To dehydrate your food you will need to purchase a dehydrator. When looking to buy a dehydrator, look for a quality unit that is opaque or non-transparent, light destroys vitamins and could cause some foods to discolour.
Dehydrators are electrical appliances and it is essential that you have one with a thermostat control. This is because the drying temperatures required for different foods vary from 34 deg C (94 deg F) for herbs to 50 deg C (120 deg F) for vegetables, and 60 deg C (140 deg F) for meat.
Having a model with a timer and an automatic shut-off is also preferable, this way, the dehydrator shuts itself off when you set it to do so. Another use for a timer is to set the dehydrator to shut-off when you need to flip bark or fruit leather over after it is about ¾ dry. It will also allow you to dry foods, such as broccoli and apples, at the same time. For example, set the timer to shut the dehydrator off when the broccoli is dry, and then turn it back on to finish the apples.
Also look for a unit that has multiple detachable mesh sheets as well as solid sheets (for making soups and cereals) as it is inconvenient to plastic wrap the trays when you are using liquid. Both of these sheet types should be made from durable plastic that can be washed easily after use.
All dehydrators require the purchase of non-stick sheets, or fruit leather trays if you want to dry blended food like mashed potatoes, tomato sauce, and fruit purees.
Dehydrators have multiple trays and are usually cylindrical – although there are some very good quality square models on the market. Look for units that have multiple trays, a minimum of five, or better still, models that can be expanded from 10 to 30 trays.
The manufacturer will include extensive instructions with their dehydrator. But, some key hints are:
- Only use as many trays as required to do the job – this will save on drying time.
- Lightly oil your sheets with vegetable oil after washing them in warm, soapy water.
- Drying time varies and can depend on ambient temperature, humidity, how thick the food is cut and how much moisture is in the food.
- Always preheat the dehydrator for 10 minutes to get it to full operating temperature.
- Don’t interrupt drying time.
- Some fruit and vegetables can take several hours.
- Make sure your dried food is completely cooled before storing.
- Store in a dark environment – light will discolour dried foods.
- Sharp knives are essential for consistent cutting thickness – an electric knife can be very handy.
- Always date your dried food.
How long will Dried Food Keep?
Freezing dried meat and vegetables will preserve it for several years if it is vacuum sealed and frozen. The vacuum seal prevents freezer burn and freezing stops the clock for all biological processes.
However, for use and storage of food for less than a year, freezing is not required.
It is highly recommended that you vacuum seal freeze dried meats if embarking on a long or extended trip.
- Dry only lean meats and blot off any oil during the drying process. It is the fat in meat that can turn rancid as it reacts over time with oxygen. Heat and light accelerate oxidation, so store in a cupboard away from both.
- If storing dried meat for up to two weeks in preparation for a trip, you may store it in jars with tight fitting lids. If your trip follows shortly thereafter and is for only a few days or a week, packing the meat in zip-style bags with the other ingredients in the meals is sufficient.
- If use of the dried meat will occur beyond a month, or if you will be hiking or paddling in hot or moist conditions, vacuum seal the meat.
- There is no need to cook a vegetable before drying if it is one that you would eat raw.
- A vegetable that you would normally cook before eating such as corn, peas, broccoli and green beans will usually rehydrate better if you steam them.
- It is not necessary to steam the vegetable before drying if it is included in meals where you bring it to a boil for one minute and then let it sit for ten minutes. (except corn)
- If rehydrating in a freezer bag by adding boiled water to the bag, steaming the vegetables for eight minutes before drying will give you more tender vegetables than if dried raw.
- Steaming corn for eight minutes before drying makes it more digestible. Steam frozen mixed vegetables if they include corn.
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