unknown.
3. You’ll never run out of snacks. And they’ll be healthy!
Dehydrated foods make awesome, crunchy snacks and the recipes are practically endless. Sweet… salty…spicy… whatever your little heart desires in a snack is what you can create! Plus, it saves you money on having to buy snacks like chips or other junk foods. Dehydrated foods are a healthy alternative to the traditional fatty, preservative-filled crunchy snack.
4. You can take dehydrated food anywhere.
Dehydrated food is lightweight and compact, so if you’re the adventurous type and like to go on hikes or out-of-the-blue trips, dehydrated foods are a quick and easy meal that you can take with you to wherever you’re going and re-hydrate whenever you get there.
5. Dehydrated food takes up less room than fresh or canned produce.
Bulky cans and fresh produce can take up a lot of space in your kitchen and pantry. On the other hand, dehydrated foods can be tucked tightly together in vacuum-sealed packages in a corner of your pantry, freeing up space for the other foods you love.
What Foods Can Be Dehydrated
Now that we’ve gone over the benefits of dehydrating food, let’s take a look at what foods are best to dehydrate.
Meat is an excellent option for dehydrating. Jerky, especially deer and beef jerky, is a nutritious and delicious snack that’s pretty simple to make at home.
- Tropical fruits
Practically any fruit can be dehydrated, but the most popular and tasty fruits to dehydrate are apples and bananas. Salty banana chips or sugary-cinnamon apple chips are our go-to favorites.
- Green beans
Like with fruits, you can dehydrate virtually any vegetable you can get your hands on. Dehydrating the veggies listed above can be great for future use in a vegetable soup or individually alongside a meat dish.
Dehydrating Food with a Dehydrator
The most obvious, and easiest, way to dehydrate food is with a food dehydrator. The cost of dehydrators varies pretty widely, with some costing around $30 and others costing well over $100. Before you dive in and purchase a dehydrator, you’ll want to consider if dehydrating food is something you’ll do often. If not, the investment may not be a very good one.
Dehydrators are designed to evenly, and thoroughly, dry foods, removing nearly 100% of all its moisture content. To dehydrate food in a dehydrator, you’ll first need to slice the fruit, vegetable, or meat very thinly; about 1/4 an inch thick. Then, you’ll want to season the food with whatever spices, rubs, or marinades that you have on hand. Next, simply place all of the slices onto the dehydrator’s drying racks and voila! You can let the machine do its magic.
You can expect anywhere from 4 to 8 hours of drying, depending on the food type (with veggies and fruits drying quicker than meats). An hour or so before the food is expected to finish drying, check up on the progress to determine if any additional drying may be necessary. If the food is at all malleable, soft, or contains moisture, you’ll need to allow it to continue drying until there is no flexibility in the slices.
Using an Oven as a Dehydrator
Not keen on the idea of buying a food dehydrator just yet? Luckily, there are other ways to dehydrate foods, including your kitchen oven. Keep in mind that dehydrating foods with your conventional oven won’t be as cost-effective as using a dehydrator. Your oven will have to be on for multiple hours, with the door slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape.
To dehydrate foods in your oven, you’ll first need to set your oven to the lowest temperature it can go, preferably under 200 degrees. If your oven can’t be set to such a low temperature, set your oven to Warm. If 200 degrees is the only possible low temperature, it’ll work, just be sure to keep a close eye on your food throughout the following hours to avoid burning.
Next, cut your fruits, veggies, or meats thinly; about 1/4 an inch thick. Cover them in any preferred spices or recipes, then cover a cookie sheet with wax paper and lay the slices on the sheet without overlapping the food or allowing it to touch (this helps with the drying). Place the sheet into the oven and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon slightly to allow moisture to escape.
Rotate the sheets and flip the fruits, veggie, or meat slices once every hour for even drying. This will also prevent “hot spots” that are common in ovens so that one part of your food isn’t scorched. Expect fruits and vegetables to take 6 to 8 hours to dry completely in the oven. Meat will take 8 or more hours to dehydrate.
Going the Old-Fashioned Route: Dehydrating with the Sun
If you don’t want to waste energy by using the oven or money by investing in a dehydrator, there’s always the dehydration method that’s been used for thousands of years: the sun. Many people swear by sun-drying foods, and say that it gives dehydrated foods a taste unlike any other and in some ways, we’d have to agree!
To dehydrate fruits or veggies in the sun, slice them thinly (1/4 an inch), cover them in your favorite recipe, and place them on a baking sheet. Cover the sheet in a breathable mesh to prevent insects from landing on the food, while still allowing light and air to penetrate.
To dehydrate meat, slice the meat thinly (about 1/4 an inch), cover it in salt or other spices, and cure and allow the slices to hang dry on a meat drying rack. Keep in mind that meat is best sun-dried in areas that have more arid climates, rather than humid.
Both fruits, veggies, and meats may take up to a few days to dehydrate completely. This is definitely a dehydrating method that takes some patience, but the end result is worth waiting for!
Packing and Storing Dehydrated Food
Once you have your food dehydrated, how do you store it to keep it fresh over the next few months? In this section, we’ll be providing you with packing and storage tips to help you get the most out of your dehydrated food.
Packing Dehydrated Foods
- Don’t package dehydrated foods until they are completely cool. Food that is just out of the dehydrator or oven will let off heat, and if packaged immediately, will create moisture in the packaging and lead to mold and a decreased shelf life.
- Don’t package the food if it isn’t 100% dry. If your dehydrated food is still flexible, it needs to be put back in the sun, dehydrator, or oven longer. Dehydrated food should be hard to the touch and not flexible.
- Package dehydrated food in freezer bags or air-tight jars. Vacuum sealing the freezer bags will help to remove all of the air from the bag and increase shelf life. If using jars, don’t open the jars and close it. Only open when you plan on using all of the contents.
Storing Dehydrated Foods
- Store dehydrated food in a cool, dark place… such as a pantry. Light will decrease the shelf life, and so will heat.
- You can store dried foods in the freezer for longer shelf life. Dehydrated foods can last anywhere from 6 months to a year in a pantry or cool room. To extend the shelf life of dehydrated foods even longer, store them in a deep freezer.
- Label your dehydrated foods with what it is and the date. This will help you to keep track of what you have and how long you have left to store it.
- Keep older dehydrated food up front. This will force you to use the older bags first and keep you organized.
After all is said and done, learning how to dehydrate food isn’t really as difficult as one may think! Buying a dehydrator is the fastest route to go, but if you’re not planning to dehydrate food often or just don’t want to spend the money, trying your oven or using the sun are great alternatives!