Drying foods - Diving into Dehydrating (I just got a Weston Food Dehydrator)
I'm super excited about a couple new small appliances I got last weekend. One of which is a small food dehydrator! (The other is a meat slicer!) Both of these items are things I've borrowed at one time or another over the years from my parents, but my husband saw them on sale at Lowe's (the hardware store) almost 40% off so I got BOTH!
The dehydrator I got is the Weston Food Dehydrator - which is the 4-tray version. They have a larger 10 tray version I'll link to at the bottom of this post but for me, a 4 tray is fine for now (Lowe's has Excalibur's, Nesco, etc. And has large, heavy duty dehydrators too! For me, this small one is good to start. IF I find I use it a lot I may invest in a larger model.) Although many people use the FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System for storing their dried foods, I do not own one so I'm going to be using mason jars and other air tight containers with oxygen absorbers.
Over the next week or two I hope to share many recipes and hints for dehydrating as I try out my dehydrator. For this first post, I thought I'd share some basic information on drying your own foods - from The National Center for Home Food Preservation. The Center was established with funding from the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods.
Packaging and Storing Dried Foods
Dried foods are susceptible to insect contamination and moisture re-absorption and must be properly packaged and stored immediately. First, cool completely. Warm food causes sweating which could provide enough moisture for mold to grow. Pack foods into clean, dry insect-proof containers as tightly as possible without crushing.
Store dried foods in clean, dry home canning jars, plastic freezer containers with tight-fitting lids or in plastic freezer bags. Vacuum packaging is also a good option. Pack foods in amounts that can be used all at once. Each time a package is re-opened, the food is exposed to air and moisture that can lower the quality of the food and result in spoilage.
Pack food in amounts that will be used in a recipe. Every time a package is re-opened, the food is exposed to air and moisture that lower the quality of the food.
Fruit that has been sulfured should not touch metal. Place the fruit in a plastic bag before storing it in a metal can. Sulfur fumes will react with the metal and cause color changes in the fruit.
Dried foods should be stored in cool, dry, dark areas. Recommended storage times for dried foods range from 4 months to 1 year. Because food quality is affected by heat, the storage temperature helps determine the length of storage; the higher the temperature, the shorter the storage time. Most dried fruits can be stored for 1 year at 60ºF, 6 months at 80ºF. Vegetables have about half the shelf-life of fruits.
Foods that are packaged seemingly "bone dry" can spoil if moisture is reabsorbed during storage. Check dried foods frequently during storage to see if they are still dry. Glass containers are excellent for storage because any moisture that collects on the inside can be seen easily. Foods affected by moisture, but not spoiled, should be used immediately or redried and repackaged. Moldy foods should be discarded.
The moisture content of home dried fruit should be about 20 percent. When the fruit is taken from the dehydrator, the remaining moisture may not be distributed equally among the pieces because of their size or their location in the dehydrator. Conditioning is the process used to equalize the moisture. It reduces the risk of mold growth.
To condition the fruit, take the dried fruit that has cooled and pack it loosely in plastic or glass jars. Seal the containers and let them stand for 7 to 10 days. The excess moisture in some pieces will be absorbed by the drier pieces. Shake the jars daily to separate the pieces and check the moisture condensation. If condensation develops in the jar, return the fruit to the dehydrator for more drying. After conditioning, package and store the fruit as described above.
Determining Dryness of Vegetables
Vegetables should be dried until they are brittle or "crisp." Some vegetables actually shatter if hit with a hammer. At this stage, they should contain about 10 percent moisture. Because they are so dry, they do not need conditioning like fruits.
NOTE: I found a great list showing preparation and drying times of various foods available about half way down the document at: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_dry_fruit.pdf
I got my Weston dehydrator at my local Lowe's. You might also be interested in;
FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System
Ball Jar Heritage Collection Pint Jars with Lids
Oxy-Sorb Oxygen Absorbers for Food Storage
Weston 10-Tray Food Dehydrator