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What is a Food Dehydrator?

By Jane Harmon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Food dehydrators are small home appliances for drying fresh foods yourself. They come in a wide variety of sizes and capabilities, and can dry fruit, vegetables and meats. They work by very gently heating the air and blowing it throughout the food drying area. It can take a number of hours, or even days, to adequately dry and preserve juicier items.

If you are an avid gardener and always grow more produce than you can consume during the summertime, a food dehydrator might be a good investment. You can stock up on dried vegetables and ensure yourself home-grown vegetable soup throughout the winter months. If you like camping and hiking, making your own trail mix is surely appealing. But beware - buying produce to dry will probably wind up costing you more than purchasing a similar quantity of dried fruit and vegetables. Large food processors can buy and dry produce much more cost effectively than an individual consumer can.

Food dehydrators blow air either up from the bottom heating element, or horizontally from a heater placed in one side. The horizontal flow has the advantage that you can dry a mixed batch of things without worrying about flavor mixing; your dried apples taking on the flavor of the beef jerky drying below them, for instance. If this isn't an issue, then the bottom-heating dehydrators should serve you adequately.

Food to be dried in a food dehydrator is sliced very thinly for faster drying, and laid out in single layers on thin stacking trays, which are vented to allow air to flow through them. The trays are loaded into the unit and then left to dry. Some items will dry quicker than others and should be removed or they will become brittle. Very juicy foods like oranges and tomatoes can take quite a period of time in the food dehydrator, and should not be mixed with quicker drying foods such as carrots and potatoes.

If you want to make your own meat jerkies, look for a good drying-marinade recipe. Most food dehydrators will come with a recipe book that should include marinades for meats. Make sure that the unit you are using will heat the meat to temperature high enough to kill e-coli and other bad bugs.

Food dehydrators consume very little electricity; much less than an oven, for instance. One utility company estimates that the cost of operating a food dehydrator continuously for 24 hours is $0.49. Compared to the cost of operating a coffee maker ($1.63 for 24 hours), this is quite a bargain. So don't let the fear of high electric bills hold you back from drying as much of the harvest as you wish.

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Discussion Comments
By anon112367 — On Sep 20, 2010

I am interested to know more about food dehydrators. Can the equipment be used to make jackfruit chips which are crispy/crunchy. How long does it take to dehydrate 50kg jackfruit slices using a home type dehydrator? What is the electricity usage like? Can someone in this line reply. Thank you.

By anon48463 — On Oct 12, 2009

There is a food dehydrator calculator that estimates how inexpensive it is to run a dehydrator.

By anon47566 — On Oct 05, 2009

I just bought a dehydrator to make jerky and i love it! makes my low carb diet so much easier!

By tejesh — On Aug 02, 2008

i want to establish a food dehydrater unit for commertial uses.plz tell me how can proceed?

By anon6333 — On Dec 25, 2007

I purchased a dehydrator after getting very tired of store bought backpacking meals. I have been dehydrating my own camp meals for several years now and highly recommend it. Often I prepare a large meal, then dry leftovers, vacuum seal, and then freeze until my next outing. The only rule with drying food is NO FAT. Often this means you must omit ingredients such as oil, butter, cheese and carefully trim any fat from meat. Although jerky is popular, I prefer to marinade my steak, then grill and dry. Just be careful not to over dry. Poultry especially can dehydrate so much that it will never Rehydrate no mater how long you boil it.

Rather than combining all the ingredients then drying, it works best to separately cook sauces, meat, starch and then dry separately, combining at the time you rehydrate. This is because drying times vary, so combining first may over dry others.

As an example, here is one of my favorites, spaghetti. I brown extra lean ground beef with onion & spices, then rinse under water in a colander to remove all fat. Next, stew fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, sliced olives and spices. Finally boil the noodles. Take all three macro groups and dry on a separate tray of the dehydrator. The tomato sauce you will need to put on the fruit leather tray. The beef and noodles will dry first; remove them and vacuum seal immediately; once the tomatoes dry seal also. I put both sealed bags, into a larger bag along with a paper towel and small amount of Parmesan cheese. The second bag is helpful because often the dried food has sharp corners that will penetrate the seal of the first bag. Wrapping with the first bag with a paper towel will give it more padding and a napkin out in the woods. The entire meal stays in the freezer until I get ready to leave. This is because there are no preservatives and it is possible for the meat to go rancid. Keeping it frozen ensures that no bacteria will grow.

To rehydrate, I use a Jet Boil, add a small amount of water (otherwise you end up with a soup), and bring to a boil. Stir, cover and allow to cool, then eat --yummy! You will never want to eat the stuff from REI again.

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