Back before modern pressure canners and freezers, food dehydration evolved out of necessity. This simple dehydrating technique offered a straightforward method to keep food from spoiling while maintaining its nutritional content. Today, food dehydrating blends these centuries-old techniques with new technologies that simplify the dehydrating process and make it more fun.
Food dehydration saves money because you can buy or grow seasonal produce to dry and store for year-round use. Another perk of food dehydration is compact storage — especially important if you live in tight quarters with limited storage space. A bushel of fresh tomatoes will dehydrate down to a few jars of sun-dried tomatoes that easily fit on your pantry shelf.
“Drying food is one of humanity’s oldest ways of preserving food, because it is simple, low-tech and offers an excellent way to put aside the bounty of summer for the winter,” says Sharon Astyk, a farmer in upstate New York and author of Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation” (New Society). “Eating locally and sustainably, not just in the summer but all year long, is an essential part of trying to achieve a viable future and a way of life that can go on for multiple generations.”
Food dehydrating is based on one core principle: Quickly remove as much moisture from the food as possible to inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. Some people prefer to dry food because it takes less time, money and energy than other food-storage methods, such as canning or freezing.
There are two secret ingredients to drying food that you need to stock up on: time and patience. It takes time to dry food, from a few hours to a few days depending on the method you use and the product you want. The good news is that while these drying methods take time, they don’t require much hands-on effort. After you prep the food for drying, you typically need to check on it throughout the dehydrating process; then you can go about your life.
Like all forms of food preservation, food safety techniques must be followed. Cleanliness is vital throughout the process. Wash your hands in warm, soapy water and be sure that your kitchen counter, utensils and dehydrating equipment is sanitized with an appropriate solution. A common solution is one tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of water.
Excerpt from the Popular Kitchen Series magabook Canning & Preserving with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Canning & Preserving here.