Whether it’s home grown or shop bought, who doesn’t want to make the most of their food? Dehydrated food can last for years if done properly, and stored correctly.
Dehydrators have been used in the outdoors industry for years. Dehydrating food removes the water from the food, and makes it lighter and more compact. In more recent years, the focus has come back to dehydrating in the home for Long Term Food Storage, and a great thing to do with all fruits, vegetables, herbs and more.
What Are Food Dryers and Dehydrators?
Essentially, food dryers and dehydrators remove water from food through a process of warm air circulation. The chosen food items are spread out on racks which are made up of slats or wire mesh (which allows an even circulation of air) before being placed in the machine. The water inside the food evaporates as a result of the movement of the warm air, resulting in a perfectly dried product.
What are the Benefits Of Food Dryers & Dehydrators - Are They Worth It?
Ok, so you can of course set your oven on a low temperature to dry whatever your chosen produce might be but there is a lot to say for having a gadget that is specifically designed for the drying process. Food dryers or food dehydrators vary in size but they tend to be around the same size as your average microwave, are wonderfully efficient and will free up your oven for other uses. Like any appliance, their price tag is wide ranging but it’s worth investing in one you know is going to last and do the job properly. Nonetheless, they will pay for themselves in a short period of time and will undoubtedly do a much more effective job than your oven would.
What Can I Use My Food Dehydrator For?
With the exception of dairy or high-fat items, the world is pretty much your oyster when it comes to using the foods you can use in your dehydrator. Food dehydrators make it easy for us to test almost anything out and the fact is, you can dry and often transform pretty much anything your heart desires and the chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Once you have a good collection of dried goods, you’ll be able to use them together to create some fantastic recipes and no doubt come up with some brand new ideas yourself.
Within this section, and the next, we’ll give you a wealth of ideas to help you make the very best of your dehydrator.
Our top uses for your dehydrator:
- Dried Fruit & Berries
- Dried Vegetables
- Dried Herbs (See our article - Drying herbs for storage)
- Drying Flowers
- Drying Flour
- Drying Kefir Grains (See our article - What is Kefir, and How to make it Step by Step?)
- Paper mache
- Incubating yogurt
- Proofing Sourdough
- Drying sauces on baking sheets
Keep scrolling for a little more in depth inspiration.
What Can I Use Dehydrated Foods For?
Almost all food dryers will come with a recipe booklet but here are a few ideas to get you started and hopefully set your mind whirling:
- Energy Bars
- Fruit Roll-Ups
- Crumble Mix
- Sweet Bread Dough
- Yogurt or Ice Cream Topping
- Trail Mix
- Fruit Crisps & Chips
- Pasta Sauces
- Vegetable Chips
- Bread Dough
- Cracker Dough
- Tomato Powder
- Dried Tomatoes
- Dried Potato Flakes
- Herb Mixes
- Curry Pastes
- Crumble Mix
- Bath Salts
- Bread Dough
- Cracker Dough
- Freezing in cubes with oil or stock
- Mixing with Nuts
Dried Nuts & Seeds
- Crumble Topping
- Roasted Vegetables
- Greeting Cards
- Bath Salts
What Is The Easiest Food To Dehydrate?
Herbs are the possibly the easiest and most commonly used product for dehydrators. Due to their size, compared to a lot of other things, herbs take the least amount of time to dry so you’ll have your end product within a few hours at the most.
See our Article: How To Dry Fresh Herbs Using a Food Dehydrator for more information.
Aside from herbs, if you’re new to food drying, and specifically using a dehydrator, I’d say fruit would be my next best suggestion. As we've touched on within the article, there are so many different ways you can dry your favourite fruit and so many uses for the end product.
Apples aren’t just my favourite fruit to eat in their fresh state but also dried.
Here’s a favourite and wonderfully simple recipe that’s easily adapted for other fruits, as well as some handy hints.
Top tips when dehydrating apples:
- You can use any eating apple you like.
- You don’t need to remove the peel; this is down to personal preference.
- You can cut your apples in any shape you like so long as they’re relatively thin and all the same be it thinly cut with a knife or mandolin into slices or into rings using an apple corer.
- You don’t need to add any sweeteners when you’re drying apples as the natural sugar within the fruit will become more intense during the drying process.
- To prevent browning of the apple slices, you can soak or dip them in lemon juice but this is optional and not totally necessary. It will only alter the appearance so if time is of the essence, simply skip this step.
- It’s always better to over dry apples (or any food for that matter) than under dry them. If you under dry them, there is more chance that they’ll rot due to the moisture that’s not fully evaporated.
- If you do feel like you’ve overdone the drying of your apples, you can dab them with a little water and leave them in the dehydrator to slightly rehydrate, or leave a damp cloth on one of the trays in your dehydrator overnight, with the apples on the other trays and the moisture from the cloth will be reabsorbed by the apple slices.
Apple Crisp Chips Recipe
- Wash your apples and peel them if you wish.
- Using a knife or mandolin, cut them into thin rounds or cut into quarters and thinly slice. For rings you can use an apple corer.
- Soak the apple pieces in lemon & water (equal parts) to prevent browning (optional).
- If you want to add some extra flavour, mix the apple slices in a bowl or plastic bag with some ground cinnamon (use as much as you wish to suit your personal taste).
- Lay out evenly on the dehydrator at approximately 135 F for 6-8 hours or until fully dry.
Food Dryers & Dehydrators - A’ How-To’ Guide
Every food dryer and dehydrator will come with its own manual but we’ve put together a brief overview of the steps involved to give you a basic understanding of the process, and prove just how simple a process it is:
- Food Preparation - Preparing your ingredients is an important first step. Fruit and vegetables should be thoroughly washed and evenly sliced to be sure that they all dry evenly. Vegetables should be blanched (placed in boiling water for a couple of minutes) before being patted dry with a kitchen towel.
- Laying Out - Once you’ve prepared your ingredients you need lay them out on the dryer racks in single layers, being sure nothing is touching or overlapping.
- Drying - Each dehydrator and more importantly, each food item, especially those with a high water content will require a specific temperature and take a different amount of time to dry. Depending on your machine and how may trays you have in at one time, Bananas for example can take anything from 8 to 36 hours whilst Potatoes can take anything from 2 to 12 hours to be perfectly dry and crispy.
- Storing - Leave your ingredients in the dehydrator even after the timer has ‘pinged’ until they are completely cool and dried before storing them. Whatever container you use, it must be airtight to avoid any moisture getting in and ideally kept in a cool, dark environment. More on this topic in the next section.
How to store your Dehydrated Foods
As we’ve already touched on, the most important things to remember when it comes to storing your dehydrated foods is to prevent oxidation and keeping them protected from:
Exposure to any of these elements will significantly reduce the shelf life of your produce.
Your dried goods must be completely cool before you even consider putting them into whatever your chosen container might be. Vacuum seals are always going to keep your dried goods in their best condition. If you’re using zipped food bags though, just try to get as much air out as possible before you seal the zip.
As with any method of home food preservation, labelling your packages, keeping a record and being sure you check and rotate them regularly is always a wise move.
When it comes to deciding on where you’re going to store your dried foods, the key conditions should be both cool and dark eg. your kitchen cupboard, larder or pantry.
Dehydrated, sealed and stored correctly and you could still be enjoying the fruits of your labour in 20 years.
Beware of freezing dehydrated foods, as there is the risk of water crystals forming which can lead to spoiling.
As with anything we make or preserve, just use your common sense. If it looks or smells strange, don’t eat it.
How to choose the Right Food Dryer or Dehydrator
Top tips when choosing your dehydrator:
- Size - Pick a size that will fit and suit the space or room you’ll be storing or using it in. Obviously the bigger ones will mean you can produce more but it’s really up to you, your needs and the amount of space you have.
- Fan - If possible, try to choose one with a fan at the back as opposed to on top or bottom as you’ll get a more even distribution of air from back-mounted fans
- Adjustable Dials - Having adjustable thermostat and temperature dials means you’re in complete control and can adjust them according to each individual food you might be drying
- Timer - Automatic shut-off timers are a godsend for ensuring you get the best results and mean you can get on with other jobs and not worry about constant checking of the process
- Capacity - Pick one that has a decent number of trays or at least enough to supply you with the amounts you’re hoping to achieve
Drying & Dehydration Locks in the Flavour and Nutrition
The drying process is a hugely popular method of food preservation that not only locks in flavour and nutrition but can in many cases make that flavour more intense. You won’t just create a delicious product and diversify the use of your foods but also produce one that will have a much longer shelf life than it would have had in it’s fresh form.
Ian Hunter - Father of three, based in Southern Sweden. Author and Co owner of Grow Zone and growing Food all winter. See my full About Page here.
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Co written with Hannah Bramley, a Private & Virtual PA and Lifestyle Management Consultant based in the UK. With a background in managing and ensuring the organisation and preparedness of others, Hannah is now a freelance Personal Lifestyle & Business Consultant, with the ability to turn her hand to any task. Self Sufficiency being just one of her new found interests since the events of early 2020. She is a fitness guru, an ardent foodie, a social media wizard and entrepreneur, with a passion and natural flare for organising, bringing people together and making things happen.