Food dehydrators are economical, user-friendly appliances that enable consumers to process foods for snacking or long-term storage. Dehydrators combine low heat with circulating fans to eliminate moisture from fruits and vegetables when desiring to make chips, rolls or leather. Preparing food in this way also ensures that the nutritional integrity of produce. Getting started dehydrating requires a basic knowledge and a few helpful hints.
Before attempting your first dehydration process, gently wash the produce. Core, hull or peel as needed. Before drying fruits and vegetables having low acidity levels, steam the food for approximately 10 minutes. Blanching for a few minutes is another option. Blanching or steaming locks in flavor, softens the skin and preserves the color. Allow the fruits and veggies to cool and pat them dry. Apples, bananas, pears and other low acidic fruits should be lightly coated with lemon or pineapple juice to prevent browning.
If preferring fruit or vegetable chips, slice the produce uniformly into 1/8 inch slices. Produce can also be diced into ½ inch pieces or julienne cut using a potato peeler. Put the prepared fruits and veggies in a single layer on clean trays. Ensure that the pieces or slices do not overlap so the warm air flows equally through all of the trays.
Time and Temperature
Dehydrating temperatures for different types of produce vary depending on the type of appliance used. Most units come with operator’s instructions and perhaps recipe guides. Some rule of thumb settings include:
• Broccoli or cauliflower-eight hours at 125 degrees Fahrenheit
• Canned beets-eight to 10 hours at 135 degrees
• Carrots-six to 10 hours at 125 degrees
• Cucumbers-eight hours at 135 degrees for crispy chips or six hours at 125 for chewy
• Frozen vegetables-six to eight hours at 125 degrees
• Green beans-eight hours at 125 degrees
• Mushrooms-six to eight hours at 125 degrees
• Onions-two hours at 145 degrees then six to eight hours at 135 degrees
• Peppers-six to eight hours at 125 degrees
• Potatoes-six to eight hours at 125 degrees
• Tomatoes-eight to 10 hours at 135 degrees
• Zucchini-eight hours at 135 degrees
• Apples-eight to 12 hours at 135 degrees Fahrenheit
• Bananas-eight to 12 hours at 135 degrees
• Blueberries-12 to 20 hours at 135 degrees
• Grapes and oranges-15 or more hours at 135 degrees
• Mangoes-two hours at 145 degrees then six to 10 hours at 135 degrees
• Peaches-two hours at 145 degrees then six to 10 hours at 135 degrees
• Pears-eight to 12 hours at 135 degrees
• Pineapple-two hours at 145 degrees then 10 to 16 hours at 135 degrees (canned pineapple requires double the time)
• Strawberries-eight to 12 hours at 135 degrees
Keep in mind that air conditioning, indoor humidity or breezes from open windows interfere with the dehydration process and add drying time.
Similar to using an oven for baking, turn on the dehydrator to the proper temperature to enable the device to heat before adding your produce-filled trays. Resist the urge to increase temperature settings in order to dry produce faster. The outside of slices or pieces will quickly dry. However, the moisture is then sealed in the centers, which encourages spoiling.
In order to store processed foods for longer periods of time without fear of bacterial invasion or mold development, the produce should have at least 95 percent of the moisture removed. Foods having this degree of drying are typically hard enough to break easily or are crunchy. Unless making fruit or vegetable leather, foods having soft, spongy or a sticky feel require longer drying time.
Storing Dehydrated Foods
Once the dehydration process ends, allow the foods to cool to room temperature. Processed foods should be stored in cool, dark, dry places. Do not freeze. Ice crystals will form. Vacuum sealing dehydrated foods is the ideal storage method. However, you can also use regular zipped, plastic bags. Fill the bags to the desired level. Force the air sufficiently from each bag before completely closing. If not using dehydrated foods quickly, check your inventory once every one or two weeks to ensure quality.
Rehydrating fruits or foods merely requires adding one cup of water to one cup of dehydrated food. Set aside for up to four hours. If using the food in soups or stews, add the desired amount of vegetables and the liquid necessary to create your recipe.
Along with maintaining mineral and vitamin content, dehydrating your own foods also provides you with more control over the ingredients of recipes. Prior to drying, consider applying herbs and spices to fruits and vegetables for added zest.