What is a Food Dehydrator and what can I use them for?
A food dehydrator is a great way to preserve fruit, vegetables, herbs and animal proteins as they lock in all of the nutritional benefits which are great for people following a diet or who just generally love to snack. Believe it or not, a dehydrator isn't just for your typical banana chips, you can do a lot more than just dry fruit, but we will get onto that a bit later.
How do Dehydrators Work?
A food dehydrator uses warm air constantly circulating around stacked trays made from slatted plastic or metal gauze, allowing water to evaporate evenly. As fruit and veg have a typical 80%- 95% water content and meat have a 50%-75% water content, removing moisture from these foods restrains various bacteria from growing and spoiling food, therefore this method allows flavours to be intensified and the shelf life is prolonged. You may be thinking that a dehydrator will consume a lot of power but dehydrators are actually very economical as the temperature is controlled by a thermostat, so while a larger heating element will draw more power when it is on, it won’t necessarily draw that power for as long as a smaller heater when it is getting up to temperature.
Temperature is Important!
Here at Juicers.ie all of the dehydrators we sell come with adjustable drying temperatures which helps get the best out of different foods. For example, if you are dehydrating meat into jerky you will want to use higher temperatures of around 68 degrees and higher so that it kills all the nasty bacteria, whereas drying fruit and veg can be done at a much lower temperature so all the nutrients and enzymes are preserved. Hotter temperatures are not suitable for preserving nutrients, therefore, dehydrators with no control of the temperature are discouraged as these types of dehydrators often dry at high temperatures. Temperature control is particularly important for anyone following a raw food diet as optimum nutrition will be needed. The key to successful food dehydration is the application of a constant temperature and adequate air flow. Too high a temperature can cause hardened foods.
How do I get the best out of my Food Dehydrator?
Prep your ingredients by chopping thinly and evenly so that all of the slices will dry at the same rate. You then want to layout your ingredients on the tray with no overlapping. Set your temperature and timer (your dehydrator should come with instructions manual with specific timings and temperatures for individual ingredients). Once ingredients have fully dried out leave them in the dehydrator until fully cool, then store the dried food in something airtight ready to snack upon.
Basic Timings and Temperatures
Here are some common ingredients with their dehydration time and temperature.
Apples: 13h: 50℃
Bananas: 5h: 53℃
Garlic (great for grounding into a powder): 5h: 60℃
Onion: 7h: 60℃ for 1st hour, then 50℃ for the rest
Raspberries (frozen): 20h: 57℃ for 1st hour, then 50℃ for the rest
Tomatoes: 12-20h (depending on size): 60℃
Marinated Meat:15h: 68℃
Vertical or Horizontal?
Vertical dehydrators are great if you are pushed for space as you can expand them by stacking the trays up. The vertical dehydrators have the best heat distribution as they have fans on the bottom which makes the dehydrator much more efficient, as hot air rises. However, you will need to take care with wet ingredients and ensure no liquid is spilt into the dehydrator base where the heating element and fan are based.
If you are wanting to do lots of dehydrating then the vertical dehydrator might not be for you. If you have more than 5 trays on the vertical dehydrator you may experience uneven temperatures between the upper and lower trays, to avoid this you will have to change the stacks periodically.
If this is a major disadvantage then why not try a horizontal dehydrator. Horizontal dehydrators typically have at least one fan with the heating source in the rear, as warm air is blown horizontally across the trays. Plus with horizontal airflow, you won't be able to overload your dehydrator to the point where food is unevenly dehydrated because it has shelves that are fixed to the box.
Horizontal dehydrators are more suited to drying wet ingredients, purees and liquids as they have solid trays with no holes or mesh inserts.
It really depends on what you are looking for as the vertical dehydrator would suit someone who just wants to dry small amounts of ingredients, whereas the horizontal dehydrator would be great for someone who wants to dry purees and liquids without the need to move trays around during the drying period.
Our Favourite Dehydrator
At Juicers.ie the Excalibur 5-Tray Stackable Food Dehydrator is one of our favourite dehydrators as its a versatile piece of kitchen equipment that no other 5 tray stackable dehydrator offers the level of quality, dependability and excellence that you will find in Excalibur, this is due to the 35 years of manufacturing experience which has led to Excalibur being the leading dehydrator manufacturers.
The Excalibur Dehydrator features five removable polycarbonate BPA free stackable inserts that are completely dishwasher safe for your convenience. These trays allow for continuous airflow around the ingredients, and when coupled with the adjustable thermostat that can be regulated from 35°C to 74°C (95°F to 165°F) you get the best drying results.
The polypropylene trays are safe for food and also corrosion-proof. What’s more is that it won’t leave any taste residue on your dried food. To stop the dehydrator from over-heating due to reduced airflow through overfilling, the Excalibur 5-Tray Stackable Dehydrator incorporates a built-in safety cut-out device. It’s also CE certified. For domestic or small-scale commercial use, the Excalibur 5-Tray Stackable Dehydrator is a perfect investment.