How To Dehydrate


Preparing Fruits for Dehydration

Most dehydrating machines, no matter which brand or model you choose, are user-friendly. The first step in preparing fruits for the dehydration machine is selecting high-quality fruits.

Fruit should be fresh and at the peak of ripeness. Once you pick or purchase your produce, thoroughly wash it and discard any bruised or damaged pieces. Fruits may need to be peeled, cored or pitted, depending on the particular fruit you are handling.

After fruit has been peeled and sliced, it is advisable to apply a pre-treatment to maintain the color and freshness of the produce. Once certain fruits, such as apples, pears and peaches are sliced, their exposure to air initiates a chemical process called oxidation that results in discolored flesh. Using an antioxidant will temporarily halt the enzyme action and prevent further damage to the texture, flavor and appearance of the fruit. To make this solution, combine a small amount of ascorbic acid (1-2 tsp.) with one cup of water and coat the fruit evenly with the liquid. Learn more about how to dehydrate.

Preparing Vegetables for Dehydration

When preparing your vegetables for dehydration, be sure to select high-quality, unblemished vegetables.

Particularly for certain vegetables such as root vegetables and potatoes, make sure they are thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned prior to dehydration. Similar to fruits, vegetables should be sliced thinly and uniformly for the best results.

Nearly all vegetables should be blanched first. Blanching vegetables halts enzyme action and thereby preserves the color and flavor of the food over time. Because some nutrients may be lost during the blanching process, place the vegetables in boiling water only for the required length of time.

After the vegetables are submerged in ice cold water, carefully dry the foods prior to placing them on trays. Note that a small number of vegetables, like mushrooms and onions, do not need to be blanched prior to dehydration.

Preparing Meat for Dehydration

Mixed sliced fruits on a white platter

Dehydrated meats are delicious and simple to prepare, but do warrant special handling instructions. Only lean meats in excellent condition should be utilized for making jerky. When using ground meat for jerky, it should be at least 93% lean.

All other meat should have its fat thoroughly trimmed prior to slicing.

You might consider applying a marinade beforehand to flavor the meat. If so, keep marinated meats in the refrigerator or freezer before placing them in the dehydrator. After removing the meat from the refrigerator, blot its surface thoroughly to remove excess moisture and place on dehydrator trays. As always, raw meat should be kept away from other foods, and all surfaces and utensils that come into contact with raw meat should be thoroughly cleaned.

After using the dehydrator, experts recommend heating dried meat strips for ten minutes in a 275° F oven or for a longer time at a lower temperature. This additional step reduces any residual chance of contamination by eliminating pathogens, and also produces the most traditional style of jerky with respect to taste and texture.

Preparing Grains, Nuts, Beans and Seeds for Dehydration

Slices of various dried citrus fruits on a textured surface

Nuts, seeds, beans and grains can all be dehydrated using a similar two-step process. First, these foods must be soaked in a water solution. Soaking deactivates anti-nutrients, stimulates nutrients such as iron, potassium and magnesium, and is beneficial to your digestive system. Soak nuts or seeds in a salt brine solution for 12-18 hours. Add ½ tsp. high-quality sea salt for every cup of water. Since wet nuts and seeds are not appealing to most people, you can place the nuts in the dehydrator to create a delicious, crunchy, ready to eat snack. After soaking for the recommended time, drain the water and proceed with instructions for your dehydrating machine.

Using Your Dehydrator Machine

Once the fruits, vegetables, herbs, meat, nuts or grains have been prepped, spread them in thin layers without overlapping on the drying trays. Turn on the dehydrating machine and set the temperature. Drying times vary depending on the dehydrator model you own and the food you are dehydrating. Most dehydrators contain guides that provide recommended temperatures and times for dehydrating specific foods.

In general, it is recommended that fruits and vegetables be dried at 130°-140° F. Meats and fish should be dehydrated at the highest temperature setting on your machine, which is typically between 145°-155° F. When dehydrating meats, it is necessary to use dehydrator models with adjustable temperature controls to ensure a product that is safe for consumption. Dried herbs require a temperature not exceeding 90° F, as aromatic oils in herbs are sensitive to high heat. Nuts, seeds and grains, which also have a high oil content, dry optimally at 90°-100° F. Discover more about dehydrating methods.

Determining Food Readiness

Foods should always be tested for adequate dehydration before removal. Many factors determine the length of time necessary to dehydrate foods, such as the temperature, humidity, type of food, amount of food on the tray, size of the food pieces, and total quantity of food in the machine.

In general, meats should be dehydrated to 20% moisture content, fruits to 10% and vegetables to about 5%. You can analyze the appearance and texture of foods for signs of readiness. It is important to test only a few pieces at a time and allow them to cool before determining whether they are ready.

Checking food for readiness is largely a matter of assessing its structure. Fruits should be pliable, but not totally brittle. Test fruits by cutting them in half; if you cannot squeeze out any moisture, then the fruit are fully dehydrated. Vegetables, however, should be brittle when they are done. Test vegetables by hitting them with a hammer to see if they shatter.

Most fully dehydrated vegetables should break into pieces. Certain vegetables, however, will retain a pliable and leathery texture upon complete dehydration. These include mushrooms, green peppers and squash. To test jerky, bend one piece and see how pliable it is. The meat should bend, but not snap completely like a dry stick. The jerky should present as dark brown to black in color once it is fully dehydrated. Herbs are considered dried when they crumble easily. The stems of the herb should bend and break with little effort.

Recognizing Doneness

Food is done when it is dry enough to prevent bacteria from growing and spoiling the food. Different foods have different moisture requirements for safe food storage. The amount of moisture left in dehydrated food affects its flexibility. The more moisture, the more flexible your dehydrated food will be. You’ll find specific guidelines in each produce entry and in each recipe to test for doneness so you won’t be guessing. But here are some general guidelines for vegetables, fruit, herbs, and meat to get you started.

  • Allow a sample to cool completely before testing for doneness. Most dehydrated food is flexible when warm but will firm up when cooled. If you are in doubt, dehydrate the food for a few more hours. It’s better to dry longer than to stop drying too soon.
  • Vegetables are usually done when they are leathery and brittle. When pressed between the thumb and forefinger, they should snap cleanly in half, without bending.
  • Fruit is done when it is leathery but still flexible, and no soft pockets remain in the fruit. If you find soft, squishy sections, give the fruit more time. When the fruit is done, there will be no soft spots.
  • Herbs are done when the leaves crumble when crushed. Stems should be hard and brittle. If the stems bend, they need more time.
    Meat should be dry and leathery with little flexibility when done, but specific meats vary in the test for doneness.
  • Storage
  • Once your food is properly dehydrated, your job isn’t finished. It’s important to package the food and store it to protect it from spoilage. Moisture, oxygen, and light can degrade your stored food, shortening the shelf life and allowing bacteria to ruin the food.

When stored properly and protected from moisture, heat, and light, dehydrated food can last for up to 10 years. The actual shelf life varies depending on the food, with fruit lasting longer than vegetables because the natural sugar in fruit helps extend its shelf life. (Consult the recipes for specifics on storage needs and the shelf life of individual foods.)

If you see any signs of spoilage, such as off-odors or mold, discard the contents of the package. It is not safe to eat.

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