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Why Is A Food Dehydrator A Must-Have Appliance For Your Kitchen?

Why Is A Food Dehydrator A Must-Have Appliance For Your Kitchen?

Let me ask you something: Do you currently own a food dehydrator?

It’s common in this day and age for people to want to eat healthier, and a big part of that includes what we snack on. Many people turn to dried fruits and jerky instead of reaching for chips, cookies, or candy. Unfortunately, store-bought dried fruit and jerky tend to contain quite a bit of sugar and other preservatives, making them just as unhealthy as other processed snacks.

Well, we’re here to tell you the good news: by purchasing your own cheap food dehydrator machine, or a food dehydrating tray, you can become your own snackmaster pro! 

Dehydrated foods, such as fruit and making beef jerky at home, provide nutritious and filling natural snacks that keep you going throughout the day. Plus, by performing the dehydration process on your own,  you can cut a lot of those preservatives (and other questionable ingredients) out of the equation completely.
Dehydrated food in bowls.

source: hamiltonbeach.com

So, you’re telling me I can make my own natural dehydrated food and snacks at home? 

Yes! You heard that right.

With a food dehydrator, the options are endless. From healthy snacks, to saveable dried food, even natural dog treats! Whether its an electric food dryer, or a small stackable tray, the sky’s the limit with dehydrated foods.  

Now, you may think that a dehydrator is something doomsday folk or ladies living in the ‘70s used. That isn’t the case! More and more people are latching onto drying food at home.

Why? Because it’s a healthy alternative to store bought products of the same ilk. Also, drying food is a great way to preserve foodstuffs if you have an over-abundance of things, but they can also dehydrate herbs, make dog treats, and have other uses, which we will discuss later.

In this guide, we are going to introduce you to the wonderful world of food dehydration, some basic dehydrated food recipes, and even how to make a food dehydrator of your own if you don’t want to purchase one (or you’re feeling pretty crafty).

What Is A Food Dehydrator?

A food dehydrator is a kitchen appliance that uses low temperatures (usually temperatures between 95F to 155F). The dehydrator uses a fan to circulate the dry heat, which removes moisture from the food but keeping the natural nutrients and enzymes in your food intact.

This is different from how dehydrating food in an oven or even the stove because you can’t get such low temperatures, so you’re essentially destroying the nutrients in your food. Not only that, the high heat from your oven is going to denature the oils and fats, thus creating cancer contributors like free radicals and carcinogens. Yikes!

Maybe you’re thinking that you could dehydrate food in a microwave. Wrong! While they do function differently than an oven or stove, they kill everything good about the food. It sort of makes you wonder why people choose to use microwaves in the first place, right?

How Long Does Dehydrated Food Last?

When it comes to dehydrated food shelf life, there are several things that will affect the shelf life of your goods.

Temperature

The temperature is going to play a big role in how long your dried goods are going to last. The cooler space where you are storing the food, the longer it will stay good. Typically when you store food at room temperature (72F), it will last about one year.


Dehydrated food on the table.

source: themessybaker.com

However, if you drop the temperature 20 degrees, you can double the shelf life, making the food good for two years. And, naturally, the warmer the temperatures are, you are going to cut the shelf life in half. So if you live in a warm climate and your cabinets get up to 90F, you’re only going to get about six months out of your dried goods.

Moisture

The very point of dehydrating food is to remove the majority of moisture from the food while preserving the nutrients and the flavor. This is a great way to preserve food you harvest from your garden and be able to eat it at a later date.

Typically, the fruit will contain about 75% moisture when it is fresh, but after the dehydration process, it’ll be down to 20%. This will make the fruit feel like leather and more pliable. Keep in mind that this is safe because the natural sugars and acids in the food are going to preserve it, rather than having to use some sort of preservative.

Vegetables, on the other hand, will dehydrate down to about 5% moisture, which will become crispy and brittle.

Oxygen

​​Oxygen is going break down the fats and proteins in the food, thus making the food taste a little off. It could even make the food spoil. While fruits and vegetables have a low-fat content, they can still oxidize if they aren’t sealed correctly.

Light

Photons from light can also break down the fats and proteins in food, but they can also hurt the vitamins in the food. Exposure to light can give your food a bad flavor and even run the risk of spoilage.

How To Store Dehydrated Food

You can store goods in a cool, dark, and dry space in airtight containers to ensure your food will last. We recommend that if you plan on storing your food for a period of time, opt for vacuum sealing your food instead of using mason jars or zip lock bags.

Vacuum sealing removes all oxygen from the container, ensuring that your food is going to be safe and your items are less likely to spoil.

Types Of Food Dehydrators

When it comes to choosing a food dehydrator, you have two different fan and airflow configurations to consider, vertical or horizontal.

Horizontal vs vertical air flow system in food dehydrators.

source: dehydratorblog.com

Vertical Dehydrators

A vertical dehydrator is a heating element and fan on the inside of the machine. The heat radiates from the bottom, and the fan circulates the heat around the food. This type of airflow prevents any juices from the food dripping to the tray below it and possibly mixing flavors with whatever you’re drying on said lower tray.

This is a great feature because you can dry several different foodstuffs at once without worrying about your apples tasting like strawberries or your herbs tasting like bananas.

Horizontal Dehydrators

A horizontal dehydrator has the heating element and fan on the side of the dehydrator. The heated air flows evenly across the trays and your food. This uniform heat ensures that the food has properly dehydrated and can be safer to eat.

Keep in mind, since the airflow is going to the food, rather than flowing upward, the juices from one tray will drop down to the lower trays. You’ll want to keep this in mind if you want to dry more than one product at a time. Also, another disadvantage of a horizontal dehydrator is the clean is going to be a little messier because of said drippage.

How To Make A Homemade Food Dehydrator

While you could purchase a food dehydrator if you have small amounts of food to dehydrate, you can build a large food dehydrator while will allow you to dehydrate larger amounts of food, be it produce, meats, or herbs.

Tools you will need to build this dehydrator:

  • Circular or Table Saw (or a lumber yard who will cut the wood to size for you)
  • Power Drill
  • Wire Cutters
  • Screws
  • Measuring Tape

Supplies you will need:

  • check
    3/4-inch plywood
  • check
    Metal racks similar to oven racks
  • check
    Wall socket
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    12-gauge wire
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    Cabiner hinges
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    Closing mechanism
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    Small Fan
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    Heating element
DIY food dehydrator.

source: instructables.com

Cutting The Wood

You first will want to decide how large you want your dehydrator—you’ll probably want to measure the size of your shelves and then make the dimensions of your dehydrator for that.

The size of the dehydrator ends up being 19x16 inches and 4 feet tall. If you prefer a small food dehydrator, you can adjust the height of your box to suit your needs. With the leftover wood, you can use that to create feet for the box and shelf racks.

Assembling The Box

Before you attach the walls of your box, you’ll want to measure where you want the shelf holders to go and attach them.

In the top panel of your box, drill five holes for circulation. You’ll also want to attach the feet for the dehydrator on the bottom panel of wood and drill holes in the bottom for your light. Once the shelf holders and feet are in place, assemble the walls of your dehydrator to form a box.

  • Note: While the author of these directions didn’t mention it, a commenter said to keep the heat inside the box, you can line the wood with aluminum foil, so it’s an airtight seal, but also so the heat stays inside the box and not seep out through the wood.

Adding A Heating Element

Starting from the wall plug in, connect the black and white wires from the plug to short pieces of black and white wires respectively.  For the rest of this, I'll just talk about one wire, but it's the same for both the white and black. 

To the short wire, you connected to the plug-in, using a twist on wire connector connect two short wires.  One of these will go to your first light socket, the other use another twist on wire connector to connect 2 more wires.  One of these goes to your second light socket, and the other goes to the third.

  • Note: While the instructions describe how to set up incandescent bulbs to act as a heating element, you can use a heat lamp, a cone heater, or even an electric griddle as one commenter suggested.

Food Dehydrator Recipes

Once you’ve finished your DIY Food dehydrator (or you purchased one), you’re probably anxious to learn what sort of delicious recipes you can create with it.

Food made with the dehydrator.

source: mountainfeed.com

Well, you’re in luck! Here are some great recipes that you can try.

Raw Kale Chips

  • 1 Bunch of Kale
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • Olive Oil
  • Diced Garlic to taste
  • Juice from Half of a Lemon
  • Pinch of Cumin

Wash the kale and then cut it into 3-inch long strips. Put the kale into a large bowl and combine the other ingredients. Once the kale is thoroughly coated, set it on a tray for 10 to 20 minutes—the strips should shrink a little bit. Then place the kale in an 115 degree F dehydrator for about 7 to 8 hours.

Dehydrated Sweet Potato Chips

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Lemon Juice
  • Seasonings of your choosing

Wash and peel your sweet potatoes. Then slice the potatoes about 1/4-inch thick. Put the potatoes in an ice water bath while you wait for the water to boil. Once the water reached a rolling boil, place the potato slices in the boiling water for about five minutes.

Remove the slices from the boiling water and then put them back in the ice water with a few splashes of lemon juice to prevent the potatoes from cooking more.

Drain the potatoes thoroughly and sprinkle them with the seasoning of your choice. Then place the slices evenly on the dehydrator racks. Make sure they don’t touch one another! Set your dehydrator to 125 degrees F and allow them to dry until they become crispy. This can take anywhere from 10 to 12 hours.

Homemade Fruit Leather

  • Washed fruit of your choosing
  • 2 tablespoons of gelatin

Making fruit leather is really simple, and it gives you the opportunity to be creative with your flavor pairings! All you have to do is throw your fruit into a high-powered blender, like a Ninja or a Vitamix, and blend until it is a smooth puree. Once smooth, add the gelatin and blend again for a few seconds.

When your mixture is complete, you have three ways you can prepare your tray to hold the pureed fruit:

  • Paraflexx Sheets
  • Parchment paper
  • Plastic wrap if you can’t find anything else.

Take the product of your choice and lay it on top of the mesh dehydrator tray. Then pour about a cup or so of the fruit puree on the sheet and spread it out, so it is even, but is still about 1/4-inch thick. At this thickness, you’ll be able to remove it from the tray without any problems. Too thin and you’ll be struggling!

Turn the dehydrator on to 140 degrees (if you’re using a digital food dehydrator, you’re good. If you don’t have a temperature setting, keep the heat relatively low). This will take anywhere between 6 to 10 hours to dry. Depending on the fruit, it may even need to go overnight.

When the fruit leather is finished dehydrating, it should lift right off the tray. You can cut the leather to your liking and store them in an airtight plastic bag or even a jar.

Raw Butternut Squash Cookies

Raw Butternut Squash Cookies.

source: groundednutrition.com

  • 4 cups peeled butternut squash, chopped into medium sized chunks
  • 1 cup organic raisins
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 3-4 Tbsp. raw honey, date paste or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. sea salt
  • dash of cardamom (optional)
  • 1/4 cup crispy butternut squash or pumpkin seeds (optional)

Blend the chopped butternut squash until smooth, then place the puree into a bowl. Then blend together raisins and the juice from a medium orange. Add this mixture to the butternut squash. Add the sweetener, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and optional ingredients if you desire. You can adjust the sweetness and seasoning to your taste.

Once everything is mixed together, you will want to place wax paper (or even a silicone sheet) on the tray for your dehydrator. Then portion out the cookie mixture onto your tray. Flatten each cookie to about 1/2-inch thick. Set your dehydrator to 105 degrees and allow the cookies to dry for 10 to 12 hours.

If you don’t want to wait that long, you can also bake them in an 180-degree oven for about 1 to 2 hours. Just keep an eye on them, so they don’t become too dry or even burn.

Asian-Style Sweet Pork Jerky

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 cup finely ground granulated sugar (Baker's Sugar)
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
  • 4 drops of red food coloring (optional)

Combine all the ingredients (except the pork) in a container (a bowl or even a gallon-sized freezer bag) and mix well. Then add the pork and combine well with your hands or even a wooden spoon. Allow the pork mixture to marinade for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Spread pork mixture onto parchment paper or a silicone mat. The mix should be about 1/2-inch thick. Turn your dehydrator on 145 degrees and allow it to dehydrate for about four hours. The jerky should be a little tender. Cut the jerky into strips and store in a refrigerator if you plan on keeping it longer than 2 weeks (if it even lasts that long!)

Food Dehydrator Wrap Up

Dehydrators can be a fantastic addition to any kitchen, especially if you’re trying to make healthier food choices. With one of these devices, you’re going to drying fruit, vegetables, meat, and even herbs.

These are the foods that we don’t get enough of in our diets, thanks to the convenience of fast food or prepared foods. With a dehydrator, you can snack on healthy foods without losing the nutrients or the flavor, but you also aren’t eating a ton of sugar, salt, or other preservatives that you may find in store-bought dried foods.

Also, when you decide to incorporate a food dehydrator into your food prep routine, you have more ways to eat raw foods. A good dehydrator is going to have an adjustable thermostat and will be able to maintain temperatures that can go below 115 degrees.

Vertical dehydrators.

source: insertcoinmovie.com

Many of the recipes you find for dehydrated food will require that you dry the food anywhere between 130 or 140 degrees. However, you can reduce that temperature and extend the drying time. If you use large food dehydrators like the homemade one we detailed earlier, you can even use it as a holding oven for large family gatherings if you’re pressed for oven space.

People who go camping frequently can get a lot of use out of a dehydrator, too. When food has been dehydrated, and most of the moisture is removed, this also means much of the weight is gone too. So, let’s say you like to take soup or pasta sauce.

You can create a delicious stew or spaghetti that is going to taste as yummy at the camp site as it did at home. Of course, we recommend purchasing a dehydrator cookbook before you attempt to making complex dishes in a dehydrator.

When you are trying to decide what type of dehydrator you want, you’ll first want to think about what you are going to be using it for and how frequently you’re going to be using it. If you have a large garden and want to make quick work of drying all that excess produce at the end of the season, you may benefit from a large food dehydrator.

However, if you only plan on making small batches of stuff, or just want to dry some herbs and the odd bit of fruit leather, you could use a mini food dehydrator instead. Whichever unit you decide (or maybe you want to try your hand at making your own!), you may be surprised by how much use you can get out of one.

Why, we wouldn’t be surprised that after using one for a while, you are looking for new ways to use your dehydrator. Thankfully, there are some great cookbooks available that can give you some ideas.

Maybe you’ll even want to start experimenting with your own tasty food creations! You can even get your kids in on the fun and ask them for ideas of what kind of sweet fruit combinations they’d like to try. With an open mind and some creativity, there’s a world of possibilities waiting for you!

We have compiled a detailed buying guide to help you with your purchase of a new food dehydrator!