Dehydration: The Best Way To Preserve The Essence of Fruits and Vegetables
Dehydrating your foods has a number of powerful and healthier advantages over canning or freezing methods of preservation. One dehydrator appliance is finally "kitchen worthy" and a complement to any household.
Sedona Dehydrator vs Excalibur Dehydrator Comparison
Food drying, also called food dehydration, is the process of removing water from food, thus inhibiting the growth of microorganisms (enzymes) and bacteria by the circulation of hot, dry air through the food. Removing water from food is the easiest, cheapest, and the most appropriate method of food preservation.
Others Methods of Preservation
Dehydration far exceeds freezing and canning methods of preservation. For example, the canning process alters the chemical make-up of food by changing the pH, salinity or moisture levels to protect against microbes, such as bacteria, mold and yeast. It limits the activity of food enzymes which also contribute to decomposition. Canning reduces the nutrient value of food. It also requires a significant investment of time and equipment, and inadequate processing or poor sanitation can result in a deadly contamination.
Freezing many foods changes their texture so they are not edible without thawing. Water in food freezes and expands and the ice crystals cause the cell walls of fruits and veggies to rupture, making them softer when thawed. Fluctuating freezing temperatures from opening and closing the freezer also causes ice crystals to get bigger each time. The can result in freezer burn. Many vegetables with high water content such as celery, lettuce and tomatoes do not freeze well.
Storage and electricity costs for maintaining a freezer may also be quite high.
Advantages of Dehydration
1) MONEY: You will save money. Keep in mind that food drying is a one-time cost. Canned foods, once opened, must be used promptly, but containers of dried foods can be repeatedly opened, ingredients removed or added, and closed again with no deleterious effects on the contents.
2) MAXIMIZE YOUR GARDEN'S OUTPUT: You will be able to reap the rewards of your own garden and of both locally grown and regionally grown produce, because you can keep up with abundant seasonal harvests. There is a movement now away from the importation of foodstuffs, not so much because of safety considerations but because of an increasing awareness of the importance of self-sufficiency when it comes to one's own food supply.
3) CONTROL: You will be able to feed family and friends safer, pesticide-and chemical-free foods because you control what you are drying. Consequently, you can make dehydrated foods very tasty, nutritious and lightweight.
4) SAFE FOOD SUPPLY: You can create a food supply which, in a financial crisis or when a natural disaster strikes, can be like money in the bank.
5) STORAGE: You will be able to take advantage of supermarket specials and the savings they offer. Food drying is a form of creative recycling. In drying your own foods, you are cutting down on packaging; wait until you see how little storage space you will need. You can store 20 to 25 dried bell peppers in a 1-quart jar; 16 to 20 dried tomatoes in a 1-quart jar.
Does Drying Affect The Nutritional Value of Foods?
Dehydration only minimally affects the nutritional value of foods, especially when the process takes place in your own home. Most research on the nutritional value of dried foods has been conducted on foods that are commercially dried. When you dry foods at home under gentle conditions (correct temperature and a reasonable amount of drying time), you produce a high-quality product. Compared with canning and freezing, both of which involve extreme temperatures, food drying is the least damaging form of food preservation.
Here are some specifics:
Vitamin A is retained during the drying process. Because vitamin A is light sensitive, foods that contain it-like carrots, bell peppers, mangoes-should be stored in a dark place.
Some vitamin C is lost during the drying process because vitamin C is an air-soluble nutrient and food drying is an air-based process. When a food is sliced and its cells are cut, the surfaces that are exposed to air lose some vitamin C content.
The caloric value of a fresh food stays the same when it is dried, although some dried foods, fruits for example, taste sweeter because the water has been removed and the sugar is concentrated.
Dried fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and carbohydrates, neither of which is affected by drying.
Dried fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat. Minerals available in certain fresh fruits-such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, and so on-are also not altered when the fruit is dried.
How Safe Is It To Eat Dehydrated Food?
In comparison with foods preserved by other methods, like canning, it is quite safe. Botulism is feared in canning because the bacteria that cause it thrive in a liquid environment. Botulism could only occur with a dried food that had been rehydrated, then left unattended long enough for bacteria to grow.
Mold may form on dried food if it was not dehydrated long enough or if the container it was stored in had moisture in it. If you see or smell mold, all the food in that container must be discarded.
Remember that the organisms that cause food spoilage, mold, yeast, bacteria-are always present in the air, water, and soil. It is important to observe sanitary precautions at all stages of the drying process.
As to the safety of drying meats, the latest word from food-science researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison is that microorganisms are effectively killed when the internal temperature of meat reaches 145°F for 45 minutes; or 167°F for 20 minutes; or 200°F for 15 minutes. This means that the internal temperature of the meat must remain steady for the designated amount of time, which is not the same as putting meat in a 200°F oven for 15 minutes. If your food dehydrator does not reach a temperature of 145°F or if its temperature control is inaccurate, then transfer the food to a preheated 200°F oven for a minimum of 20 minutes to eliminate safety concerns.
You can also store dried food in the freezer, another form of ensuring its safety.
As Raw Food Movement Grows, Dehydrator Sales Increasing
Rodney Buss from Juicers4Life.com in Toronto said "the raw food movement has really grown...so many people are now looking into dehydrating." According to Buss, more people are becoming educated on the health benefits of dehydration and are more receptive to complementing their kitchen with a dehydrator. After 50 years, in business, the trend is obvious according to Buss. "There is a 100% increase in the last few years alone," he said. Juicers4Life.com is one of the few vendors in Ontario, Canada which carries all major brands of dehydrators and juicers available to the public.
The authors of a new book, The Dehydrator Bible, recently stated to The Canadian Press that 2008 North American sales of food dehydrators increased 25% to about 3 million units sold. Food drying is one of the oldest food preservation techniques and has been practiced for centuries. However, using food dehydrators for drying, preserving and storing food is clearly becoming more popular.
What are the factors behind their increasing usage and popularity?
- Dehydrator quality has improved. The heat, fan and air flow built into today's drying units make the drying process quicker and easier.
- Raw food diets have become more popular. Using a food dehydrator can be an important part of eating raw food. Raw foodists typically use dehydrators to heat various foods at temperatures below 114 to 116 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Supporting, buying from and eating locally grown food from farmers markets has increasingly become more popular.
What Equipment is Needed To Dehydrate?
In addition to your food dehydrator, of course, you will need:
A good sharp knife
A spatula or two
Several heavy-bottomed saucepans
A blender for pureeing and chopping
Nice to have on hand and very helpful, but not mandatory are:
A cherry pitter
An apple parer-slicer-corer
A corn kernel cutter
A pea and bean sheller
A bean Frencher
A mortar and pestle
A salad spinner (for pre-drying herbs and flowers and for washing greens)
A food processor with a shredding disk
A Salad Shooter for slicing potatoes
Home-food dehydrators fall into two categories: those with stackable trays, and those constructed of a rigid box with removable shelves. Size is a factor; most fit on a countertop, but larger models are free-standing and require more space. Some models have base-mounted fans that move hot air vertically; one has a rear-mounted fan for moving air horizontally; yet another uses convection drying, with no fan at all.
Many different electric dehydrator models are available. One of the most popular is the Excalibur brand featured in the above video. However, the Sedona which is also featured in the video and compared to the Excalibur offers a more elegant easy way to dehydrate raw whole living foods.
The Sedona nine tray digital food dehydrator from Tribest accurately and efficiently distributes heated air, drying foods better and much more evenly when compared to other food dehydrators. Additionally, Sedona’s heating compartment can be divided into two drying chambers offering unsurpassed versatility while using less electricity and eliminating excess waste.
Other food dehydrators claim to be digital but only offer digital timers and do not control the current temperature within the drying chamber. Sedona is the only dehydrator which offers an all digital control panel and is fully automated to accurately control the way your food is dehydrated.
Two digitally controlled fans with heating coils and heat sensors divide Sedona into two drying chambers. Dual Fan Technology allows you to program Sedona to be used at its full capacity or half its capacity. Conveniently choose to dehydrate four, five or nine trays of food at a time for small to large batches of your favorite recipes. Additionally, set Sedona’s already quiet fans to day or night mode for extreme quiet operation.
The Sedona dehydrator is by far, one of the most beautiful, efficient and effective dehydrators on the market.
Food Drying Principles
Dehydrating your own produce does require time and some knowledge of food drying principles.
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 leather.
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 before dehydrating.
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.
Beans, Green or Wax
Peppers / Hot Peppers
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 growth.
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.
Before You Buy A Dehydrator
If you're considering drying speciality items, investigate which models can accommodate your needs. Stick-proof fruitleather sheets, tray screens, jerky spices or kits, and very good handbooks, including recipe books, are sold by most dehydrator dealers.