Knowing how to preserve food is a very useful skill for preppers to learn. There are several ways of preserving food, and one of them is through drying or dehydrating. How does it really work and what are the advantages of dehydrating your own food? We will cover everything there is to know about dehydrating foods and how to do it without the use of any special tools or appliances.
How Dehydrating Food Works
Dehydrating has been used around the world for centuries as a method of preserving food and it is still one of the effective methods today. Dehydrating food is done widely all over the world. Since we are living in the modern world, there are several types of food dehydrators and dehydrating techniques such as air and oven dehydrating.
But the primary idea of the dehydrating process is to draw an adequate amount of moisture out of foods through evaporation. Dehydrating food usually uses low heat for an extended period of time and steady air circulation, in order to prevent the potential growth of bacteria, yeast and mold—resulting in food getting dried out and preserved.
Benefits of Dehydrating Food
Expand Your Meal Selections: You can expand your palette when you are dehydrating your own food. In a survival situation your food choices will be limited and any additions are going to be more than welcome. Variety in your diet will maintain your health as well.
Regulate Nutritional Needs: Each individual has their own needs when it comes to nutritional value in a food. Dehydrating your own food can guarantee you have the control over your target nutrition whether they are less salt, more carbs or enough protein.
Economical: You may not notice the money you can save by dehydrating your own food, but eventually you will. The accumulated cost per meal of the foods you dehydrated will be less than the cost per store-bought food. Thus, dehydrating your own food is a great way to save money and food.
Health: We are all aware that there are many additives and preservatives put in processed foods to extend shelf life. When you dehydrate your own food, you can be confident that the foods you will be eating don’t have any of the additives or preservatives found in the grocery store.
Reduce Food Waste: There are billions of dollars worth of food that goes to waste every year. Dehydrating foods can be an effective way to combat that alarming issue since you can dramatically reduce your food waste. You can simply dehydrate many foods and extend their shelf life to consume them in the future.
Weight and Space Savings: Compared to frozen preserves, dehydrating food can cut down the weight especially when you are packing a Bug Out Bag or INCH Bag. You can also save up space since dehydrating them can shrink them in size. Organize storing them in your Mylar bags, or if you are planning for long-term storage, use plastic containers or vacuum sealed bags instead.
Methods of Drying/Dehydrating
There are many ways to dehydrate your food from old methods to using modern technology. However, one can be more effective than the other, depending on the type of food you want to dehydrate.
Air Drying – An ancient method that has been used to dehydrate food for centuries. This method usually takes place under a shade and will just let the air do the work. In any case, you need to understand that some types of foods cannot be well-preserved or may even catch early spoilage in other methods such as getting your food dehydrated under the sun. Air drying works effectively for greens and herbs.
Sun Drying – This is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when you want to dry something. Like air drying, sun drying is another method that has been used since ancient times. It is very effective when you place your food to dehydrate under a long duration of scorching hot sun. This is particularly true for fruits since they will not spoil easily during this method due to them being rich in sugars and acid. You do not want to dehydrate your vegetables with this method, or meats, as sun drying can instigate bacterial growth.
Solar Drying – Here’s an elevated method of sun drying. This method does not direct the sun to your food to dry but instead the sun is blocked by a roof-like dehydrator and as the sun rays pass through, the dehydrator heats up the air enabling it to dehydrate your food inside a drying chamber or greenhouse. Some prefer this method over sun drying since it helps preserve food’s nutritional value.
What Types of Food Can You Dehydrate?
You can definitely dehydrate almost any available food you have. Here are the types and a few suggestions for each:
Fruits – Some fruits are better suited for dehydrating including apples, bananas, mangoes, pineapples, peaches, blueberries, pears, cherries and more.
Vegetables – Some vegetables are suited for dehydrating including carrots, tomatoes, onions, beans, celery, broccoli, corn, pumpkin, squash, peas, beets, mushrooms and more.
Meat – Some meats are suited for dehydrating including beef, chicken, fish and lamb. Whether they are sliced, cured or fresh, you can definitely dehydrate them.
Nuts and Seeds – Some nuts/seeds are suited for dehydrating including peanuts, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia, cashews, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and more.
Herbs – Some herbs are suited for dehydrating including basil, oregano, parsley, mint, fennel, lemon balm, dill and more.
Grains – Some grains are suited for dehydrating including rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat and more.
NOTE: Even though almost any food is available for dehydrating, you should stay away from foods that have high levels of fats such as olives and avocados, as well as dairy products, eggs and store-bought condiments. They are not excellent candidates for dehydration.
How to Dehydrate Food
Here’s how to manage the preparation and dehydration process of your foods without the use of any special tools or appliances, specifically for fruits/vegetables and meat.
First off, wash and slice all the fruits/vegetables you want to dehydrate. You may want to slice them all in equal size, so that they will dry in the same amount of time. If your fruits/vegetables have seeds like tomatoes, make sure to remove them. Soak the fruits/vegetables in a lemon-water mixture to prevent them from turning brown by the time you finish dehydrating them. Place the fruits on a drying rack with space to allow air to go between and around the fruits/vegetables. Cover the drying rack with cheesecloth or anything that can protect the fruits/vegetables from bugs or pests. Now, set your rack of fruits/vegetables in a warm dry place under the sun to begin with dehydrating, make sure to turn them every once in a while to get all sides equally dehydrated. This will actually take some days to finish the entire drying process, make sure that you bring the fruits/vegetables inside your house at night. After a few days, you will know it is finished when fruits/vegetables begin to appear wrinkled or crumpled and you will also notice that there are no moisture beads when you slice them in half.
Start by rubbing some salt on all sides of the meat. Transfer them into a bowl and cover it while you keep them refrigerated for at least 2 days—make it 3 days if you have a thicker slice of meat. Take out the meat in the refrigerator after 2-3 days and dry it with clean paper towels. Sprinkle them with ground black pepper, dry dill and crushed bay leaves on all sides—these are our favorites, but you can use any spices/herbs available in your food cabinet. Wrap them up in cheesecloth or anything of that sort, and hang them in a dry and well-ventilated area for 7 up to 10 days, depending on how dry you want the meat. After the days have passed, remove the cheesecloth and you will notice that the meat is all dehydrated, containing no moisture. If there is ANY type or rotten smell, the dehydration failed and you should toss the food. It might take a few tries to get this right, it’s a bit tougher than dehydrating fruits and veggies.
Final Thoughts on Dehydrating Food
You can definitely benefit from dehydrating your own food in many ways. Although, you should first consider the cost of the food products, preparation time and your storing methods before you jump into dehydrating food. Just make sure that you plan ahead so that you don’t end up wasting any money or food. Upon seeing the results yourself, you will realize that all the benefits of dehydrating food makes doing so worth the trouble.