Whether you’re using it for food storage, snacks, or camping, using a dehydrator to dry your own food can be a great money saver—plus you know your food was fresh before it was dehydrated! There are a lot of different variables to consider when dehydrating fruits, veggies, and meats, so this is a basic how-to that will work as a jumping off point.
What you need:
- A dehydrator (like the Excalibur, L’Equip, or American Harvest)
- Cutting board
- Air-tight containers/freezer bags
- Provident Pantry Iodized Salt, Provident Pantry White Sugar, spices
- Ascorbic acid or citrus juice
- Pot with boiling water for blanching (a method of partially cooking fruits or vegetables in boiling water before dehydrating them. Blanching makes it easier to peel produce and helps to keep their colors vibrant and bright instead of turning gray in the dehydrator.)
How to Prep Your Foods and Use Your Dehydrator:
1. Collect your ingredients. If you’re using fruits or vegetables make sure they’re of good quality and not bruised or overripe as this will impact the quality of your dehydrated goods.
2. Prepare ingredients. This will vary depending on what you are using, but this means cleaning, hulling, and slicing produce or cutting up meat. The important thing is to maintain consistency in the thickness of your slices/pieces to ensure drying at an even rate.
- Fruit: If desired, treat fruits prone to oxidation with citrus juice or ascorbic acid to help retain color throughout the process. You may also need to crack the skins of tough fruits (grapes, berries) to allow the moisture to evaporate.
- Vegetables: For most vegetables, a short blanching in boiling water will help speed the drying process and help maintain color. Three to five minutes should be enough.
3. Season. This step is optional, but if desired you can add salt, sugar, or spices.
4. Load. Take all of your pieces and load onto the dehydrator trays without overlapping pieces.
5. Go! Turn on your dehydrator immediately after loading. Consult your owner’s manual for recommended drying times and other specific instructions. Expect it to take anywhere from 6-12 hours.
6. Check. As you get close to the end of drying time, you can check to see if your pieces are done! To check, remove a piece from the dehydrator and allow it to cool. Feel it with your fingers. If it feels dry to the touch, then it is probably done. An additional test can be done by cutting open pieces to see if there are any moisture beads. Another option is putting warm pieces into a plastic bag to see if condensation forms. If any moisture is present after trying one of these three tests, you need to dry them out more.
7. Cool. Allow your pieces to cool for 30-60 minutes before packing (they should be completely cool to the touch).
- Conditioning Dried Fruits: Because fruits retain a small amount of moisture, it is necessary to condition them before storage. Conditioning is a method of protecting the fruit from spoilage, especially from mold. Place loosely in a jar until about 2/3 full. Lightly cover. Shake once a day for 7-10 days. If condensation appears on the jar, the fruit needs to be returned to the dehydrator for further drying. Repeat conditioning process if more drying is necessary.
8. Store. Place in air-tight containers or plastic freezer bags (remove all air) and store in a cool, dry place. When properly stored, dehydrated foods usually last about a year.
To learn more tips about how to prepare your foods for a dehydrator, check out our blog post “ Preparedness Skills: Dehydrating Basics.”
That’s it, a basic how-to for using a dehydrator. Isn’t it easy? Time to go make some tasty snacks!
For all those with years of experience using a dehydrator, what other tips would you give beginners for dehydrating fruits, vegetables, and meats?