My dehydrator is one of my most used and valued kitchen appliances. My parents gifted it to our family last year and it has been buzzing in the kitchen ever since! During the Summer months it runs on a weekly basis to process the abundant produce that our backyard vegetable garden produces. A large harvest from the garden is a wonderful thing but it can also induce a little anxiety if it is a continuously large harvest of the same vegetable! For a small family, after a few days it can be overwhelming to have 5 zucchini still remaining on the kitchen bench (with more ripening in the garden).
I aim to make the best use of the beautiful fresh produce that we grow and I would be devastated to waste any of it. The dehydrator removes the stress of having to cook all of the produce at this busy time of the year.
A dehydrator is equally useful across the other seasons but Summer is the prime production time in my garden, thus I tend to use it more often at this time. My aim this year is to use it more often across the other seasons to take advantage of in season fruit at those times.
How does it work?
Water is removed from the food item by a continuous circulation of thermostatically controlled air.
Four Reasons to Buy a Dehydrator:
1. Preserve and use at a later date
- Dehydrated produce is easy to store. Once dehydrated it takes up minimal space with some items able to be reduced to a powder. This makes it easy to store large volumes of produce easily
- Dehydrated produce may be frozen if desired
- Removing the moisture from the produce ensures good storage duration
- Dry home made fresh pasta – make a large batch and dry the pasta that you are not using on the day
- Keep a well stock pantry with ingredients always on hand for baking and cooking
Examples of things you can preserve to use later: tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, stone fruit, apples, figs, – almost any fruit or vegetable can be dehydrated.
Dried fruit or fruit leathers are a great lunch box treat for the kids, or to take to work, especially when you have run out of fresh fruit.
2. Avoid Waste
This reason is linked with the one above. When you have a larger quantity of fruit or vegetables than you can not easily eat it can be processed in the dehydrator for use later. There is no need to discard the excess you can not eat.
Using a dehydrator is simple process, so I admit that this encourages me to use it to process many items that sometimes overwhelmed me in the past. A dehydrator is a set and forget method of food storage. Simply slice, set the timer and walk away from the machine until it is finished.
Take tomatoes as an example of the variety of applications. Using the dehydrator they can be semi dried and placed in oil (or not), dried, powdered, or pureed for reconstitution.
3. Cost Effective
- Buy or use produce when it is in season and abundant. This is when it has the highest nutritional value and is the cheapest to purchase
- Dry your own home grown herbs
- Make food gifts for friends such as herb salts
- It is cheaper to dehydrate your own fruit, or in season fruit to use for cooking rather than to purchase it
4. Healthy option to preserve food
- Make your own healthy snacks – there is no need to buy muesli bars, dried fruit or fruit leathers at the store. You can make your own healthier (additive free) versions at home.
- I mostly avoided dried fruit prior to getting our dehydrator as most dried fruit contains sulphates. An additive that I am not happy for my children to consume. If you are dehydrating food that you have grown in your garden you know that it is chemical/additive free/sulphate free
- Dehydration is the best way to preserve the essence of raw fruit and vegetables
Examples of things you can make include:
- Vegetable and fruit chips
- Fruit leathers
- Fruit bars
- Yogurt bars
Vegetables may be reconstituted for use in meals at a later time. They will return to almost their original size, form and appearance with minimal loss of vitamins and minerals* (Source: Excalibut dehydration guide)
- The flavor of dehydrated foods is intensified, be aware of this when determining mixtures for food like fruit leathers
- Wash and dry the fruit prior to processing
- Slice fruit or vegetable pieces evenly
- Ensure that the end product is adequately dried or mold is likely to grow
- If you are not sure if your food is adequately dried put some in an air tight bag and check in a few minutes if there are any water droplets in the bag. If there are you will need to continue drying for additional time. Some small fogging is normal as the food cools* (Source: Excalibur Dehydration Guide)
- Fruits with very high water content do not work as well as other fruit
- Set the machine up in an area where there is adequate ventilation around it
- Many fruits will discolor when dried and may be dipped in water with the juice of a lemon to prevent this. Blot dry prior with absorbent cloth prior to adding to the machine
- If nuts are added to a fruit leather they should be refrigerated as the oil content in the nuts will reduce the shelf life
- Allow the dehydrated items to cool before storing in air tight storage containers
- Drying time is dependent on the water content of the fruit, the size that you have sliced or spread the fruit/mixture and also humidity.
Here are some of the things that I discovered when researching machines. You may like to consider some of these things:
- I strongly recommend that you purchase the largest (volume) machine that you can afford. Fruit and vegetables shrink significantly in size when they are dehydrated but they go into the machine large. If you wish to dry 3 kilos of apricots in one session it will require a large number of trays. Base your size on your how much you think you will have to use at any given time. For example if you have a number of fruit trees in your backyard that yield a large volume of fruit each year and you have kilos sitting around at any given time you should look at the largest models. The processing times are not short eg: 12+ hours so multiple batches are not desirable if they can be avoided before the fruit or vegetables spoil.
- Due to the long running times, if you can afford to stretch your budget to a model with a timer (eg: auto switch off) it is worth while. You can set the timer and forget.
- Verify the running costs of the machine that you are looking at. The model I have costs 3-6 cents per hour to run. Remember that the machine will be running for between 4-30 hours depending on what you are dehydrating.
- Seek a machine with a timer if you can afford it as it means that you can set and forget it
Surprising uses for a dehydrator :
Dehydrators can do these very cool things that you may not be aware of. Do you know that they can be used to:
- Dry home made pasta
- Raise bread dough
- Make cheese (I’ve not tried this!)
- Re-crisp stale crackers, cereals etc (not sure I would want to try this!)
- Dry nuts
- Dehydrate meat
- Make crackers
- Yogurt Roll ups
- Make paste – eg: olive or tomato paste
Thanks to the fabulous A Fresh Legacy Facebook community for contributing some of the inventive ways that they use their dehydrators. If you have not joined the conversation yet on Facebook I’d love to meet you there.
My machine is an Excalibur 5 drawer with timer. I am very happy with the machine to date. This post is not sponsored by Excalibur I am simply sharing my experiences as an owner.
Are you thinking about purchasing a dehydrator?
Or if you own one do you have any other tips to share with someone who is contemplating the purchase of one?
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