Learning How to Dehydrate Food
The Living Enzyme Method Makes the Best Dehydrated Food
Knowing how to dehydrate food is a matter of survival for many. I learned food preservation methods from my grandmother. Her pantry is still an object of my envy.
Learning from her meant I canned everything and froze some things. After losing a full upright freezer of food during a power outage, I decided to find a better way than freezing. I went back to canning the foods I had been freezing, but space was an issue.
I saw an ad for Excalibur dehydrators and began my research. For our second anniversary, my husband purchased a nine tray Excalibur for me. I became hooked.
For every two quart jars of peas I put up canned, I only had to use one quart jar of dehydrated peas for the same amount. This meant I would need about half the space for dehydrated food as I would canned food. This was important to me.
Every dehydrator comes with a guide on how long it will take your particular machine to dehydrate each food. Be sure to consult your guide since each one dries the moisture out of the foods based on its design and power.
How Does Dehydration Work?
Just like with our bodies, food contains moisture. When the moisture is removed from the food, it’s dehydrated. Using the sun to dry foods is the oldest form of food preservation there is.
Air flow is created inside the dehydrator by a fan. This fan draws in room air, heats it, and blows it over each tray of food. Quality dehydrators have thermostats which cause the air temperature to rapidly rise causing moisture to evaporate from the food quickly.
As the food dehydrates on the outer layer, moisture is pulled from the center of the food to the outside and continues to dry. Because the air temperature goes up and down based on the process of evaporation, the actual temperature of the food remains lower. Once all of the moisture is gone from the food, the food temperature will rise as it equalizes with the air temperature.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Time, temperature, air circulation and the preparation of the food for dehydration are all factors which have a direct result on your success with dehydrating foods.
Your location, humidity, temperature and the kind of food you’re drying all affect drying times. It’s a general rule which says “the more surface area exposed; the faster the drying time.” This is the reason it’s important to uniformly slice foods so you have a consistent drying time.
Some people think if you increase the temperature, you decrease the drying time, but this simply isn’t the case. By increasing the temperature, you will harden the outer layer and actually seal moisture in the food.
Each food has some preparation recommended before dehydration. The book which came with my Excalibur had detailed information for all food groups and plenty of recipes. I, however, use the living foods method of dehydration so I don’t blanch or otherwise heat the foods before dehydrating.
Living Foods Method of Dehydration
Enzymes are easily destroyed by heat, especially moist heat. After dehydration by the Living Foods Method, the enzymes can withstand the higher temperatures of cooking. I don’t know about other dehydrators but on mine, the temperature setting refers to the temperature of the food, not the air temperature.
Temperatures above 120 degrees F/49 degrees C destroy the living enzymes in food. The Living Enzyme Method is to set the initial temperature high and after two hours turn it down to 118-120 degrees F. If you’re like me, you can’t always be around or remember to go turn the temperature down.
The other way to achieve this method of dehydration is to set the temperature somewhere between 105 F/41 C and 120 F/49 C. When you use this lower temperature, the dehydration process will take longer, but you won’t have to remember to turn the thermostat down.
Traditional canning methods subject foods to higher temperatures. When raw food is heated to an internal temperature of 120 degrees F or higher, much of the nutritional value is lost. Water soluble vitamins and minerals are leached out into the water during the canning process. This further depletes the nutritional value of raw food.
Health and Ease of Storage
While knowing how to dehydrate food requires you to purchase a dehydrator, canning and freezing also require investment. With canning you have to purchase the canner, jars, lifters and various other equipment. With freezing, you have to have a freezer and be prepared to lose your food in the event of a power failure, unless you have a backup power supply.
With dehydration, there’s not much preparation, you don’t have to worry about dealing with hot water, pressure gauges or cracked jars. Dehydrated produce can be kept in air tight jars, bags, buckets or boxes. Many people use air packets in their jars to take up excess air and aid in sealing. They have a shelf life of indefinite time, practically forever!
There are so many ways to use your dehydrator. Jerky is a snap to make and a great way to preserve meat. Make healthy yogurt, yes, yogurt. Try drying mushrooms, herbs, flowers, fruit or even raise dough. I like to buy fruit and mushrooms on sale and dehydrate them.
When you preserve your own foods, whether with dehydration, canning, freezing or freeze drying, you have the peace of mind in knowing what’s in your food. You know there are no additives or preservatives in them. You can serve them to your family knowing there are no nasty unknown fillers either.
Do I still use a canner? Yes, I do. I like canning my tomatoes and making tomato sauce from scratch. I’ve read about dehydrating tomatoes and even broth for making your own bullion. This is something I will be trying in the near future.
A handy tip about using dehydrated food in cooking. Remember, a little goes a long way. When food is dehydrated, it looks much smaller. The first time I made soup using dehydrated ingredients, I couldn’t wrap my head around how few onions and peppers it seemed I put in so I added more. We wound up having onion pepper soup with veggies! I learned that lesson the hard way.
Learning how to dehydrate food is fun and easy. Can you share your dehydration tips or recipes with us? Do you have a favorite dehydrator and why is it your favorite?
Safe and Happy Journey,