Frequently asked questions
What is food drying?
Food drying, also called food dehydration, is the process of removing water from food, thus inhibiting the growth of microorganisms (enzymes) and bacteria by the circulation of hot, dry air through the food.
Is it hard?
No, food drying is not difficult. It means less work, not more. A dehydrator heats air inside the unit and absorbs water in the food placed in a drying chamber. The temperature is low enough to dry the food, and not cook it.
How does drying affect the nutritional value of foods?
Dehydration minimally affects the nutritional value of foods, especially when the process takes place in your own home. Most research on the nutritional value of dried foods has been conducted on foods that are commercially dried. When you dry foods at home under gentle conditions (correct temperature and a reasonable amount of drying time), you produce a high-quality product. Compared with canning and freezing, both of which involve extreme temperatures, food drying is the least damaging form of food preservation.
Here are some specifics:
- Vitamin A is retained during the drying process. Because vitamin A is light sensitive, foods that contain it-like carrots, bell peppers, mangoes-should be stored in a dark place.
- Some vitamin C is lost during the drying process because vitamin C is an air-soluble nutrient and food drying is an air-based process. When a food is sliced and its cells are cut, the surfaces that are exposed to air lose some vitamin C content.
- The caloric value of a fresh food stays the same when it is dried, although some dried foods, fruits for example, taste sweeter because the water has been removed and the sugar is concentrated.
- Dried fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and carbohydrates, neither of which is affected by drying.
- Dried fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat. Minerals available in certain fresh fruits-such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, and so on-are also not altered when the fruit is dried.
What equipment do you need?
In addition to a food dehydrator, you need:
- A good sharp knife
- A spatula or two
- Heavy-bottomed saucepans
- A blender for pureeing
- A strainer
- A cherry pitter
- An apple parer-slicer-corer
- A corn kernel cutter
- A pea and bean sheller
- A bean Frencher
- A mortar and pestle
- A salad spinner (for pre-drying herbs and flowers and for washing greens)
- A food processor with a shredding disk
- A Salad Shooter for slicing potatoes
But all that is really necessary is a good sharp knife.
Other foods that can be dried
- Revive limp potato chips or soggy popcorn.
- Dry leftover bread to make crumbs and croutons.
- Instead of draping homemade noodles all over the kitchen and dining room, dry them in your dehydrator.
- Make your own bagel chips by seasoning thinly sliced bagels with garlic, onion powder, or cinnamon sugar, and dry until crisp in your dehydrator.
How long it takes will depend on
- The water content in the food
- The sugar content in the food
- The size of the piece of food
- The amount of air circulation when the food is dried
- The level of humidity in the air entering the dehydrator
- The air temperature inside the dehydrator
- Last and most important, the type of dehydrator you are using will affect the time needed to dry food.
Will flavors mingle if I dry different foods at the same time?
Most of the time the answer is no, although I do not recommend drying pears and onions at the same time!
How do you know when a food is dry?
The best way of finding out if a food is dry is to touch it. It will feel sticky, moist, leathery, or hard. When touching foods for dryness, remember food feels softer when warm; therefore, always let food cool for a few moments. Either turn off the dehydrator or remove the drying tray. If you are not sure if an item is sufficiently dry, it's better to overdry than to underdry.
How do you store dried foods?
Moisture is the enemy of dried foods. Dried foods exposed to the air absorb the moisture in the air and become limp. Always store dried foods in airtight containers and label the contents. Store the containers in a dry, dark place with a moderate temperature. Your kitchen cupboard is an ideal spot.
Store any dried food containing vitamin A away from direct light.
How long can dried foods be stored?
Dried foods will last from one season to the next. Dry garden tomatoes this year and replace them next year when fresh ones are again dropping from the vines. When fresh tomatoes have gone, I immediately start using my dried ones. (And if I run out of dried tomatoes -what an awful thought!- I just promise to grow and dry more next year.)
Dried herbs and flowers last a very long time. And although our ancestors may have kept dried meats for long periods of time without benefit of refrigeration, I recommend storing dried meats in the refrigerator or freezer after one month at room temperature. Remember, many jerkies, with the exception of poultry, have not been cooked.