Headed to the farmers market to stock up on your favorite foods? Dehydrating and drying them can give you loads of benefits! The first one is that you can buy a ton of fruits and veggies and not worry about them going bad before you can use them all! If you’re stocking up your RV, you know that you’re working with a lot less space than at home. Dehydrating and drying will reduce the size of these goods so you can bring a lot more with you in a smaller space. Not only are there practical reasons to do it, but you can also create a whole new flavor, texture, and use for fruits and veggies than you’re used to. Here are some tips on dehydrating and drying foods to get you started!
1. You Don’t Have to Buy an Expensive Dehydrator!
You may be thinking that a food dehydrator is going to be pricey. While there are some very expensive units out there, you can find well-rated dehydrators on the market for around $30 to $40! This NesCo dehydrator at Target has all the features you’ll need to dry a lot of different foods and it comes with four trays. The great part is, you can get additional trays so you can expand it up to seven! The main things you want to look for in a dehydrator are an adjustable thermostat, a fan, and not having to rotate the trays throughout the drying process.
2. Get the Right Drying Temperature & Time
Different foods will need different temps for drying and the time they take to dry will vary. Getting the proper time and temp on your food is key to the quality and longevity of the food. If you have an improper temp or fail to let it dry long enough, you may end up with the outside dry, but moisture inside that will then lead to food spoilage. Check your machine manual for the recommended setting and time for each food category. The time will vary depending on exactly what you’re drying so don’t assume all fruits take the same amount of time. Lastly, check what you’ve dried by sampling a piece to ensure the center is dried as well.
3. Don’t Dry in an Oven!
The temperature of the typical oven will not go below 170° F. The temps for dehydrating foods will range from around 95° to 155° so the oven will be too hot. Just as stated before, too high of a temp will result in a dry outside and a moist inside. You will then find yourself with food that will spoil much quicker and could end up making you sick. You will find many blog posts and links that say you can do this. If you decide to try it, use caution and make sure you check the inside of the food.
4. Some Food Can Be Dried Outside
Foods with high sugar and acid contents can be dried outdoors if the conditions are favorable and you have the right equipment. Fruits are going to be most conducive to outside drying. The environment needs to be dry in order for this to work so if you have high humidity you won’t want to try it. You need to make a screen to lay the food out on that is raised up so there is airflow from underneath. When choosing a screen, ensure that it is safe for food. Plastic, Teflon coated fiberglass, or stainless steel are the best types of screens to use. Avoid screens made of other metals as they can not only cause a strange taste due to harmful residue, but they can rob the food of nutrients too. Lay the screen out over something that will elevate it, such as bricks, and then place tin foil or other reflective metal under it (where it will not come in contact with the food) to help with even drying.
5. Storing Dehydrated Foods
Once you have your foods dehydrated, you want to ensure proper storage for flavor and longevity. You want to guarantee you’re putting them in an air tight container away from moisture or light. Perfect containers for these foods include mason jars, vacuum bags, or freezer zipper bags. We say freezer zipper bags because they lock out moisture better, so even though you’re not putting these foods in the freezer, you want to make sure it’s a freezer-grade bag. Foods will last anywhere from 6 months to a year if stored properly with the exception of meats and herbs. Meats usually will only last around 3 months while herbs will stay good for years.
6. Rehydrating the Foods
A lot of foods can be consumed or used for cooking as is such as banana chips, dried apricots, herbs, and jerky! There will be times when you want to return your dried food to its natural state which is possible with some fruits and veggies! To do this, you simply soak the food in water for an amount of time so that it can reabsorb it. Just like with drying times, the time it will take will vary from food to food but it usually ranges between a half hour to an hour and a half. Some foods that rehydrate well include apples, peaches, pears, beans, carrots, spinach, onions, and mushrooms.
Now that you’ve opened up the possibilities of your food storage and consumption, get out there and take advantage of those options! Buy in bulk and treat yourself to the great flavors and possibilities that dehydrating and drying can unlock! What types of foods do you enjoy dehydrating and how do you use them? Let us know in the comments!