A food dehydrator is a specialised kitchen tool that uses low heat and a fan to dehydrate or dry out food. It circulates air through the machine, removing water from food while preserving the enzymes. A dehydrator machine is made up of several stacked trays with holes, similar to a bamboo steamer. The temperature of the air is adjustable, depending on the food you are dehydrating. You can dehydrate fruit, veggies and herbs as well as meat, fish and even turkey jerky. If the idea of making your own whole foods gets you excited, imagine the possibilities with homemade flours and fruit leather!
Why is a food dehydrator useful?
Fresh food can be cheaper to buy in bulk. But what happens when you realise you won't have time to use all of your food before it spoils? Don't throw it out, dehydrate it! Dehydrating food will preserve it, making it last a lot longer than when it's fresh. Some foods can last up to a year once dehydrated if stored in an air-tight container.
Enjoy your garden harvest all year round. If you're lucky enough to have the 'problem' of having too many tomatoes falling off the vine at the end of Summer, try dehydrating them. Use them for a burst of tomato flavour in your spaghetti bolognaise or lasagne. Other popular garden fruits and veggies that are great for dehydrating are carrots, kale, mushrooms, peas, apples, apricots, bananas, peaches and strawberries.
They're easy to use. With easy instructions and plenty of options, dehydrating food is quite a simple process. It's really in the way you slice the food. Ensure the food is sliced consistently and you can't go wrong.
There is no minimum. Only have one apple? No problem. There is no amount too small to dehydrate. Keep it stored for future snacks, or eat them as soon as they're ready. Using a small amount is also a good way to be adventurous and try a food in its dehydrated state before committing to a large batch of it. Before long you'll be looking around your kitchen for foods to experiment on!
Have healthy, tasty snacks on hand. When you get the munchies it's natural to go for the quick and easy option, but the easy option isn't always 'natural'. When dehydrating your own fresh food you know exactly what has (or more importantly what hasn't) gone into it. There is no need for added sugar, salt, colours or preservatives when dehydrating food. In fact, dehydrating food concentrates the flavour while preserving the fibre, vitamins and minerals. So it's a perfect safe-for-school lunchbox solution when you know the kids are getting a nutritious snack without the additives.
It's better than using an oven. It might have crossed your mind. Can I just use the oven on low? Yes. But a dehydrator is way more energy efficient. Who wants their oven on for up to 24 hours in the warmer months? Also, an oven does not operate at the low temperature that is necessary for preserving all the vitamins and minerals in the food. Low and slow is key.
Get creative with scents. Another creative way to use your dehydrator is to make homemade potpourri. Combine aromatic fruits (such as citrus), rose petals and essential oils to add a pleasant fragrance to your home. It's also a great original homemade gift idea for friends and family.
Things to keep in mind...
Dehydrating food takes time. Leave plenty of time as some foods can take from a couple of hours to a couple of days to fully dehydrate. You may also need to check the progress every few hours, so the process might need a little planning. It's well worth the wait when you have delicious goodies ready for snacking on or containers of flavoursome ingredients for future meals.
You may not use it all year round. Since fruits and veggies are seasonal, you'll probably find that you do more eating of your dried foods in the colder months and the majority of the dehydrating when your fruit and veg are in season, in the warmer months.
Where will you put it? Food dehydrators come in varying shapes and capacities. Smaller models are about the size of a rice cooker. Larger ones take up much more room and may not fit in your kitchen cupboard. Make sure you can store it somewhere that will keep and dust rodents out during the hiatus months.
Mind the smell. Whatever you're dehydrating, the aroma may take over your kitchen or even your whole house. The scent of strawberries or peaches drying might be pleasant, but beef or salmon may be overpowering. Make sure the room and area around the dehydrator are well ventilated.
One thing at a time. When in action, the dehydrator machine constantly circulates air inside it, so having more than one type of food in at the same time is not recommended. The aroma and flavour of one food can permeate the other and mixing up the tastes may have an undesirable effect. If you don't want your dried blueberries tasting like banana, dehydrate them in different batches.
Leave spoiled food for the compost. As much as it seems a waste to throw away bruised or oxidised fruit and veg, it's best to use fresh and undamaged produce. Dehydrating food will not get rid of mould, bruising, rotting or insect damage. For best results, use the good stuff and leave damaged or old produce for composting. Then you can use the rich, composted soil to grow more fresh food for you to harvest!
No fats. When dehydrating, generally speaking, fatty foods - whether it's 'good' or 'bad' fat - should not be dehydrated as it will not fully dehydrate and can quickly turn rancid. Keep your meats extra lean (see also below). And as much as you might want to preserve the buttery goodness of an avocado, it's best eaten fresh. Dairy products are also generally a no-no.
Eat your meat fast. Dehydrating meat and fish can be tricky. You need to make sure it is dehydrated thoroughly and without any fat as it turns rancid quickly. Dehydrated meats and fish (or jerky) will only keep for a week when stored correctly, so it needs to be consumed quickly. Some research may be necessary for you to achieve best results. But if in doubt, stick to the sizeable list of fresh fruit and veg suitable for dehydrating.
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