Now that summer is in full swing and gardens are producing in abundance, you may be wondering what to do with all you have harvested. Maybe you’ve tried freezing, or even even canning, but what about dehydrating? Try these tips for dehydrating, and preserve some of that summer harvest for later use.
Dehydrating foods is a great way to save foods that you have in surplus, such as fruits and vegetables, for later use. If you preserve your own food regularly, you may already be familiar with how dehydrating works. But if you’re like me, you’re only experience with dehydrated foods might be store bought banana chips from your childhood! If this is the case, dehydrating might seem a little daunting. But have no fear! Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Simple and Easy
I had zero experience with dehydrating food when I set out to use the dehydrator. I was a little nervous that I’d ruin the food. But here’s a secret- it’s not hard! There isn’t much you can do to ruin the food you are dehydrating. If it’s not dry enough, simply leave it in longer. If you accidently dried it too long, add it to a little water to gain a small amount of moisture back.
Dehydrators are easy to use and set up. Following the instructions that come with the dehydrator will help you to get started. The machine will take up little space, has a quick set up and a quick clean up. Once you have prepped your food and placed it in the dehydrator, all you really need to do is wait. Most foods dry at 140º F, but you can visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation website or read So Easy to Preserve from The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension to find different charts showing temperatures and times for dehydrating foods. USU Extension also has an old– but great!–handout on dehydrating, Home Drying of Foods.
2. Proper Preparation
Fruits and vegetables should be washed, cored and sometimes peeled before dehydrating. Almost all vegetables need to blanched to inactivate the enzymes that break down color and flavor during dehydrating. Fruits can be sliced or halved; some can even be left whole to dry. If you slice or cut your food up, remember to cut as evenly as possible. If the pieces are different sizes it could prevent them from drying at the same rate. Food that is cut into thin, uniform pieces will take less time to dry. Blanching is another way to speed up the drying time. When you blanch a fruit or vegetable, it can soften the outer layer which will allow the moisture to escape faster. After blanching grapes, I was a little concerned to see some of the grapes had changed color. But this is normal. So, if there is some color loss after you have blanched your food, don’t panic!
Some fruits, such as apples or bananas, brown when exposed to oxygen. This can be prevented by using a pre-treatment, such as dipping the pieces in lemon juice or an ascorbic acid mixture, to stop the enzyme that causes this reaction. Pre-treatments are not required because this browning does not affect the flavor of the final product, however it can change the look of your final product.
It is important to arrange the food on the drying tray properly. Make sure the pieces do not overlap or touch, as this could cause them to dry unevenly and stick together. There also needs to be room for air circulation, so make sure not to overfill the drying tray. The amount of food you can put on a tray will vary. I fit about two sliced bananas per tray, but this could differ depending on the size of the tray or even the slices.
3. More Than Just Fruit
Don’t limit yourself! While fruit is the most common food associated with dehydrating, you can dehydrate much more than fruit. Both fruits and vegetables can be dehydrated to be used for snacking on or cooking with. They can also be used to make fruit leathers, as well as vegetable leathers. You can find simple recipes to make these, or even get creative and experiment to make your own…whatever you are most comfortable with! Meats can be dehydrated as jerky. This can be done by following a jerky recipe or could simply be done by using pre-cut salami to make ‘chips’ for snacking on. Even herbs, such as basil or oregano, can be dried out, packaged and stored.
4. Patience is a Virtue
Remember to be patient. Different foods will take different amounts of time to be completely dried; some might take a few hours, while others may take a few days. Allowing the food to take as long as it needs is important to ensure it can be stored safely. The time will be well worth it once you have your delicious food, whether you choose to eat it right away or save it for later.
This article was written by Kelsey Chappell, Family and Consumer Sciences Intern, and Melanie Jewkes, Utah State University Extension associate professor, Salt Lake County