Friday, October 2, 2015

The Basics of Dehydrating Food

If you have a lot of something and you don't want to can or freeze it, think about dehydrating it. Dried food keeps well, takes little space and is easy to make.

To dehydrate foods, always begin with fresh, good quality. Make sure it's clean and free from damage. Pretreatment isn't always absolutely necessary, but food that's blanched keeps its color and flavor better. Use the same blanching times as you would for freezing.

You can marinate, salt, sweeten or spice foods before you dehydrate them. Jerky is meat that's been marinated and/or flavored by rubbing spices into it. Vegetables and fruit can be treated the same way, but avoid fat, as it will turn rancid as the food dries.

Slice or dice food thinly and uniformly so it will all dry at the same time.

Space food on a dehydrator tray so air can move around each piece.

Different foods take different amounts of time to dry, so it's easier to fill your trays with all the same type of food. You can, of course, dry different types of food at the same time, but remember to watch and remove the food that dehydrates more quickly. Don't mix strong vegetables like onions and garlic as other foods will absorb their taste while they're dehydrating.

The smaller the pieces, the faster a food will dehydrate. Remove the stalks of leaves like spinach, celery, etc. before dehydrating or they'll be overdone by the time the stalks are dry and lose flavor and quality. Leaves don't even need a dehydrator if you have a warm, dry place to put them.

Dense food like carrots, will feel very hard when they're ready. Others will be crispy. A food that is high in fructose will be leathery when it's finished dehydrating.

Remember that food smells when it's in the process of drying, so outdoors or in the garage is an excellent place to dry a big batch of onions!

Always test each batch to make sure it's "done." You can pasteurize finished food by putting it in a slow oven (150 degrees) for about 5 minutes. Let the food cool before storing.

Store in air tight containers. Jars saved from other food work well as long as they have lids that will keep moisture out. Ziplock types of bags work, too. Choose the storage container that will fit best in your storage area.

Jars of dehydrated carrots, celery, beets, etc., may look cheerful on your counter top, but both color and flavor will fade. Dehydrated food keeps its color and flavor best in a dark, cool place.

Dehydrating food takes time, so don't rush it. When you're all done, you'll have a food stash to be proud of!

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