For the last few weeks I have been borrowing my neighbor’s American Harvest Dehydrator to learn the process of drying and preserving apples, potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, pumpkin seeds and more. This has truthfully been an interesting (and FUN!) experience. And by far, one of the easiest ways to preserve food.
General Drying Guidelines
There are no absolutes and quite a few variables in food dehydration. This made me nervous at first as I like to have complete control of my environment, but I learned that the lack of absolutes was “my friend” because it allowed me to dry foods and still run my everyday life. The only way become proficient, as my neighbor advised, is to dry, dry, and dry some more. Certain varieties of produce, the humidity in the air, and even methods of food handling make a difference in the drying time and quality of dried product.
Drying times vary (6- 12 hours for some!) depending on the type and amount of food, thickness and evenness of the slices, percentage of water in the food, humidity, temperature of the air, altitude and the model of the dehydrator you use. Drying times may very greatly depending day to day depending on climatic conditions. What I recommend: Keep a record to help predict future drying times for specific foods.
Fruits, fruit rolls and vegetables should be dried in the American Harvest Dehydrator at 130 degrees- 140 degrees F (55- 60 degrees C). By drying foods in this temperature range you will minimize the loss of heat-sensitive vitamins A and C.
Meats and fish should be dried on the highest temperature setting possible. Since meats and fish do not contain vitamins A and C, these higher temperatures do not affect nutritional value. These temperatures also keep bacteria and other spoilage micro-organisms, common to meats and fish, to minimum during the first stages of drying when they tend to multiply. My recommendation: DON’T DRY FISH INDOORS… or ANYWHERE near an open window. Yeah… that is not a pleasant aroma in the house.
Nuts and seeds are high in oil, and if higher temperatures are used, they will become rancid, developing off flavors. The best drying temperature for them is from 90- 100 degrees F (30 – 40 degrees C).
Herbs and spices are most flavorful when they first open and should be harvested while fresh, before they begin to blossom. Because the aromatic oils are very sensitive, temperatures should be 90- 100 degrees F (30 – 40 degrees C) for drying. Herbs generally dry in an hour or two. Take cre not to load the trays too heavily as this will prolong drying time.
Package all dried foods promptly to prevent contamination by insects and to prevent stickiness and re-hydration caused by humidity. Store dried foods in airtight, moisture proof containers. I like home vacuum packaging devices as it can extend the life of dried foods 3 to 4 times longer.
I recognize that I only covered the basics here in the post, so I recommend either purchasing or borrowing a dehydrator yourself to test this type of food preservation. Although I was nervous at first, I have really enjoyed working with a food dehydrator because it is SO EASY to use. Just two days ago, I made a beef stew for my family for supper and added a handful of the potatoes I dried two weeks ago. I was surprised how the potatoes re-hydrated so quickly, and nothing was “off” about the taste or texture.
Just remember: have fun.
To see Food Preservation Part One: Basics… go here: http://wp.me/pRa1N-8s