Dehyrdrating Food For Fun And Storage
I’d like to start with a little history on dehydrating. We may consider it new, but dehydrating has a long history for storing food. Every culture has dehydrated some type of food. The earliest known practice is around 12000 BC. in the Middle East and Asia. Dehydrating (drying) food has a long history using the sun, wind and/or smoke. Native Americans dried corn, berries, jerky or “bapa” (dried buffalo meat). Pemmican was dried buffalo meat with tallow and sometimes berries used in the process. One can imagine many nomadic people using dehydration to preserve foods for lean times. Fish has been dried with salt or smoke for centuries. In the fresh state it spoils quickly.
There are many advantages to drying food.
- First of course is convenient storage. Dried foods need no refrigeration and take up less space than freezing or canning. 1 pound of frozen veggies yields 1/4 cup (carrots) to 1 cup (beans) depending on the starting moisture level. This is very good if the power goes out. If one needs to travel light, such as backpacking, they take up much less space and are lighter.
- Second is dried foods retain nutrients better than other ways of storage. They retain more enzymes, vitamins, and minerals as compared to freezing or canning.
- Third, dried foods taste better. They retain better flavor and color. When re-hydrated they are closer to the original. Dried, smoked fish is so yummy. Dried fruits become candy and spiced veggies become chips.
- Fourth dried foods can save you money. You can dry garden extras. Or you can buy on sale or in bulk and dry it.
- Fifth, you can make healthy snacks with dried foods. I would much rather snack on healthy veggie chips or dried fruit than processed potato chips or candy.
- Sixth, you can make quick meals such as soups or stews from dried food.
- Seventh, you can actually dehydrate meals and re-hydrate them in a pinch for a quick meal. Dried, smoked fish is so yummy. Dried fruits become candy and spiced veggies become chips as mentioned previously. And of course dried foods are just plain fun. I remember making granola,coconut macaroons, banana chips, pineapple, beef jerky, flax seed and veggie crackers, and other goodies for my family and friends. The kids really love it and beef jerky is loved by kids and adults! Another thing I like is drying veggies like eggplant or zucchini for use as healthy gluten free noodles. I use this spiral vegetable slicer to make “noodles” and then dry them.
- Old chips, cookies or popcorn can be revitalized with dehydrating to remove excess moisture. Chips can be warmed safely for chips and salsa.
- And of course dried foods are just plain fun. It can be so fun doing this with children and being creative. I remember making granola,coconut macaroons, banana chips, pineapple, beef jerky, flax seed and veggie crackers, and other goodies for my family and friends. The kids really love it and beef jerky is loved by kids and adults! Another thing I like is drying veggies like eggplant or zucchini for use as healthy gluten free noodles. I use this spiral vegetable slicer to make “noodles” and then dry them. Dehydrators can be used for crafts also. Such as drying flowers for scrapbooks or ornaments.
Methods of dehydration can range from something similar to what our ancestors did to electric, worry-free models. Drying in the sun is the most basic. By 1000 BC the Chinese were using the sun, smoke, salt and spices to dry foods. North American Indians made pemmican by dying meat (buffalo or deer) with fat for storage. Drying with smoke, especially for meat like jerky or fish are also traditional methods. Passive solar dehydrators can be used. Salting foods and drying in the sun can work. We have it so easy now a days with electric dehydrators. These have temperature settings and fans to circulate the air. This prevents mold and bacteria from getting a foothold. The cheaper dehydrators work fine. I have had a round “American Harvest” dehydrator for many (over 20) years and it still works.
Mine was similar to this one
These are cheaper to purchase than say an Excaliber. I upgraded to an Excaliber when trying out a raw food diet.
I am really glad I did as it maintains heat and air flow more evenly and holds a lot more. Don’t let this stop you though. Believe me you can do a lot with even a cheap one. You may could even get a used one at a garage sale or flea market. I think it would be pretty easy to make one with a little heating element and fan. Even a fan added onto a solar dehydrator would be a benefit. The problem with the passive driers is a lack of air circulation. This can allow mold to grow. You can also dehydrate in the oven to some degree. I have made granola in the oven and dehydrator. It is just so much easier with a dehydrator. Even a cheap one.
Things to remember when dehydrating:
- Fresher is better. Use the freshest fruits and vegetables you can get. And remember most frozen produce is frozen quickly after picking. So by buying large bags or on sale of frozen produce, one could dehydrate anytime with good results. If using frozen they will be easier to slice after sitting out a few minutes to partially thaw.
- When preparing produce try and slice it about the same size. This can be accomplished with a sharp knife or a mandoline type slicer. I just used a sharp knife and cutting board this past weekend with good results. There are some mandoline type cutters that are very cost effective. I have an older one similar to this.Mine is not this brand, but very similar. I also have another one with an adjustable blade for adjusting the thickness similar to this one: To be honest with you I don’t really like this one as much as I thought I would. It is nice to be able to adjust the thickness but it is a little harder to clean than the el cheapo. Most often I just use a knife. You can also try the electric ones if you have a lot of produce to prepare at one time.
- Cut most veggies 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick The more water the thicker you will need to cut it. A watermelon would need to be cut about 1 inch thick.
- An acid can be added to keep produce from turning brown. An example would be pineapple juice on bananas. Lemon juice, orange juice, lime juice, citric acid and even vitamin C crushed up in water can be use to retain color. Any of these would be better than chemicals use in the food industry.
- Some veggies are better to steam or par boil slightly. An example are green beans or broccoli. Just drop in boiling water about 2 minutes. Then quickly cool with ice water. This brings out the deep green color. Destroys some anti nutrients such as phytic acid (which interfere with vitamin and mineral absorption). And it breaks down fibrous tissue making the veggie easier to chew.
- Fruits and vegetables can be spiced with seasonings such as salt and spice. Or even sweeteners such as sugar, honey, fruit juice, agave. You can even soak fruit in sugar solutions and make “candy” I’ll pass on that one. I soaked some cucumbers in apple cider vinegar then salted them up good and dehydrated until crispy. Wa la a healthy salt and vinegar chip. Zucchini, eggplant, and any sliced parboiled root vegetable can be used for this also. I also love to add Indian spices like tumeric and garam masala.
- Drying times depend. The final product should be slightly leathery feeling. Also it will be crispier as it cools. Times will depend on how much water is in the produce and how humid the home is.
- Dehydrated foods should be kept in an oxygen free enviornment. My best way for long term storage is in glass jars. I use a little tool to remove the air from the bottle that works pretty good. It is an attachment that cam with my food saver. Food savers can also be used with plastic bags which remove all the air and seal it. As long as nothing sharp pierces the bag, it works pretty well.
Some times I seal several smaller bags and them put them in a jar for further protection. There are videos on You Tube that actually show you how to make your own jar sealer. You can also buy the hand vacs and bags from the grocery store. These work well on a tight budget, but they get you slowly with the price of the bags.
- Keep dehydrated products out of the light to retain color.
- As a rule of thumb: meats should be dehydrated at 145 degrees F (62.7 C), fruit and veggies at 130-140 F (54.4 – 60 C), and herbs and flowers at 100-110 F (37.7-43.3C)
Dehydrated products should last 1 year (or longer)and can be frozen for even more protection. Dehydrated tomatoes can be frozen and then shatter like glass. This can be ground into a powder and cooked with a couple of spoonfuls and water in place of tomato sauce. Now that is a nice way to get around those toxic metal cans. Not to mention you would be using locally grown tomatoes ans not shipping them all over the country. Beans, nuts, and seeds can be soaked or sprouted then dried again to make them crispy. I do this with almonds frequently. This helps deactivate the anti nutrients and make them easily digestible. Adding salt and spice make them yummier too!
These are just some thoughts and ideas for dehydrating. Check out You Tube for some really good demonstrations and ideas. I found a couple of channels with a whole series dedicated to dehydrating. My dehydrated foods never last a year as they are so good they are quickly consumed.