What You Should And Should Not Be Dehydrated

Introduction

Fruits and vegetables are the easiest and most forgiving foods to process. Dried fruit can be eaten without rehydrating. It’s a nutrient-dense food that makes an ideal snack. It can be added to oatmeal, muffins, and hot cereal to improve the nutritional quality of simple meals.

Dried vegetables are convenient for soups, stews, sauces, and dips where they can be rehydrated in the cooking process. Aromatic vegetables such as onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and peppers can be used as ingredients in meals on their own or combined into spice blends to add flavor to other dishes.

Lean meat, poultry, and fish can also be dehydrated, provided a few precautions are taken with these high-protein foods. When dehydrating, temperatures should reach 165°F (74°C) to kill any spoilage organisms. If your dehydrator doesn’t go this high, place the food in the dehydrator at 145°F for at least 4 hours, until it is done. Then put it in a preheated oven at 275°F for 10 minutes so that it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

Cured ham can be successfully dehydrated, but pork should never be dehydrated at home or used for jerky. The temperatures used in a home dehydrator cannot destroy the trichinella parasite nor other harmful bacteria that are commonly found in pork.

Raw eggs and milk products do not dehydrate well. They are prone to bacterial contamination at dehydrating temperatures.

Fatty and oily foods cannot be dried adequately in a home dehydrator. The fat won’t dry properly and as a result, the food spoils quickly. This includes high-fat foods such as avocados and olives.

When dehydrating meat, you should remove all visible fat. Only lean meat, poultry, or fish should be used for dehydrating. Ground meat should be no more than 10 percent fat. Fish like salmon and mackerel have too high a fat content to make them good candidates for dehydrating; they can be dried for short-term storage, but they should not be used for long-term storage due to the increased risk of spoilage.

Foods high in sugar or alcohol won’t dry properly. Foods like alcohol-soaked fruit, honey, or candy tend to absorb moisture from the air and resist dehydration.

Benefits of Dehydrating

Everyone comes to dehydrating for different reasons. Some like the convenience and portability of dried food. Others use their dehydrator to preserve their garden veggies. Still others use their dehydrator to make food for hiking or camping trips. I use my dehydrator to preserve produce in season, when it is at the peak of freshness and nutrition. But regardless of your reason for dehydrating food, there are several benefits to dehydrating food that are universal.

Reduction of Spoilage

Dehydrating helps reduce unnecessary food waste. You can stop putting leftovers in the refrigerator and then tossing them in the garbage or compost pile a week or two later when they grow green fuzz. Both leftover vegetables and main dishes can be dehydrated, preserving your investment in healthy food, plus you’ll have future meals for busy days. Dehydrating also allows you to stock up on produce discounts like overripe bananas or onions past their prime. Many grocery stores and produce stands have discount bins where “seconds,” like citrus fruit, apples, sweet peppers, and tomatoes are offered at significant savings. Dehydrating these foods helps you stock your pantry while saving money.

A church in my community collects excess produce from local grocery stores, dehydrates it, and turns it into dried soup mixes and dried fruit for food banks in several nearby towns. Using a commercial dehydrator with 20 trays, they divert 9,000 pounds of produce from the local landfill each month and convert it into nourishing food for hundreds of families.

Extended Lifespan

Jars of dehydrated raspberries and citrus slices on a shelf

When foods are dehydrated, they last longer because the moisture is reduced and the dry food does not encourage the survival of bacteria. The absence of bacteria keeps food in good shape and this can last for as long as three months. When food items are dehydrated, they are sometimes converted into substances that can last a lifetime. Examples are spices such as cinnamon and curry powder which is derived from the dehydration and grinding of curry leaves. In most cases, spices like this can last for several years without getting spoiled.

Waste Reduction

When foods spoil, they reduce the amount of food available for consumption. Some food preservative methods usually give a very short extension before the spoilage of food. In many cases when we buy raw materials in the markets, the ability and knowledge to store them in good conditions help us keep the foods for a long time.

Improvement in Food Taste

The application of heat to reduce the water tastes in foods brings out the original taste of the other constituents of the food. The process of dehydration greatly improves the taste of food. When foods are water-filled, they are sometimes tasteless or acrid. When fruits are dried, the real taste is felt. In most cases, food tastes better when they are dehydrated.

Easy Storage

The fact that dehydrating foods make them easy to be stored is a great advantage of the process. When large bulks of foods are preserved in smaller packages, like the case of milk dehydrated into powder, it aids transportation and storekeeping. Through dehydration, storage is easier as it takes up lesser spaces. Learn more true information about preserving your fish.

Taste (and nutrition)

Dehydrated foods often taste better than when they’re fresh, because their flavors are intensified. Moisture literally “waters down” flavor, so dried fruits taste much sweeter, even without added sugar. Dehydrated mushrooms are so flavorful that many chefs use them as a spice, not a vegetable, while a small handful of sun-dried tomato flavors an entire pasta dish. The icing on the cake is that dehydrated food also maintains their nutritional value. Removing the moisture doesn’t destroy healthy vitamins, minerals, or calories.

Clean-eating

You can buy dried fruits, vegetables, and other snacks at the store, but more often than not, they’re full of sugar and artificial ingredients. Even though dried foods last longer than fresh ones, packaged versions usually contain preservatives to make them last even longer. This is especially true for dried meats, which are not only highly-processed, they’re usually extremely salty. Processed meat has also been classified as carcinogenic, which means it contains chemicals that might cause certain types of cancer! For all of this, you also pay a pretty penny. Making your own dehydrated snacks at home means you have total control over what goes in and what stays out.

Easy to carry around

Close-up of dehydrated orange slices

There aren’t a lot of truly portable snacks and the ones that are, like fruits and vegetables, got easily squished and bruised. When they’re dry, they’re hardened and much more durable. They also don’t take up much space in a bag and they don’t squirt juice everywhere when you’re trying to eat them. Dehydrated food is the way to go if you’re always on the run.

Dehydrating food at home saves money and space, makes clean and tasty snacks, and reduces food waste.

Preservation of Nutrients

Dehydrating food maintains the nutrients in the food before they are dehydrated. Nutrients such as minerals, vitamins and enzymes are absolutely preserved during dehydration. Dehydration is the only method that can ascertain the preservation of nutrients in food particles. Cooking and other preservative methods often lead to loss of nutrients. The entire essence of consuming food is to get benefits from the nutrients, if these nutrients are reduced; the essence of consuming the food has been lost.

Absence of Chemicals

The only substance needed to dehydrate food is the heat added to the food material. Unlike some other preservative methods, it does not involve the addition of chemicals. Dehydrating food therefore makes it safe from the fear of consuming poisonous substances because nothing but heat is added. The dehydrated food will only maintain its initial nutrients and that makes it perfect for consumption.

Economic and Financial Advantages

Dehydrating food makes food last longer. As such, people may buy food in bulk or harvest large quantity of produce and dehydrate it in batches, making it a very convenient method.

Reliability for Emergency Situations

Pile of dehydrated zucchini slices

Dehydrating keeps a person prepared for any emergency that requires immediate need for dehydrated food. Dehydrated food can be very useful for individuals traveling in extreme conditions, such as for mountain climbers and cross-country bike riders.

More Control Over Food Contents

When you prepare your snacks and staple foods at home using your dehydrator, you control every step of the process—especially the ingredients. Healthy snack foods that are low in sugar and salt, or food without allergens, can be made easily in your dehydrator. You can adapt recipes to ensure there is no cross-contamination of food, making dehydrating ideal for families who deal with food allergies.

One member of my family has a serious wheat allergy. Almost all commercially dried or freeze-dried food has an ingredient warning “may contain wheat.” But by drying our own produce and using our dehydrator for snacks and travel food, I have confidence that the food he eats is safe from cross-contamination, even when we are away from home.

Peanut, soy, milk, wheat, and other common allergens are easier to exclude when you provision your pantry with ingredients that you dehydrate yourself. When you make your own meals and snacks from scratch, you’ll no longer need a magnifying glass to read ingredient labels!

You can also control the amount of sugar, starch, artificial colors and flavoring, and other chemical additives when you dry your own food at home. If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, using your dehydrator to make meals or pantry items can help you reach your personal goals.

Raw foodies can control the temperature at which the food is dried, ensuring high availability of enzymes, vitamins, and minerals for their special dietary needs. Discover more important topic about fermented foods.

Time, Space & Savings

Investing in a dehydrator ultimately saves you money. Buying produce in bulk—and in season—offers considerable savings over grocery-store prices. Fruit, vegetables, and nuts can be purchased in bulk directly from local farms, and then dehydrated while at their peak of flavor and nutrition, at significant savings over buying fresh or even frozen vegetables.

Last fall, I picked up a 20-pound bag of Walla Walla onions for $20 and a 25-pound bag of sweet peppers for $10 from the bargain bin at a farm stand. Walla Walla onions are $3 per pound at my grocery store, and sweet peppers are $4 to $5 per pound. That’s a savings of almost $200! In just a few days, I dried all the onions in my dehydrator. I divided the peppers by color and dried the red ones first while waiting for the green ones to ripen.

The dried onions and peppers took up significantly less space in my pantry than the big bags of onions and peppers I brought home. Those two huge bags were reduced to four 1-quart jars and a pint jar that are much easier to store in my modest pantry.

Filling your dehydrator takes a little time, but it saves you time in the long run. Your dehydrated foods become convenience items once they are stored in jars in your pantry. It’s so much faster to grab dried onions when you need them than to cut up a raw onion while making dinner. Think of the time it takes to prepare food for your dehydrator, and package it when it’s done, as an investment in future convenience.

Emergency Preparedness

Dehydrated food is ideal for emergency food storage. Whether you are preparing for a weather event, a period of unemployment, or a natural disaster, having a 30-day supply of nutritious food on hand is wise.

Dehydrating food your family already eats ensures that you have as little disruption as possible in a real emergency. By stocking your pantry with dehydrated food that you’ve prepared from wholesome ingredients, you can be assured that your family’s nutritional needs are met, even if you can’t get to the grocery store.

Dehydrated food, when properly prepared and packaged for long-term storage, can form the foundation of a robust preparedness plan. Taking the extra step to package your dehydrated food in Mylar bags or glass jars with oxygen absorbers ensures that your dehydrated food will still be fresh and retain its nutrients in storage.

But even minor disruptions can be helped by having the convenience of dehydrated food in your pantry. An extra dinner guest, sickness in the house, or an unexpected bill doesn’t have to shake your confidence. Having dehydrated ingredients to make your favorite comfort foods already in your pantry can help you move through even minor inconveniences with grace.

High Nutritional Value

When food is dehydrated, the water is removed, but the nutrition in the food remains stable. The flavor and nutrients become more concentrated, and the caloric value remains the same. Dehydrated food has the same calories, protein, fiber, and carbohydrates as fresh food. It also retains the same minerals, fatty acids, and antioxidants as fresh food, as well as most of the vitamins. Dehydrated food retains many of these nutrients in storage, even over several months and years.

There is some loss of vitamin C and some B vitamins during blanching, because some of these water-soluble vitamins are lost in the blanching water. Vegetables that are blanched before dehydrating have the same vitamins as frozen food, but dehydrated food has a longer shelf life. This vitamin loss can be minimized by blanching with steam before dehydrating, rather than immersing vegetables in boiling water prior to dehydrating.

Hikers and athletes benefit from the concentration of nutrients provided by dehydrated foods, allowing them to eat less while maintaining their energy levels.

To ensure that your dehydrated food retains the most nutrition, it should be dehydrated at its peak of ripeness, when the flavor, color, and texture are best. Vegetables that are past their prime and are fading in color, scent, or flavor will not make quality dried vegetables. Skip over the fading-green kale in the refrigerator vegetable bin. Choose the most vibrant-colored vegetables to get the most nutrition from your dehydrated food.

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