Drying is one of the oldest methods for preserving foods. Dried foods need little space for storage, are a great way to use produce before spoiling & they add additional nutrients & flavors to foods such as soups. Some dried foods, such as fruit leathers, are a convenient, less messy snack .You can even rehydrate some fruits & vegetables for use later.
Types of Dehydrators
There are two basic designs for dehydrators (you can use your oven as well but dehydrators do a better job of drying foods thoroughly):
1. Horizontal air flow –heating element and fans are located on the side of the unit. The major advantages of horizontal flow are: it reduces flavor mixture so several different foods can be dried at one time; all trays receive equal heat penetration; and juices or liquids do not drip down into the heating element.
2. Vertical air flow- has the heating element and fan located at the base. If different foods are dried, flavors can mix and liquids can drip into the heating element.
How to get started
- Start with the best – pick produce that is ripe, unbruised & at its peak for prime eating
- Prepare them just as you would want to use them – if desiring slices, use medium sized slices
- Keep pieces uniform in size and thickness
- Make sure you wash before dehydrating
- To prevent unwanted browning try steaming, sulfuring or coating light-colored fruits and vegetables with acids such as lemon juice or ascorbic acid before drying. Steaming or blanching also is recommended for vegetables to inactivate enzymes that cause vegetables to mature, or toughen during drying.
Packaging the dried foods
- Tightly sealed: It is important to make sure foods are cooled completely as dried foods are susceptible to reabsorption of moisture & contamination whether by bacteria or insects.
- All about the container: Glass jars, metal cans or boxes with tight fitted lids or moisture-vapor resistant freezer cartons can be used. If watching costs or conserving space plastic bags with a 3/8 inch seal are suitable choices.
- Fruit that has been sulfured should not touch metal. Place the fruit in a plastic bag before storing it in a metal can. Sulfur fumes will react with the metal and cause color changes in the fruit.
- Pack closely together, however, make sure you aren’t crushing in the process.
- Package what you will use. Avoid having to reopen packages as this increases the likelihood of moisture getting into the bag. Make some snack size and others portioned out for your favorite recipe.
Storing the dried foods
- Store in a cool, dark, dry place. Most dried fruits can be stored for 1 year at 60 degrees F, or 6 months at 80 degrees F. Vegetables have about half the shelf-life of fruits.
- For best quality try to use within 6-12 months of packaging
- Be sure to inspect your dried foods before using. No matter how carefully you think you might have packaged your foods moisture can still sneak in. Glass containers are excellent for storage because any moisture that collects on the inside can be seen easily.
- When in doubt throw it out!
View our recipe for homemade sun-dried (oven-dried) tomatoes to try out this method of preservation.