There are three things that got me involved in dehydrating food; Drying Herbs and Spices, Beef Jerky and Fruit leathers.
Dehydrating helps retain food enzymes and nutrients and removes enough water to prevent growth of bacteria, yeast and mold. All you need to do this is a dehydrator.
There are many good dehydrators on the market today but my first dehydrator small a cardboard box with a 60 watt light bulb inside. The drying racks were just three cake or cookie cooling racks held up by paperclips. This homemade dehydrator worked okay for awhile but it did have it’s disadvantages. For example - I couldn’t see what was happening inside and when I opened the box to look in, I let all the heat out which took a considerable amount of time to build up. As I recall I got the idea from a magazine called ‘Mother Earth News.’
About ten years ago I got a call from Ron Popiel, Yep – the “Set it and forget it” guy asking if I would be willing to try his new Pasta Maker and as a free gift I would receive his food dehydrator and a bunch of racks and accessories for free to keep even if I didn’t like his new Pasta Maker. This was a part of product research or something like that. Anyway - I went for it and got two dehydrators not one and about 10 extra racks. Wow what a deal! Now this machine doesn’t have a fan inside or a temperature control, all you do is plug it in. Set it and forget it – not exactly, but it works well and I have ceiling fans all over my house and that keeps the air moving just fine. The new models do have fans. I’ve never burned or over dried anything – but then I started out with I box and a light bulb – this was like going from a go-cart to a Cadillac! Ten years later they are both still going strong!
For spices this is a simple process just lay the leaves, seeds or whatever that you want to dry on the racks and wait, but in order to dehydrate fruits and vegetables properly, you slice them to allow the moisture to escape. Now I’ve read one article somewhere that says you should always dehydrate at or below 105°F to help preserve enzymes and nutrients. According to the instructions that came with my dehydrator it runs at an ambient temperature of 133°F. I’ve read articles put out by Universities stating dehydration should start at high at around 155°F and gradually decrease. All I know is the food tastes great and lasts forever. Go figure?
Once your food is dried, be sure to cool it completely before packaging. Keep these foods in airtight glass or plastic containers in the coolest, darkest, driest place you can find. For maximum long-term storage, vacuum sealing is the best way to go, with a storage temperature of 60 degrees or below. All dehydrated foods are adversely affected by light, air, and moisture and the shelf life will be drastically reduced. When stored properly dehydrated foods will have a shelf life of 6 to 12 months depending on the quality of fresh food and your processing abilities.
Dried vegetables deteriorate at a much faster rate than dried fruits because their increased enzyme activity is not buffered by the higher concentration of sugar and acid found in dried fruits. Therefore, the longer dried vegetables are stored, the less flavor, color, texture and nutrient contents remain. It is best to try and use your supply of dehydrated vegetables within a six month period.
Methods of Drying
You could sun dry if you live in an area that consistently has 3 to 5 days at 100°F with low humidity. Natural heat is slower and less dependable than controlled drying in an oven or food dryer.
Set the oven on the lowest possible setting and preheat to 1400 F. (60 C.). Do not use the broiler unit of an electric oven because the food on the top tray will dry too quickly' Remove the unit if it has no separate control. Some gas ovens have a pilot right, which may keep the oven warm enough to dry the food.
It is important to keep the oven temperature at 140 to 160 F. (60 to 70 C.). So put an oven thermometer on the top tray about half way back where you can see it easily. Check the temperature about every half hour.
Arrange 1 to 2 pounds of prepared food in a single layer on each tray. Put one tray on each oven rack. Allow 1 1/2 inches of space on the sides, front, and back of the trays so that air can circulate all around them in the oven. To stack more trays in the oven, use blocks of wood in the comers of the racks to hold the trays at least I ½ inches apart. Dry no more than four trays of food at a time. A lighter load dries faster than a full load.
Keep the oven door open slightly during drying. A rolled newspaper, a block of wood, or a hot pad will keep the door ajar so that moist air can escape while the heat stays in the oven. Four to six inches for electric ovens or 1 to 2 inches for gas ovens is usually enough space for ventilation, but use a thermometer to check the oven temperature to make sure it stays at 140 F. An electric fan placed in front of the oven door helps to keep the air circulating.
Shifting the trays often is important for even drying because the temperature is not the same everywhere in the oven. Rotate the trays from top to bottom and from front to back every half hour. It helps to number the trays so you can keep track of the order in which you rotate them. Stirring fruit or vegetables every half hour or so also helps the food to dry evenly. jerky needs to be turned over occasionally to keep it from sticking to the trays.
I have listed four of the dehydrators I hear about the most. They are inexpensive and seem to get very little use so I can’t comment on them, but it gives you an idea about what’s out there. Just stack the food on the trays leaving space between them and follow the manufacturers instructions.
So why Would I want to dehydrate Food?
Dried foods are tasty, nutritious, lightweight, easy-to-prepare, and easy-to-store and use. The energy input is less than what is needed to freeze or can, and the storage space is minimal compared with that needed for canning jars and freezer containers.
The nutritional value of food is only minimally affected by drying. Vitamin A is retained during drying; however, because vitamin A is light sensitive, food containing it should be stored in dark places. Yellow and dark green vegetables, such as peppers, carrots, winter squash, and sweet potatoes, have high vitamin A content. Vitamin C is destroyed by exposure to heat, although pretreating foods with lemon, orange, or pineapple juice increases vitamin C content.
Dried foods are high in fiber and carbohydrates and low in fat, making them healthy food choices. Dried foods that are not completely dried are susceptible to mold.
Microorganisms are effectively killed when the internal temperature of food reaches 145°F.
What Kinds of Food Can I Dehydrate?
Choose tender vegetables. Wash, remove any damaged areas, and cut into even pieces. Blanch, then chill as though preparing for the freezer.Note: Do not blanch mushrooms, onions, or sweet peppers.
To blanch in boiling water, use one pound of food for each gallon of boiling water. Immerse vegetable into the boiling water using a wire basket or mesh bag, cover kettle, and boil the recommended time (see table). Blanching water may be reused until it becomes cloudy. Drain vegetables thoroughly.
To steam blanch, place 1" of water in kettle and bring to a rolling boil. Suspend thin layer of vegetables in basket or loose cheesecloth bag. Cover and steam blanch required amount of time (see table).
Choose firm, mature fruit. Wash, peel if desired, remove any damaged areas, and cut into even-sized pieces or slices. Some fruits require little or no pretreatment. However, pretreat apples, apricots, bananas, cherries, peaches, and pears by one of the following methods to reduce vitamin and flavor loss, browning, and deterioration during storage.
Immerse fruit in a solution of one of the following to a gallon of water: 1 tbsp of sodium bisulfite or 2 tbsp of sodium sulfite or 4 tbsp of sodium metabisulfite. These pretreatments mixtures are available from some grocery stores, pharmacies, and wine-making shops. Soak fruit pieces for 5 min. and fruit halves for 15 min.
Note: Approximately 5% of asthmatics are sensitive to sulfites. Use one of the following pretreatments if sulfites present a potential health problem:
Dip fruit in a commercial ascorbic acid/water mixture from the grocery store. Follow manufacturer's instructions when preparing and using the solution.
Steam blanch fruit for 5-6 min.; water blanch fruit for 4-5 min. (see information on water and steam blanching above).
Dip prepared fruit in a saline solution composed of 2-4 tbsp of salt and l gallon of water for 10-15 min.
Blueberries, cherries, grapes, plums, and a few other fruits have relatively tough skins with a waxlike coating.. The skin must be "cracked" or "checked" in many places to remove the waxy coating and to let the inside moisture come to the surface to evaporate. To crack the skin, put the fruit in-to boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. Then dip in very cold water. Drain thoroughly on
Choose lean cuts of beef or venison. Freeze and remove all visible fat. Partly freezing the meat before cutting makes it easy to slice. Slice with the grain into long, thin, even strips.
Slicing with the grain instead of crosswise makes the jerky chewy and less brittle. The strips should be about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, 1 to1 l/2 inches wide, and 4 to 12 inches long. Thin slices of meat will dry faster than thick ones. Any wild game meat should be frozen for at least 30 days to lower the chances of trichinosis infection by killing parasite larvae.
You can grow and dry a wide variety of herbs. Some of the most popular are thyme, tarragon, rosemary, mint, sage, sweet basil, bay leaf, parsley, marjoram, savory, oregano, chervil, chives, and dill. The foliage of these plants is attractive, and they give off a soft, pleasant fragrance. If you plant your herb garden near the kitchen, you can enjoy the plants and harvest the leaves easily as they reach the peak of quality. Young, tender leaves are more flavorful and aromatic than older leaves.
Select ripe fruit for drying. Bruised fruit can be used if you trim away any bruised spots. Do not use molding food for drying.
Slicing foods allows the dry air to circulate and dry the surface area of the food first. Cut foods into 1/8-inch to 1/2-inch slices. The higher the water content, the larger you should make the slice size. Small slices of high-moisture foods, such as watermelon, would disappear when all the moisture has evaporated.
Peel fruits and vegetables, including bananas, melons, winter squash, and other foods.
Pretreatments are techniques used to make quality products. Pretreatments include dipping, blanching, cooking, or candying.
Dipping prevents oxidation or color changes in fruits and vegetables. Dip fruits in pineapple or orange juice. Dip vegetables in diluted bottled lemon juice (dilute 1/4 cup of lemon juice in 2 cups water, then dip vegetables and some fruits for 2 to 3 minutes).
Commercial fresh fruit stabilizers can also be used (dilute 1/2 Tablespoon of stabilizer in 2 cups water). Sodium sulfite is another commercial product for pretreating foods. To make a homemade stabilizer, mix 1 Tablespoon of salt or vinegar with 8 cups of water or dissolve one 500 mg tablet of vitamin C per 1 cup of water.
Blanching is recommended for asparagus, green beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and peas. Blanch for a very short period to cause checking of skins.
I love fruit leathers, As I said earlier it’s no of the reasons I got into drying food. Select ripe or slightly overripe fruit. Wash fresh fruit or berries in cool water. Remove peel, seeds, and stem. Cut fruit into chunks. Use 2 cups of fruit for each 13-inch by 15-inch fruit leather. Purse fruit until smooth. Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid (375 mg.) for each 2 cups of light-colored fruit to prevent darkening.
If you choose to sweeten the leather, add corn syrup, honey, or sugar. Corn syrup or honey is best for longer storage because they do not crystallize. Sugar is fine for immediate use or short storage. Use 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups sugar, corn syrup, or honey for each 2 cups of fruit. Saccharin-based sweeteners could also be used to reduce tartness without adding calories. Aspartame sweeteners may lose sweetness during drying.
Home-preserved or store-bought canned or frozen fruit may also be used to make leathers. Drain fruit and save liquid. Use 1 pint of fruit for each 13-inch by 15-inch leather. Purse fruit until smooth--if too thick, add liquid. Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid (375 mg.) for each 2 cups of light-colored fruit to prevent darkening. Applesauce can be dried alone or added to any fresh fruit purse as an extender. It decreases tartness and makes the leather smoother and more pliable.
Fruit leathers can be poured into a single large sheet (13-inch by 15-inch) or into several smaller sizes pieces. Spread puree evenly, about 1/8-inch thick, onto drying tray. Avoid pouring purse too close to the edge of the cookie sheet. The larger fruit leathers take longer to dry. Approximate drying times are 6 to 8 hours in a dehydrator, up to 18 hours in an oven, and 1 to 2 days in the sun.
Dry fruit leathers at l40°F. Leather dries from the outside edge toward the center. Test for dryness by touching center of leather; no indention should be evident. While warm, peel leather from plastic and roll. Then, allow the leather to cool and rewrap the roll in plastic.
Chances are the fruit leather won't last long enough for storage. If it does, it will keep up to 1 month at room temperature. For storage up to 1 year, place tightly wrapped rolls in the freezer.
Now your ready to go to the downloads page for some recipes. Enjoy!
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