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Food Dehydration - How to Dry Foods Instead of Canning or Freezing
Food Dehydration - How to Dry Foods Instead of Canning or Freezing
Dry your own fruits, vegetables and other foods
Dehydration is an alternative to canning (called "bottling" in the UK)
and freezing fruits and vegetables. If you
have a surplus of fruits or vegetables from your garden, but lack the
canning equipment or freezer space, drying may be the right method for you!
Dehydrated foods have a number of advantages: Dehydration is a low-cost way
to preserve food that is free from concerns about botulism, the dried foods
require less storage space than canned goods, and there's no freezer to keep
Food Drying Principles
Dehydrating your own produce does require time and some knowledge of food
- Select the
best fruit and vegetables! As with canning and freezing, dehydrated
foods are only as good as the fresh fruit or vegetables. When selecting
fruits and vegetables for dehydration, choose ones that are ripe,
unbruised and at peak-eating quality.
Prepare foods to be dehydrated as you want them to be served.
Apples, for example, may be sliced, cut into rings, or pureed for fruit
- Keep pieces uniform in size
and thickness for even drying . Slices cut 1/8 to 1/4-inch in
thickness will dry more quickly than thicker pieces.
Some foods should be washed before drying.
Foods such as herbs, berries and seedless grapes need only be washed
- To prevent browning: try
steaming, sulfuring or coating light-colored fruits and vegetables with
acids such as lemon juice or ascorbic acid (FruitFresh) before drying.
Steaming or blanching also is recommended for vegetables to inactivate
enzymes that cause vegetables to mature, or toughen during drying.
- Select the drying method and equipment that is
right for you. Foods can be dried in a
conventional oven, a commercial dehydrator, or in the sun. Drying times
vary with the method and foods chosen. Be sure to read the instructions
with your dehydrator.
- Maintain 130F to 140F with
circulating air: Remove enough moisture as quickly as possible to
prevent spoilage. A drying temperature of 130 degrees F to 140 degrees F
allows moisture to be removed quickly without adversely affecting food's
texture, color, flavor and nutritive value. If the initial temperature
is lower, or air circulation is insufficient, foods may undergo
undesirable microbiological changes before drying adequately. If the
temperature is higher, or humidity too low, nutrients can be lost or
moisture may be removed too quickly from the product's outer surface.
This causes the outer surface to harden and prevents moisture in the
inner tissues from escaping. When testing for sufficient dryness, cool
foods before testing.
- Know when your food is dry:
Some foods are more pliable when cool than warm. Foods should be pliable
and leathery, or hard and brittle when sufficiently dried.
Some vegetables actually shatter if hit with a hammer. At this
stage, they should contain about 10 percent moisture. Because they are
so dry, vegetables do not need conditioning like fruits.
After Drying (for fruit only)
- Allow dried FRUIT (not
vegetables) time to "condition": When
dry, allow fruit to "condition" for four to 10 days before packaging for
storage. The moisture content of home dried fruit should be about
20 percent. When the fruit is taken from the dehydrator, the remaining
moisture may not be distributed equally among the pieces because of
their size or their location in the dehydrator. Conditioning is the
process used to equalize the moisture. It reduces the risk of mold
- To condition the fruit, take the dried fruit
that has cooled and pack it loosely in plastic or glass jars.
Seal the containers and let them stand for 7 to 10 days. The excess
moisture in some pieces will be absorbed by the drier pieces.
Shake the jars daily to separate the pieces and check the moisture
condensation. If condensation develops in the jar, return the fruit
to the dehydrator for more drying.
- After conditioning,
package and store the fruit as described below.
Packaging the dried foods
- Seal the dried food:
Dried foods are susceptible to insect contamination and readsorption of
moisture and must be properly packaged and stored immediately. First,
cool completely. Warm food causes sweating which could provide enough
moisture for mold to grow. Package dehydrated
foods in tightly sealed containers, such as moisture-proof freezer
containers or Ziploc type bags, or dark scalded (sanitized) glass jars.
Choose the right containers: Glass jars, metal cans or boxes with
tight fitted lids or moisture-vapor resistant freezer cartons make good
containers for storing dried foods. Heavy-duty plastic bags are
acceptable, but keep in mind that they are not insect and rodent proof.
Plastic bags with a 3/8-inch seal are best to keep out moisture.
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 as tightly as possible without crushing.
- Pack food
in amounts that will be used in a recipe. Every time a package is
re-opened, the food is exposed to air and moisture that will lower the
quality of the food.
Storing the dried foods
Store in a cool, dark, dry place. Food quality is affected by
heat. The storage temperature helps determine the length of storage; the
higher the temperature, the shorter the storage time. Most dried fruits
can be stored for 1 year at 60 F, 6 months at 80 F. Vegetables have
about half the shelf-life of fruits.
Use foods within six to 12 months for best quality.
- Check dried foods frequently during storage to see if
they are still dry. Foods that are packaged seemingly "bone dry" can
spoil if moisture is reabsorbed during storage. Glass containers are
excellent for storage because any moisture that collects on the inside
can be seen easily Foods affected by moisture, but not spoiled, should
be used immediately or redried and repackaged. Moldy foods should be
To see more information about spoilage
and how to prevent it, see this page.
Here's the food dehydrator I use!:
How to dry various foods, fruits and vegetables