Using Food Dehydrators to Save Money and Preserve Food

Published: 03rd August 2012
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With a sluggish economy and more and more people trying to live a healthier lifestyle, home gardeners are producing a bounty of fresh produce. But you can only give away so much zucchini and so many tomatoes. What do you do with the rest?

Freezing and canning are options, but not always the best. Not everyone has a deep freeze and canning can be both expensive and intimidating.

One of the oldest means of preserving food has been dehydration. A food dehydrator is used to remove moisture to aid in the preservation.

Investing in a food dehydrator is easy, and low-cost. All you need is the dehydrator, and a knife.

Dehydrating food removes water by managing heat and air flow. A low heat is used to remove the moisture. In some cases, dehydrated products can last for years. Earliest forms of dehydration used sun and air to preserve meats and produce. Fortunately, today it's a lot easier.

Dehydration also reduces the volume of the food, which means less need for storage space.

The first commercial model came out around 1920; most discount stores will sell food dehydrators, as well as the small appliance department in larger stores. Natural food stores, seed and garden supply stores also carry them. Or like just about anything else, you can order online. Price will vary depending on the features. Some are expandable and you can add trays later.

As a rule, twelve square feet of drying space dries about half a bushel of produce. So limited capacity can be a problem.

There are two basic designs for dehydrators using either horizontal air flow or vertical airflow.

If your dehydrator has horizontal airflow, the heating element and the fan will be located on the side of the unit. Using a horizontal unit reduces the flavor mixture so that you can dry several different foods at a time. All of the trays receive the same amount of heat and the moisture doesn't drip onto the heating element.

In a vertical air flow dehydrator, the heating element and fan are located at the base. One of the drawbacks is that if you dry different foods, the flavors can mix. Liquids can also drip into the heating element.

Here are some key things to look for when purchasing your dehydrator.

You want a unit with a double wall construction that is metal or a high grade of plastic. Wood can be a fire hazard and difficult to clean.

Make sure the heating element is enclosed. The thermostat should range from 85F to 160F.

Look for the UL seal of approval.

You want four to 10 open mesh trays. Preferably plastic for easy washing. Remember, the more trays you have, the more food you can process at one time.

Make sure you have a good timer with the dehydrator. Sometimes you may need to run the dehydrator overnight. A timer will help prevent scorching the food.

Expect to see some discoloration in fruits and vegetables. This is mainly cosmetic, but you can use a food-safe grade of sodium bisulfate to reduce discoloration. But be careful if you or someone in your family has an allergy to sulfur. A more natural alternative is a spray of lemon juice and water.

Some other hints for using your dehydrator include:

Pay attention when slicing. The thinner the slice, the quicker the drying so, for meats and produce even cuts of the same thickness yields the best results.

Store your dried foods in jars or airtight plastic bags. Pack them loosely. Storing them in a dark, cool place is best.

Clean the racks well between uses. Soaking them overnight will help remove any dried on foods.

Enjoy your dehydrator and the savings and healthy eating it brings!


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Lawrence Reaves writes for Hamilton Beach, a kitchen appliance company that offers a nice selection of products that range from slow cookers to blenders and more. For more information on Lawrence Reaves visit his site here.

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