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If you are considering purchasing a food dehydrator to preserve your food, you are in the right place. Be it dried apricots or beef jerky, we’ve all enjoyed dehydrated foods, sometimes without knowing it. Even if we did, we did not consider food dehydrators as a viable kitchen instrument, simply because our parents or friends weren’t using it. Times change, and with declining storage space and increasing importance of eating au naturel, food dehydrators are becoming increasingly popular. As hundreds of proud owners will testify, dehydration is a simple process with many benefits if a good product is bought after reading unbiased food dehydrator reviews. To make your life better and tastier, we’re going to tell you why you need good food dehydrators and how to go about buying one. As a bonus, we’ve also reviewed the best food dehydrator for you.
What is a Food Dehydrator
Modern food dehydrators are plastic or metal boxes that can dry foods by passing hot air through them. This hot air reduces the moisture content in foods. Moisture or water content in foods is generally of the order of 50-90% of the food’s weight. As the saying goes, “Water is necessary for life”, but in this case the life that flourishes because of that water in vegetables and meats consists mostly of bacteria and fungi. For now suffice it to say that such moist food, when stored away, gets “spoilt” and poses significant health risks.
The solution is to remove water from the foods. Water cannot, and should not, be completely removed, but retained in a ratio of 0.75 to 1 to the protein content in the foods. Food dehydrators use circulating hot air to remove the excess moisture and so make the foods storage-worthy. These foods can later be consumed, perhaps during seasons when they would normally not be available.
In our reviews, food dehydrators are sorted in two main types:
- Stacked Dehydrators
- Box and Shelf Dehydrators
Usually devoid of an outer shell, the product is made up of racks, each stack comprising of a tray for keeping foods and vents on the circumference. These stacks when placed atop each other, can be sealed such that heat does not escape the dehydrator. The fan is placed at the bottom and circulates the air in a vertical direction.
– Small footprint.
– Size varies according to volume of foods.
– Foods closer to heating element dry faster and periodic shuffling of racks mandatory.
Composed of a box (also called outer shell) and shelves (also called trays), these dehydrators work like electric ovens. Trays are inserted in a predetermined fashion and a fan at the back of box blows hot air through the foods on each tray.
– Better insulation.
– All trays receive equal amounts of heat.
– Comparatively bulky and occupy same space regardless of food volume.
What to consider when buying a food dehydrator
The above reasons are good enough for anybody to go ahead and check out prior to buying one of the machines. Though not complex machines, food dehydrators do come in a wide range of shapes and with a range of functions. Below, you’ll find out which one best food dehydrator for you in our reviews.
- Size and Space
- Heat and Passage of Air
- Quality Materials
Do you have a small countertop with limited space, or space enough to fit an oven? If it’s the former, choose a stackable countertop model as these have minimal footprint. Instead, they have 12-30 racks that can be placed atop one another so as to scale up vertically as your food needs increase. If you have enough space though, it is better to read through box and shelf food dehydrator reviews. Finally, whatever box and shelf model size you choose, it will be a permanent investment of kitchen space, whereas a stackable model can reduce to the size of a large lunchbox if used with only a few racks.
Stackable models have fans at the top/bottom are notorious for uneven heating when rack levels exceed 10-12. You may find yourself rotating racks regularly to avoid over-drying of foods. If you have a lot of foods to dehydrate on a regular basis, investing in a larger box and shelf model may be more viable as these have fans at the back and dry all racks equally.
If you need to dry large food pieces, you can remove the racks in a box and shelf dehydrator model and rest assured that the foods will be dried uniformly. This is not possible in stackable models as the racks fit closely onto one another.
Conversely, if you expect sudden spikes in the amount of foods you expect to dry, a stackable dehydrator, with its better scalability, is ideal.
No matter what the features of the product, food dehydrators are made of either plastic or metal. If plastic, the product must have FDA certified food grade plastic with no BFA. It should have been tested to ensure that no plastic fumes emanate from it at high temperatures. Similarly, metals should be part of the list of acceptable food grade materials accepted by the FDA. Regardless of the quality though, if you intend to run dehydrators for long periods at a stretch, the quality of plastic is more likely to degrade quickly compared to metal, so the latter is a good option in such circumstances.
If you travel often by car or train, you can consider carrying your dehydrator with you. Under such circumstances, stackable dehydrators with their small initial size can turn out to be ideal companions. Stackable dehydrators are also light and do not cause alerts at metal detector gateways. Metal dehydrators on the other hand are bulkier, heavy and can have rules applied against it in states which prohibit carrying of large metal objects in passenger crafts.
As the food dehydrator reviews below will show, stacked food dehydrators generally retail at prices below $75, and all in one stacked dehydrating solutions at prices below $100. You can however buy food dehydrators of the box and tray type only if you’re ready to shell out $200-350. Hence, if you are on a tight budget, you may want to start off with a stacked dehydrator.
How to use a food dehydrator
- Arrange the raw material: the first step in food drying is to place or arrange the raw material on the trays. Avoid overlapping.
- Temperature setting: If you want that your food dries completely, then set the temperature to 104°F.
- Rotation of Trays: When the dehydrator starts working, then check it regularly after different intervals of time and don’t forget to rotate the trays. Most fruits and vegetables take 2-19 hours for drying. To check either the food is completely dry or not, cut it into slices. When no moisture drop is appeared it means the food is completely dehydrated.
- Storage: when the food is dehydrated completely, cools it and store it in an airtight container. And place the container in dark and dry place. If you find some moisture in the leftovers, then place them again in the dehydrator for 1-2 hours.
Top 5 Food Dehydrators for 2016
- Nesco Snackmaster Pro FD-75A – Best Food Dehydrator under $100
- Excalibur 3926TB
- Presto 06300 Dehydro Electric
- Nesco American Harvest FD-61WHC Snackmaster Express
- Nesco FD-37A American Harvest
One of the bestselling food dehydrators of all time, Nesco Snackmaster Pro is a stacked dehydrator that boasts of a capacity of 12 racks. Even when all racks are in use, uneven heating issues are avoided courtesy of the 700W powerful fan and heating element that is mounted at the top, and not the bottom of the product.This distribution of heat holds true across the extremely wide temperature range of 95-130 F, which in turn ensures that everything from herbs and spices to beef jerky can be dehydrated with ease. To make life easier for novices, the company has also come out with a free recipe book that can teach you how to make everything from regular fish jerky to fruit rolls without having to requisition many new items.Finally, the exterior comes with Vita-Save technology that prevents the harmful external lights from penetrating into the dehydrator, and thus ensures optimal dehydration.
A box and tray type dehydrator, the 3926TB comes with 15 square feet of drying space courtesy of the 9 trays (expandable to 15) that can be fitted into the outer shell. Excalibur understands that some foods may require longer to dry and cannot be constantly monitored, hence it has a 26 hour thermostat timer.
Further, given that some foods tend to stick when kept in close proximity to other foods for long periods, the product comes with flexible polyscreen non-stick inserts that can be fitted onto the trays.
Unlike many box and shelf type dehydrators, the Excalibur 3926TB comes with a simple knob for choosing the temperature. Located at the back, it does not interfere with the handling of the product. The on/off switch, in our experience, is an equally easy to operate knob that sites beside the temperature control knob. Both are highly responsive and do not suffer damage even when extensively used.
Another stacked type food dehydrator, Presto’s competitor comes with a four tray system (expandable to 8 trays) that while being somewhat small for purposes of large scale dehydrating, is compact and weighs just 7.5 pounds. Further, there is provision for nesting of racks onto each other and storage of the power cord in the base, thus improving the portability even further.
Weighing just 7.2 pounds, the Presto 06300 Dehydro Electric Food Dehydrator ensures that I can take the product even when I’m travelling by air. Improving the dimensional dynamics is the provision for storing the power cord inside the base. Last but not least, the drying trays stack up on each other in a nested fashion when not in use, thereby reducing the height of the product considerably.
For added convenience, the top tray comes with a transparent lid that allows the person to observe the foods inside without opening the dehydrator. This allows the efficient bottom mounted fan and heating element to provide consistent hot air flow without interruption.
Coming with 5 trays for compact yet effective drying, this Nesco American Harvest product comes with a top mounted fan. As mentioned in the section above, Nesco’s fans come with the Converga Flow technology, which allows the air to travel down the outer shell and move radially across each rack for efficient drying. Coupled with a 500W fan and heating element assembly, this technology dries foods in minutes and hours instead of days.
In addition to the dehydrator, the product includes a jerky gun, fruit roll sheets and clean-a-screen spice drying accessories that help justify the slightly higher price by allowing users to utilize the product for virtually all their drying needs without making additional investments.
Our last contender, the FD-37A distinguishes itself by virtue of having a compact design that nevertheless can accommodate 7 racks. All food placed on these 7 racks is dried uniformly courtesy of the efficient 400W fan and heating element assembly located at the top of the machine. This efficiency can be verified in real time by watching the progress of dehydration through the clear top that surrounds the power head of the device.
Complementing the general versatility of the product is the fact that all product parts excepting the power head can be washed in dishwashers without any risk of product degradation. Using Nesco’s Converga Flow system, the product ensures that the hot air flows radially across the racks, converging at the centre before moving away again. This allows the heat to concentrate on the surface of the racks, thereby enhancing the drying effect manifold.
What are the limitations
- Home driers are quite different from commercial driers. So, if you want to make garlic or onion powder you can’t make it at home.
- When you are going to dry the material like ginger or garlic, then place the dehydrator in the garage, otherwise it will make the pungent smell in the whole house.
- Do not dry the food in it which is containing high fats because dehydrator only evaporated the moisture. So the shelf life will not be stable for high fat foods.
Tips for using a food dehydrator
- As the food Dehydrator requires proper air circulation to work so make sure it has proper ventilation.
- Avoid overlapping of food.
- Flavours might be transferred so don’t fry the sweet and sour material once.
- If the fruit or vegetable has any visible mold, don’t dry it.
- Rotate the trays to improve the drying process.
Now you know how to buy the best food dehydrator
As our reviews showed, there is no clear winner. Instead, some food dehydrators can dehydrate medium amounts of food and can be ported easily, while others can handle larger amounts but are difficult to store and carry. These, along with considerations of accessibility, heating uniformity and modifiability, can decide whether a certain product is ideal for you or not. Our earlier discussion showed how a good food dehydrator can improve one’s lifestyle and finances, so deciding on the right set of requirements and using them to choose ideal food dehydrator is vital. We are sure our brief guide to buying food dehydrators will help you make these critical decisions and by doing so, improve your and your loved one’s diet for the better.