From the earliest times of mankind, we tried to find the best ways to keep the excess food in the best shape for a later use. One of the oldest, and yet the best way to preserve food is by drying (dehydration).
Why dried food?
Drying food is very easy. You can dry almost everything, fruits, vegetables, herbs and even meat. You can dry food indoors using an oven, or out-of-doors using the sun power. This is the most economical way to preserve the food.
Dried food is very light weight and compact and does not require much space to store, making it ideal for backpacking and camping.
By removing the water, the taste of the dried food is more concentrated making it better than the original.
Another important fact is that dried food is 100% natural. No chemical products are used in this process, the only ingredient used is the food you chose to dry, and can be stored for many months without any preservative or chemical additives.
Not to mention that someday you can find yourself in a situation where drying the meat and other foods can be your solution in the absence of electrical energy. Survival Meat Preserving
How the drying process conserves the food
The controlled heat used by a dehydrator or an oven removes the moisture from the food. By removing the moisture, the food becomes smaller, lighter and also prevents molds, bacteria and yeasts to spoil the food.
The recommended temperature is 130 degrees F to 140 degrees F. Maintain this temperature with circulating air to remove as much moisture as quickly as possible to avoid the food spoilage, nutritive value, the texture and color. If the temperature is too high the food can end up by cooking instead of drying. If the temperature is to low, increases the drying time, allowing the appearance of bacteria that will spoil the food before is dried.
Choosing the right dehydrator
The cost of commercial dehydrator may vary from $35 to $500 and over, depending on the size and futures. You can also try to make you own dehydrator like the one in this DIY project https://www.allselfsustained.com/large-scale-solar-dehydrator/.
Important futures to consider when you chose to buy or make your dehydrator:
- The size. The fruits take more space and need more time than vegetables to dry, so depending on what you choose to dry, remember that the more you can store into a dehydrator the more time you can save.
- The fan. This is a very important future. The air circulation will help the food to dry more quickly and evenly. The fan can be placed vertical or horizontal. The advantage of vertical fans is that you can dry several types of food without mixing the flavors.
- A dial for regulating temperature. Since different foods require different temperatures this is a very important future. The temperature must range from 90° to 160° F (32° to 70° C). While the herbs can be dried at 95° F the meat will be dried at 145°F. Most fruits and vegetables varies between 125-135° F
- The place of the heating and fans. Make sure the heating source and fans are not located at the bottom of the dehydrator. If they are at the bottom, the drippings and crumbs will ruin them eventually. Also they are a lot difficult to clean. The best place for the heating source is the top of the dehydrator or the back, the same goes for the fans too.
- Metal, glass or high grade plastic. The construction of a good dehydrator must be from a double wall of metal, glass or high grade plastic. The wood is not recommended because is very difficult to clean and can also be fire hazard. The fat resulted from drying meat and heat are not a good combination with wood.
- Timer. This can also be very handy when the time for completing the process end up late in the night or you are not at home to close the device. The timer will set the device off and prevent burning the food.
Storing the dried foods
If stored properly, the dehydrated foods can be stored for many years. Dried vegetables can be stored up to 8-10 years if they are kept hermetically sealed in the absence of oxygen and a temperature of 70° F, even longer of a lower temperature. From all the dehydrated products, the fruits have the lowest shelf life. Hermetically sealed in absence of oxygen they can be stored up to 5 years at 70° F.
The storing life of dehydrated foods are determined by several factors.
The shelf life of dehydrated items will increase with up to 100% with each drop of 20° F (7° C). Dried foods are also very attractive for rodents and insects and must be kept in a very dry environment to avoid spoilage. The best containers to avoid all the above are glass jars, metal cans and sealable food storage buckets with tight fitted lids. Oxygen absorber packets are recommended.
Before packing the dried foods make sure they are cooled completely. If they are not completely cooled, they will cause sweating inside the container and they will spoil. Put the fruits that have been sulfured in a bag before store them into a metal can. Every time a container with dried food is open will be exposed to air, light and moisture, which will downgrade the quality of the food. Packing amounts of food that will be used in 1-2 recipes will prevent this to happen.
Restoring and using the dried foods
The vegetables can be re-hydrated with cold water before usage or they can be added directly into the boiled water when cooked. Either way they need about 1 hour to re-hydrate and regain their original shape and color.
The fruits can be re-hydrated with cold water and they need about half hour to regain they original shape. Adding a few grains of salt will help them recover most of the natural sweetness. The dried fruits can also be consumed as they are.
If the dried fruits are kept more than 1-2 hours into water they can cause fermentation to appear.
Here are 2 lists with the vegetables and fruits that are suitable for drying and the preparations needed for drying (including drying times)
By Melissa Lane