Photo: Shutterstock/ Brent Hofacker
Do you dream of making your own dried fruit snacks? (They’re one of our favorite after-school munchies!) Wish you could have perfectly chewy sun-dried tomatoes on demand? Well, food dehydrators might just be the tool for you. These nifty gadgets are easier to use than you may have thought and can help preserve fruits and vegetables well past their normal shelf life.
The act of preserving food through drying techniques has been a human practice for hundreds of years. Fruits, vegetables and meat can be preserved in a number of ways (fermentation, for example) but dehydrating foods is one of the easiest methods for home cooks. Because moisture allows for the growth of bacteria, food dehydrating safely and efficiently removes any moisture from food, allowing it to keep for longer. Using a food dehydrator is a great way to take advantage of the abundance of in-season produce and will keep you stocked with healthy, homemade snacks all year long.
Let’s start with produce. To get started, make sure you have clean, ripe fruits and veggies. Slice the food into the size and shape you want, but make sure to slice them all uniformly. If you’re using apples, make sure to remove the seeds and slice all of the pieces into similarly sized cuts. Remember that the thinner you slice the apple, the faster moisture will evaporate. Thicker pieces will take longer.
Next, make sure to preserve the color of your fruits and veggies so your snacks look just as fresh as they taste. For stone fruits like apples and pears, drizzle them with lemon or lime juice before drying in order to preserve color. For green veggies like broccoli, spinach, peas and celery, try blanching them in boiling water (for 1-2 minutes) and shocking them in ice water first. After a few minutes in the ice water, remove and set on paper towels to dry off excess water.
After your produce is prepped feel free to add any sugar, salt or spices you want. Dried herbs are a great addition to dehydrated veggies like dried tomatoes (try our sun-dried tomato, artichoke and spinach dip). Place the sliced and seasoned goodies in one single layer on the drying trays (being careful not to overlap, or this will slow drying time). Place the trays back in the dehydrator and set the timer for 6 to 12 hours, depending on what types of produce you’re working with. Remember that drying time will vary based on the type of food, the size and shape of the pieces, the temperature, humidity, and plenty of other factors, so be ready to check your goodies multiple times as you near the end of the drying cycle. Once drying is complete store your snacks in airtight containers and get snacking!
Level up and dehydrate meat
Dehydrating meat, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. Although the idea of removing moisture is the same for both animal products and vegetables, dehydrated meat also needs to be cooked beforehand to destroy any potential bacteria. To start, marinate the meat, remove any excess fat and cook it thoroughly by roasting or boiling to at least 160 degrees. This will guarantee that all bacteria is killed. Next, cut into strips and lay the meat out in a single layer in your food dehydrator, and feel free to add any salt or spices you like. Dry the meat for about 8 to 12 hours, until the strips begin to bend and crack, but not snap in half. Store your homemade jerky in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
And it’s really that simple! If you enjoy preserving, a food dehydrator is definitely a worthy investment. Less waste, more healthy foods all year ’round. It’s a win-win!