It can be difficult to find fresh wholesome food year-round. That's why it's so smart to learn how to dehydrate fresh foods in season for use throughout the year. Dehydrated foods are nearly as nutritious as fresh foods, and being able to preserve and store these foods easily is a great way to save money and improve your diet.
In this article we will discuss methods of food dehydration, provide advice on how to dehydrate foods and reviews of the best food dehydrators on the market.
Is Food Dehydration Safe?
Food dehydration is in ages old method of food preservation that is absolutely safe when done correctly. There are many different methods of dehydration, and each one has benefits and drawbacks.
When you dehydrate foods, you remove all the moisture leaving only nutrition and the solids of the food. You can do this using an electric dehydrator, a microwave oven, a standard oven or even the sun.
Of these choices, you will get the best and safest results with a properly designed, high quality food dehydrator. Food that has been dehydrated using a proper dehydrator is more attractive and appetizing. It also lasts much longer and the results are more uniform.
Even though you might have to pay a bit more for real dehydrator than you would if you make do with your existing kitchen appliances or the sun, you will end up with far less waste.
A good dehydrator does not use much electricity, and the money you save on food throughout the year will more than make up for your initial cost.
Using a real dehydrator is convenient too. If you use your microwave or your oven to dehydrate food, you are sure to find that it interferes with your regular cooking. If you spread food out in your yard to be dehydrated by the sun, you will surely have problems with bugs!
Why Is Food Dehydration Good?
There are many benefits involved in making your own dehydrated food. As mentioned, dehydrating fruits and vegetables in season is a great way to save money and improve your diet year-round.
You can save money by purchasing fresh fruit and veggies in abundance in season. Dehydrate them for use throughout the year.
When you dehydrate healthy, organic foods you can save money in comparison with packaged, processed snacks and also in comparison with pre-dried prepared organic dried fruit, veggie and meat snacks.
Not only do dehydrated foods make very flavorful snacks, and you can also rehydrate them for use in recipes.
Although there are many commercially prepared dehydrated foods, when you make your own, you can be certain of the ingredients. Many commercially prepared dried fruits, veggies and meat jerky contain undesirable preservatives and additives.
When you dry your own fresh, organic foods you can be certain that the only means of preservation used is dehydration.
Dehydrated foods are remarkably convenient and easy to take along. Once your foods are completely dehydrated, you can simply store them in convenient plastic or metal containers and carry them along to work, school are on road trips. It's a great way to be sure of having plenty of healthy snacks on hand to save money and keep your energy levels constant.
By making your own snacks and taking them along in reusable containers, you reduce waste in a couple of ways. Obviously, by using your own containers you cut down on disposable waste, trash and litter.
Additionally, you can make good use of fruit that is overripe by simply dehydrating. When you do this, you avoid wasting food.
How Does Dehydrating Work?
A dehydrator works using a heating element at a low and consistent temperature. Simultaneously, the air inside the dehydrator is circulated by a fan. This results in steady, consistent evaporation of the moisture contained in the foods you wish to dry.
Naturally, you will need to follow the instructions that come with the particular brand of dehydrator you choose, but generally speaking using a dehydrator is very easy.
Just prepare your foods for drying and place them in the dehydrator trays. Set the time and temperature and check occasionally for doneness.
Good dehydrating technique can take a bit of practice. Here are some tips to help you get the best results right away.
- Be sure to blanch veggies before dehydrating. This will help speed up the dehydration process and also sets the color for a more attractive and appetizing appearance.
- If desired, season your fruits, veggies or meats for enhanced flavor.
- Arrange the foods on the dehydrator trays making certain that they do not touch or overlap.
- Set the temperature at approximately 104 degrees Fahrenheit to dry foods completely without cooking them. If you are unconcerned regarding whether or not the foods can still be considered raw, you may wish to set the temperature at 135 degrees Fahrenheit for shorter drying time.
- Check on your dehydrating project on a regular basis, and be sure to rotate the trays each time you check. It can take between two hours and nineteen hours to completely dry various foods. This depends upon the on ambient humidity and the amount of moisture in the food.
- When it seems that your foods may be done, simply test by cutting a slice. If you see no moisture in the cut, you know that your food is fully dehydrated.
- Remove your foods from the dehydrator and allow them to cool in the open air. Once completely cool, store your dehydrated foods in airtight containers in a dark, dry area.
- If you should find that your dehydrated foods are no longer crisp, you can return them to dehydrator for an hour or two to restore them to a crisp texture.
What Are the Best Foods for Dehydrating?
Some of the most popular recipes for dehydrator use include:
These are just a few examples. There are many recipes available online for a wide variety of dehydrated snacks and staple foods. Visit camping and prepping websites for good ideas that you can use every day.
Remember that dehydrated foods are not just for snacking. When you dehydrate fresh foods in season and in bulk you can also re-hydrate them to use in recipes throughout the year.
How To Choose The Best Dehydrator For Your Needs
Like any kitchen appliance there are certain features of food dehydrators that you will want to pay attention to before making a purchase. Here are 5 things we think are important.
- Food – What types of food do you plan on dehydrating? Do you plan on doing a bit of everything from meat to fruits or are you just looking for the best dehydrator for jerky such as beef or deer?
- Size & Space – Of course the size of the dehydrator will need to be taken in to account to fit in your kitchen, but also the size of the trays and space between them for drying. If you plan on dehydrating meats often, you might consider a dehydrator that has a lot of space to allow for more uniform drying.
- Heat & Drying – Some dehydrators have stronger heating elements and fans which will affect drying times and drying ability. Some units have automatic fan and temperature controls while others do not.
- Plastic & Metal – There is a growing concern about using plastics around food products. It’s true, not all plastics are alike. BFA and BPA are two additives that you should avoid. You should also make sure that your unit is FDA certified using a food grade plastic. While metal dehydrators will last longer, it will reflect in the price of the unit.
- Price – Of course the price is important depending on your usage. If you’ve never dehydrated before, a cheaper option might the best route in case you decide that food dehydrating is not for you. Finding a dehydrator under $100 is very doable. If you already have experience and plan to dehydrate a lot, there are dehydrators in the $200 - $300 range that might suit your needs perfectly.
Food Dehydrator Reviews
We rated the following food dehydrator products out of 5 stars. Each star is broken down by one of the following:
- Ease of use
- Avg. Retail Price / Cost vs Value
- Quality of materials
- Dehydrating power
Excalibur Deluxe Food Dehydrator
We would give this unit 5 stars if it had a timer.
- Large drying space - 15 square feet
- Easy to clean
- Adjustable thermostat
- Fast drying times!
- No timer
- Fan noise
If you have a large family or want to dehydrate large amounts of food, the Excalibur Deluxe may be able to tackle your needs effortlessly. This square style dehydrator can be used for dehydrating both fruit and meat.
The unit contains 9 trays which equals to 15 square feet of dehydrating surface space. This allows for enough space to spread out thinner foods such as meat for jerky or fruit leather.
Since you will be dehydrating a lot of food, you may want to purchase a vacuum sealer to help keep your dehydrated foods fresh for longer periods of time.
The fans used for this unit are a little noisy, but this is something that can’t be helped too much considering how much food the dehydrator can accommodate. These fans also dehydrate food a lot faster with this unit compared to similar brands.
So there is a bit of a trade-off here. Quicker dehydrating times which in turn causes a little more noise.
Overall, the Excalibur food dehydrator can make the task of dehydrating food quick and easy for anyone who needs to dehydrate large amounts of food.
Aroma Food Dehydrator
Great mid-range dehydrator! Mostly plastic and no timer doc'd 1 star.
- Drip tray
- Automatic adjusting fans for temp. control
- 6 racks - 1lb of food per rack
- Budget friendly
- No automatic fan shutoff (no timer)
- Fixed vent on top
- Most of the machine is plastic
The Aroma dehydrator is square style dehydrator, which is in our opinion, superior to their round counterparts because of the location of drying fans and heating elements.
Most of this unit is constructed of plastic including the body, doors and plastic trays. The plastic trays are BPA free. The plastic isn’t considered dishwasher safe so everything should be hand washed.
While some dehydrators have loud fan noises, the fan on this unit is pretty quiet. You will notice a slight hum but you’re still getting the quick drying times like the Excalibur dehydrator mentioned above.
The Aroma is a budget friendly food dehydrator that has a large capacity for dehydrating your favorite foods at an even temperature. The unit is small enough to fit on most kitchen countertops so there is no need to hide it in the basement or spare bedroom.
700W Nesco Snackmaster Food Dehydrator
Knocked off 1 star for no timer and less drying space than similar priced units.
- Dehydrates Food Fast
- Comes with fruit roll trays
- 1 year Warranty
- Made in USA
- No timer
If you want a versatile dehydrator that dehydrates food faster than many others in its price range, The Nesco 700 Watt Food Dehydrator is well worth considering. It has a top down dehydrating system which circulates air downward through its adjustable tray system, resulting in faster than average drying times.
It comes with 5 trays and 2 for fruit leather. If you need more room it can hold up to 12 trays. You can also make yogurt with a special tray (CT-2GP) that accommodates bowls and containers. The additional trays and jerky making accessories can be purchase from Nesco’s website.
This dehydrator has no on/off switch, and no timer. An easy way to get around this is to use a plug in timer (the kind commonly used to turn lights on and off) that you can pick up at any hardware store.
All Nesco dehydrators come with a 1 year warranty. Those who are concerned about buying products from foreign manufacturers can rest easy knowing that Nesco is a US based company that has manufactured it’s dehydrators in the USA for the last 30 years.
800W Commercial Food Dehydrator - Thermostat Adjustable
We would give this unit 5 stars if it had a warranty.
- Thermostat control
- 14 feet of drying space
- 800W makes it one of the more powerful units on the market
- No warranty (Purchase separately SquareTrade warranty available through Amazon.com)
The 10 Tray 800 W Food Preserve Dehydrator has a sleek appearance that will easily fit into a modern kitchen. 800W of power dehydrates foods much faster than any other unit.
This unit is has a touch controlled LCD which regulates temperature and features a timer. This is one of few dehydrators that have such controls which gives better control over the drying process.
14 square feet of available drying space in 10 trays allows you to dry a lot of food at once. You can make yogurt in this dehydrator by removing the trays and putting a bowl inside the unit.
Vegikiln Weston Food Dehydrator
We had to take off a star for the design and no timer.
- Thermostat control
- Quiet Fan
- No timer
The Vegikiln is a white box shaped unit with ventilated trays that sit like drawers in a dresser with no exterior door. Because of the drawer design, it is impossible to operate the unit with a drawer removed, so might not be the best choice for those who dry bulky items that are too big to fit on a single tray.
The air flows from the back of this dehydrator, so items at the back dry much faster than items at the front. It’s just something to be aware of when dehydrating food where you may want to put larger items near the back.
Clear trays allow viewing the food as it dehydrates but allows light in, so Vitamin C rich foods may lose vitamin content during the drying process if placed in a well-lit room.
Although it’s on the mid to higher end of the price scale, the Vegikiln is one of the quietest dehydrators on the market. For those looking to control temperature, the Weston Vegikiln Dehydrator has an adjustable thermostat but no on/off timer.
1000W Open Country Gardenmaster Dehydrator
An option for yogurt would have made this 5 Star.
- Shut-off timer
- BPA free & dishwasher-safe trays
- Opaque case to preserve nutrients
- Adjustable thermostat
- No option for making yogurt
- Additional trays must be purchased
The Open Country Gardenmaster Digital Dehydrator, Model FD-1022SK, is one of the fastest food dehydrators on the market with 1000-watts of drying power. It has a motor that circulates air downward, which dehydrates food more evenly than convection style dehydrators.
This round unit is made of 4 stacking trays, but can handle up to 20 trays. Trays are BPA free and dishwasher safe.
It has an adjustable thermostat, and opaque case and tray construction to block light, and preserve all nutrients in your foods.
This unit has a shut off timer!
So what you get is 4 extra-large drying trays, 1 Fruit Roll Sheet, and 1 Clean A Screen, 1 Packet of Jerky Spice and Cure, and a 52-page Recipe and Instruction book. Moderately priced, this product is made in China and is backed by a 1 year warranty.