When it comes to preserving food, one of the easier and more fun ways to create delicious and healthy snacks is dehydration. Many dried products are sold commercially, but most tend to be expensive and often have added ingredients. And besides that, doing it yourself means you can take pride in a snack almost everyone loves.
Depending on what you are dehydrating, the end product can also be used in cooking where it is actually rehydrated. For example, dried apples, bananas or other fruit can be added to oatmeal as it cooks, offering a lot of flavor and nutrition without having to chop up small pieces of it.
As with everything these days, there is a lot of information on the internet on dehydration. WebMD points out that dehydration is one of the oldest methods of preserving foods.
“While our ancestors relied on the sun to dry food. Today we have commercial equipment and home appliances that can remove bacteria-forming moisture. This process preserves food for much longer than its ordinary shelf life,” according to the website.
I also purchased a book, The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook, by Tammy Gangloff, Steven Gangloff and September Ferguson. The book is extremely detailed and contains many recipes.
“Food dehydration uses gentle temperatures (90 degrees to 125 degrees for most items) and an even airflow to slowly remove moisture from foods through a process of evaporation,” according to the book. The authors also note that dehydration compares very favorably with other preservation methods when it comes to preserving nutrients. They cite USDA research showing that freezing results in a 40 to 60 percent loss of nutrients, while canning can result in losses of 60 to 80 percent.
“Home food dehydration, however, produces only an average nutrient loss of 3 percent to 5 percent!”
While the amazingly low figure for nutrient loss is impressive, what strikes me the most with regard to dehydration is the fact that the food is flavor packed in the extreme. It’s simply such a darn good taste.
There are many dehydrators out in the marketplace, and the price ranges from very reasonable ($50 or so) all the way up to expensive commercial sized units. For most of us, a relatively inexpensive home model suits our needs perfectly. It is also possible to dehydrate using the sun or your oven, but generally speaking dehydrators make things easier and more consistent.
Because of the extremely wide variation in dehydrator models, my suggestion to you is to use trial and error. Keep checking your product as you go along.
The main food I dehydrate is apples, but I also make croutons. For croutons, I set my dehydrator on 149 degrees, and I let them go for 3 to 4 hours. I suggest checking and tasting as you go along. Your dehydrator might take 6 hours or even more.
My friends Jim and Janet Kilpatrick of rural Neligh make absolutely delicious banana chips. They set their dehydrator relatively high, maybe around 135 degrees. (The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook recommends 125 degrees for 10 hours.)
I have not had the best luck with banana chips, which I may ha e been slicing too thin. Jim said they slice their bananas about ½-inch thick, compared to most recipes which recommend ¼-inch thick. The couple prefer their chips chewy, so they just keep testing as the fruit dries. But it will likely take 6 hours or more. Jim also said they remove the bananas while they are still warm because after they cool, they are more likely to stick to the tray.
Dehydrated Apples – chewy
Having consistent-sized apple slices is the best way to dehydrate. You can use an apple corer and then slice the apples in approximately ¼-inch thick slices. But I love my apple peeler-slicer-corer. These gadgets also are not terribly expensive . They start at around $16 and go up from there. I use the Victorio Johnny Apple Peeler, which costs around $27.
I do not peel my apples for dehydration because I think the peels add nutrients and flavor. But you can go either way.
As I work with the slices of apples, I put them in a large bowl and use Fruit Fresh to keep them from turning brown. You could also use a soak of 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to one cup of water. It’s not that big a deal if they do darken, but I think the finished product is more attractive if some method of maintaining their color is used.
Dehydrated apples end up naturally sweet, and they need no added sugar. I do sprinkle mine with cinnamon because I love that flavor. But it’s optional.
Some people prefer tart apples, some prefer sweet. I use both. The main thing with regard to apples is to choose firm apples, such as Gala, Fiji, Honeycrisp, or Pink Lady that hold their shape. If you like a more tart flavor, Granny Smith are very good.
One of your biggest decisions when making dried apples is whether you want them chewy or crisp. The longer they dehydrate, the more crispy they become. I like them chewy. Chewy apples that have been dehydrated for less time will not keep as well as those that are more crisp. We usually eat ours rather quickly, but if you are going to keep them for any length of time, I suggest freezing them. They freeze really well. For extra long-term, vacuum-sealing them and then freeing is ideal.
For my dehydrator, I use 122 degrees for at least 4 ½ hours.
And that’s it. Slice, dehydrate, eat. As with a lot of things, sometimes simple is the best.
Editor’s note: We have expanded our series from canning to preserving. “Putting food by” has been practiced historically for generations, and including methods in addition to canning such as dehydrating, smoking and drying, and freezing are all useful in different circumstances. We welcome comments from readers and even recipes if they are fall within generally recognized safety guidelines.
By Alexandra McClanahan
***Not all of our recipes are “USDA APPROVED” We highly recommend that you follow the USDA guidelines when canning and cooking. Our recipes are all “tried and true”….some are recipes our families have passed down for generations, some are just made up from the joy of cooking and canning, some of the recipes that we use are straight from the USDA Canning Book and some are passed along by our dear readers. With all of that being said – can and cook at your own risk. If you feel that a recipe is “unsafe”, simply overlook it and move on. None of us are, “Canning Police” and we all should respect others. Safe in your kitchen and safe in my kitchen – two different things….We won’t criticize your recipes please don’t criticize ours :).
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