Drying food is one of the oldest and safest ways of food preservation. Since bacteria thrive in moist surroundings, the removal of moisture prevents bacterial growth in food. This increases the shelf life of food from several days to several months or even years. Unlike olden times when our ancestors used to rely on the sun to dry out food, nowadays we utilize electrical appliances that are made specifically to dry food. They are referred to as food dehydrators.
How does a food dehydrator work?
A food dehydrator is an electronic appliance that takes away moisture from food to preserve it for future consumption. With no moisture, the rate of bacterial growth in food is inhibited, and this significantly reduces the rate of decay.
For a smooth dehydrating process, a dehydrator utilizes a combination of a heating element and built-in fan that evenly distributes the heat to all the food. Once the food is properly dehydrated, it can then be stored in tightly sealed jars to prevent rehydration from moisture in the air and also to prevent bacterial and mold buildup.
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Is dehydrated food healthy?
Just because the food is dry does not make it bad or withered. The reality of the matter is that dried food is as healthy as fresh food. The only difference is that dried food contains very little moisture, while fresh produce has a high moisture content.
The fact that bacteria cannot reside or replicate in dry food makes dehydrated food a healthier alternative to normal food. Furthermore, the dried food retains most of the vitamins and nutrients after the dehydration process. The dehydrating machine utilizes very low heat so that the food does not burn or get denatured in the process.
Types of Electric Food Dehydrators
Although there are so many brands of electric food dehydrators in the market today, the reality is that these appliances are generally categorized into two: Vertical Flow dehydrators and Horizontal Flow dehydrators.
Vertical Flow Dehydrators
Otherwise referred to as stackable dehydrators, these appliances have a heat source that is either located at the bottom or the top of the unit. They are referred to as vertical dehydrators because they draw air through the bottom and direct them vertically to the trays. They are usually round and feature food trays that are stacked on top of each other.
They are also smaller with compact designs and affordable. When it comes to proper airflow and heat distribution, they pale in comparison to horizontal dehydrators. As a result, they are more effective on most fruits and vegetables, but not so efficient on meats. You will also need to get your hands dirty with these types of dehydrators, as they require you to manually rotate the trays from top to bottom for them to properly dry up the food.
Horizontal Flow Dehydrators
These dehydrators are also referred to as shelf tray dehydrators because their trays are arranged in a fashion similar to a shelf design. They have a heating source at the back and air is also drawn from the back and moved horizontally across the trays. They are usually cubed/cubic in shape with side doors, where trays are installed or dislodged individually.
You can load or unload a single tray, without affecting the other trays in the unit. This is not possible for vertical dehydrators where you have to remove the top trays to access the ones in the middle or at the bottom.
Horizontal dehydrators come in various sizes ranging from small units with four shelves, ideal for a home setting to large units with more than 24 shelves that are used for commercial purposes. They are the best type of dehydrators and can handle tough nuts and foods with a lot of fluids. They can also be used to dehydrate meats and make beef jerky.
Best Electric Dehydrators for Fruits
Dehydrating fruits can be very challenging if you select the wrong type of dehydrator. Horizontal dehydrators are the best when it comes to handling the excessive juices on fruits. They are however expensive and may be above your budget. Stackable units will most definitely fall within your budget, but they cannot be compared to horizontal dehydrators.
In case you choose to go with a stackable unit, you need to understand how they are built. Most stackable dehydrators have a heating element and fan at the base. They also come with plastic trays with grid spaces where heat and air pass through.
Placing fruits on top of them could result in juices flowing down to the base. Luckily, the heating elements and fans are usually encased, and the chances of them getting spoilt are very low. The problem is with the heat and air vents, where the juices could easily trickle into.
Cleaning these vents could pose a problem and may become breeding grounds for bacteria. A unit with a top-mounted heater and fan is the best choice, as it will come with a base plate that will collect all the juices. Though it will not be as effective as a horizontal dehydrator, you will able to get rid of all the flowing juices easily.
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How to Dehydrate Fruits
The first step is to chop the fruits into tiny equal pieces to increase the surface area for the dehydration. The tiny fruit pieces should then be arranged on the trays, without overlapping them or placing one piece on top of the other. Each tray should have one type of fruit to avoid disturbances since different fruits have different drying lengths.
The next step is to set the right temperature that will dry the fruits completely without cooking or burning them. Most dehydrators come with a manual with instructions on how to dry various food types.
If you are using a vertical flow dehydrator, then rotation of trays will be required. This is very important because the heating element and air flow is from the bottom. This means that trays at the bottom are likely to experience a faster drying process than the trays at the top.
While rotating the trays, you will be required to check if the fruit pieces are dry, especially the ones that dehydrate quickly. A simple way to do this is by cutting a piece into two, a completely dry piece will release no moisture. The last process is the storage of the dried fruits. They should be kept in an air proof jar to prevent it from coming into contact with moisture.
The fruits should be completely dry before storage to increase their lifespan. If you notice the fruits still have some moisture content after the drying session, then it is advisable to return them to the dehydrator for two or more hours until they become totally dry.
The most recommended containers are airtight glass jars. However, you can use vacuum sealers because they lock all the air out. As an added incentive to keep air completely out, you may use a small-sized food grade oxygen absorber. The container should then be stored in a dark place that is cool and dry.
Best Electric Dehydrators for Mushrooms
Mushrooms decay at a faster rate than most foods and even storing them in the refrigerator will do nothing to prevent them from going bad. Dehydrating mushrooms is the only solution for preserving them for a long time.
Due to their delicate nature, it is not advisable to use just any regular appliance to dehydrate them. One of the factors you need to consider when looking for the right dehydrator for mushrooms is the temperature setting.
Do not go for a model with a fixed temperature setting, as it will not be possible to dry mushrooms with just one temperature. Mushrooms require a temperature range between 90 F and 125 F and more than 8 hours to dehydrate fully.
Also, the model should come with a built-in timer to alert you when the dehydrating process matures. Alternatively, it may have an auto shutoff function, which will turn off the dehydrator once the process is completed.
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How to Dehydrate Mushrooms
The first step is to clean the mushrooms. It is not advisable to dehydrate dirty mushrooms, as you will not be able to clean them in the future. Soak them up in water for the dirt in the hidden pockets to dissolve. You may also use a vegetable brush to scrub off the stubborn dirt.
Some people prefer using a brush only for fear that the mushrooms would soak in a lot of water. However, this is not true. Mushrooms have very low retention ability when it comes to water. The cleaned mushrooms have to be sliced into tiny pieces, preferably no bigger than ½ inch pieces.
If you prefer thicker pieces, no problem. Thicker pieces take longer to dry. The next step is to arrange them so that they do not touch or sit on top of each other. Then, you need to set the right temperature. Some people prefer starting with low heat and then adjusting to a higher heat for the remainder of the time.
For instance, you may start at 90 F for three hours and then switch it up to 125?F for another 10 hours. However, you may set at it 110 F and let the mushrooms dry overnight. You should let the mushrooms cool, before storing them in a glass jar or zip lock bag with an oxygen absorber.
Best Electric Dehydrators for Nuts
The process of dehydrating nuts is the same as that of fruits and mushrooms mentioned above. The only difference is that nuts do not need to be sliced since they are already tiny.
Also, nuts can be dried perfectly by both types of dehydrators. The most important thing to consider is that the dehydrator should have the lowest temperature settings, preferably less than 100?F. Also, having a unit with a timer will allow you to program it to shut off after some time.
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How to Dehydrate Nuts
The first step is to soak the nuts in water for several hours. This is an important step because nuts and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors, which act as mechanisms for preservation until they are ready for planting.
These enzyme inhibitors prevent their nutrients from being properly digested and absorbed in our bodies. The soaking softens up the nuts and creates a false impression of germination, which then deactivates the inhibitors. All nuts have different soaking times with the tough ones like almonds and hazelnuts taking up to 12 hours.
Once the soaking is done, you will have to arrange the nuts so that they do not stick to each other. You can then set the right temperature and timer and then wait for the dehydrator to do its magic. The recommended temperature should be between 95 and 100 F, and the whole process should take about 24 hours depending on the type of dehydrator you are using.
You will also need to rotate the trays once in a while when you’re dealing with a stackable dehydrator. You should let the nuts cool after the drying process and store them in an air proof glass jar or a ziplock bag. Fully dehydrated nuts should have a crispy-crunchy taste.
Food Dehydrator Buying Guide
The main goal of all food dehydrators is to remove water from the food to preserve it for a long time and also to retain all its nutritious value.
Unfortunately, not all dehydrators are effective, and it is imperative that you do some background check before deciding which dehydrator is the right one for you. Here are the factors that you should look out for when purchasing the best electric food dehydrators.
Heat and Air Distribution
A food dehydrator uses heat and air to dry food. For this process to be successful, the heat has to be consistent throughout and also evenly distributed to all areas of the unit so that all food is covered.
Since the heat source is kept in one location, a dehydrator requires a fan that will facilitate proper heat distribution to the farthest regions of the appliance. It is important that the appliance you choose has the right heat and air distribution to dry food effectively.
Horizontal flow dehydrators have the best heat and air distribution since the heating element is located on the back and the distribution of heat and air is horizontal along the trays. Despite having fans, vertical flow dehydrators are not very efficient heat distributors, especially when the racks are above 10. It is due to this reason that they require their racks to be rotated regularly to prevent the food from drying unevenly.
Size and Space
How much space have you reserved for the dehydrator? If you have limited space, then going for a small countertop model would be the wisest thing to do. Stackable dehydrators are generally smaller and take up the least footprint since the trays are placed on top of each other.
If you have enough floor space, then you can opt for a larger shelf tray dehydrator. However, the size of the dehydrator should depend on your needs. There is no need of purchasing a large and costly appliance when you are less likely to use it.
How much food do you want dehydrated at a time? If you plan to prepare small batches at a time, then go for a model with the least capacity. A vertical flow dehydrator will fit your needs perfectly in this case. You need to understand that vertical flow dehydrators are modifiable. You can use a few trays if you want to dry a small quantity of food. You may also add more trays when you want to dehydrate a large batch of food.
The only drawback with them is that their effectiveness reduces, as more trays are stacked and you will need to rotate the trays to dry up the food properly. If you plan to dehydrate large batches regularly like in a commercial setting, then we would recommend the horizontal flow dehydrators. Although they are not modifiable, they are very efficient when it comes to large batches.
Ease of Use
All food dehydrators are actually easy to use. However, there is the inconvenience of rotating trays to ensure all food is evenly dehydrated. This can be very frustrating and physically challenging, especially if you are dealing with food that takes more than 12 hours to dry.
You will need a model that does not require you to monitor it consistently or one that will allow you to concentrate on other businesses without a single worry that something may go wrong. Horizontal flow dehydrators do not require rotating of trays and are convenient.
Another factor to consider is the ease of cleaning. A unit with parts that are dishwasher safe is very convenient, as you will be required to manually clean very few parts. Also, consider the location of the fan. Is it located in an area that is easily accessed for stress-free cleaning?
Fans placed at the top are the most accessible and easiest to clean. Fans tend to accumulate dust and are a health hazard if not properly cleaned regularly. The last thing you want is for the fan to blow dust and particles on your food.
This refers to the amount of power released by the dehydrators. The higher the wattage, the higher the heat released and the faster the drying process. High wattage units use more energy, and they are also very expensive. Lower wattage units are less powerful and take longer to dry up the food. However, they consume less energy and are cheaper to buy and maintain. They are ideal in a home setting, while the high wattage units are ideal in a commercial business.
The primary role of dehydrators is to preserve food by drying it. However, what most people do not know is that these appliances can be used to do other tasks as well. For instance, they can be used to make yogurt, proof bread dough, make dog treats, dry paper-mâché, make potpourri and also make paper. With a versatile unit, you will be able to do so many things with just one unit.
While many dehydrators only come with an On/Off switch, they are not convenient as they will require you to be present at all times to prevent the food from scorching. To be on the safe side go for a model with a built-in timer, which will allow you to do other work. The timer will alert you when the drying session is over.
An adjustable thermostat is an essential feature of a dehydrator that you should definitely consider. A thermostat will allow you to set, change and maintain the temperature. This is very important because foods require different dehydrating temperatures.
You will need a thermostat to make the necessary changes when you are drying different food types at the same time. Luckily, most thermostats have a temperature range of 95 to 155 F, which is just right for most foods.
This is a safety measure to ensure that there are no fire hazards and the food does not get burned. With this feature, the dehydrator will switch off automatically after some time. This is especially convenient at night when you have to dry the food overnight without supervision.
Since they all come with a fan, they all produce noise, but the degree is what differs from one model to the other. If you prefer a serene and quiet environment, then go for a less noisy model.
Unfortunately, this information is not listed in the product description of most models, and you will have to do a bit of digging on your own. Since you will be dehydrating food on rare occasions, we would advise you not to delve much about the issue of noise.
All dehydrators are either made up of plastic or metallic components. If durability is an issue to you, then you should opt for metallic units. However, you should avoid dehydrators with parts made from aluminum and galvanized metal, as they are easily corroded by acids from foods.
They also leach chemicals back into food. Go for a unit with plastic or stainless steel trays as they do not react with foods. Plastic units are not really fragile and can really last a long time if they are not subjected to a lot of accidents. You should ensure however that the plastics are food grade with no BFA.
The best thing about most dehydrators is that they are versatile and you can use them to dry many types of food. They come in a wide range of prices with the cheapest models costing less than $100 and the most expensive ones going for several thousand dollars. If you are sick and tired of using the sunlight method to dry food, then you need to own one of these appliances.