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Whether you want to make your own beef jerky, healthy fruit leather snacks for your children or increase the variety of food options in your kitchen you’ll need a dehydrator. Food dehydrator use has become extremely common in recent years.
With the increase in its popularity especially among fitness and health enthusiasts the industry has grown a lot. You can find various brands and models with different features and price ranges. The results vary and depend on not just your drying process, but also the machine itself. If you’re new to the world of food dehydrators, picking one can seem like a difficult task.
So, before you can pick a brand or choose a model you need to know what to look for. This will help you pick a dehydrator which can offer the results you’re looking for. The only way to avoid making a bad purchase or buyer’s regret is to do research beforehand.
Figuring out your drying needs is a good place to start. So, a few questions to ask yourself may include:
- Do you have a specific budget?
- What kind of foods do you want to dehydrate?
- Are you plant-based or looking to make your own jerky?
- Is your goal drying hom-grown or store bought produce?
- What quantities do you need to dry at one time?
- Do you use a dishwasher to clean your trays?
- If you have recipes in mind what temperature ranges do they require?
Once you figure out what your needs are you can start looking for a dehydrator that caters to those requirements. Whether you’re purchasing your first food dehydrator or swapping yours out for a newer model here are 10 things you need to consider.
As a baseline you need to know what your space requirements are so you can get a suitable dehydrator. Not just in how much food you’ll need to dry at a single time, but also in terms of storage space in your kitchen. Understandable, bigger models are more expensive so you’ll need to work within your budget.
If you feel like you’ll need to dehydrate large quantities or that your batch size may increase over time you should get a model with expandable trays. This is particularly helpful for people who host lunches or parties. Food dehydrator use is extremely diverse so you can even make multiple batches of fruit leathers for children’s parties or bake sales. That gives you a fun yet healthy option that children will enjoy because they taste similar to taffy.
With designs that have expandable trays you can get a smaller model that fits your day to day needs and add more trays when you’re catering to larger groups. You can even purchase more trays later. When there are a fixed amount of trays you’re setting a cap on the batch size you can get.
It’s important for buyers to know that this is an option. Otherwise, they may end up spending extra on a model that’s too big just because they have to cater a few events a year. Or alternatively, miss out on an expandable model that would better cater to their needs.
As a thumb rule you never want to show up at an outlet with no idea what the product options are. That gives the sales person a bad impression and also generally sets you back because if you don’t know what you want chances are you won’t like whatever you do end up getting.
When it comes to food dehydrators you get two main types with the variation being in the shelving strategy.
Type 1 – Stacking
The idea is in the name. With stacking you get one tray on top of another tray with the fan generally in the bottom of the dehydrator. But it can also be placed in the power unit. So, the air circulates through the passage between trays. This automatic filtration process means you don’t have to put in the extra effort to rotate trays.
You can add or remove trays and increase or decrease the batch size depending on your needs. With stacking you get greater capacity which is what makes it so popular among buyers. On the negative side, it’s harder to check on the food in each tray while it’s drying. If you’re new to food dehydrator use then this may present a problem. With this type of dehydrator you also have to make sure you’re stacking around the hole in the center and avoiding the channel
Type 2 – Shelving
The second option is for dehydrators that have built in shelves. These shelves slide in and out which some users find easier. The fan is in the back as opposed to the bottom so it’s blowing air horizontally. That gives you a more even and consistent drying effect. Similar to the previous type there is no need to rotate trays.
The advantage of the shelves system is that it’s easy to check whether your items are done because you can simply pull the trays out. You also don’t have to worry about where you’re placing trays. Since there is no channel you can utilize all the available space to set your trays.
However, now you have the opposite problem. Because the shelves are built in the space is restricted and you can’t increase the shelving capacity. Since you’re not stacking you can only fit as many trays as each shelf will hold.
Overall, both types offer different pros and have different cons. It all depends on your preferences and needs.
Different recipes require different temperature settings. This is important to note, especially if you’re completely new to food dehydrator use because many models come with a fixed temperature setting. The number one factor you need to look for when you’re buying a dehydrator is an adjustable thermostat.
Having one setting is extremely limiting and will ruin your drying experience. You want to be able to try a variety of fun recipes and change the settings accordingly. When it comes to adjustable thermostats the general range is from 95 F to 155 F. The specifics may vary from one model to another, but if the values are near this range you’re good to go.
Don’t be concerned if a recipe asks for a higher temperature than this. You don’t need to go looking for a 200 F thermostat for one product. Increasing the drying time will give you the same result.
The position of the fan matters because they control the quality of airflow and circulation. You’ll find three common fan positions. So, they’ll be placed on the bottom of the dehydrator, the top or at the back. If the fan is on the top or bottom you’re getting vertical airflow and if it’s in the back you’ll get a horizontal airflow.
A horizontal circulation pattern gives you a more even and consistent drying effect. You also won’t need to rotate trays. If the dehydrator has a vertical circulation pattern the trays on the top and bottom will receive different amounts of heat exposure so you won’t get the same effect. This is a less efficient distribution system and is harder to clean.
The fans themselves will range from four to seven inches in diameter and consume between 300 to 1000 W of power. Specific details vary depending on the brand and the price. On occasion you may find a dual fan option. This is not necessarily an upgrade because it makes the system noisy. However, if you’re willing to overlook that for better airflow it is an option.
Often the differences between models come down to the accessories they have. For example, a clear door is a plus because it lets you check on the food without opening the door. With a dark or opaque door you have to open it to keep an eye on the progress and you lose heat each time.
When you’re dehydrating food you want to maintain a consistent temperature over a given time so a clear door is definitely a point to put on your checklist. Another accessory that can help is a timer. While you can obviously clock the time with your phone or a separate device, having a timer on the machine is an added convenience.
Some models come with an added feature where the dehydrator turns off as soon as the timer rings. If this is a specification available to you, consider the value it may add to your purchase.
BPA Free Products
BPA or bisphenol A is a chemical used in polycarbonate plastics which are materials used to make food containers. Other forms of plastic that are not BPA free have harmful chemicals and should not be used for cooking or storing food. They can cause health concerns like heart problems or asthma.
So making sure your dehydrator is safe for use and made using a BPA free material especially because they use heat to cook. You don’t want your machine releasing toxins at a high temperature. Generally, brands will list this on their site clearly so it’s easy to tell if a food dehydrator is BPA free.
With dehydrators like with all cooking devices cleanliness and hygiene is key. If you’re drying meats they’re going to give off juices. If you’re dehydrating fruits and vegetables they will also leave sticky residue behind. Washing your trays after each use is essential and not a step you can even skip.
That’s why you should find out whether your chosen mode comes with dishwasher safe trays. Remember this is not a factor you should take for granted. In fact, many dehydrator trays are too big for machine handling and require hand washing. Getting a tray you can wash with the rest of your load will make your life a lot easier.
With dehydrators like with all products there is a huge price range. You can find a quality product for $100 or $500. However, your goal should always be to find the features you need in a food dehydrator that fits within your budget. There are a lot of overly priced models so if you don’t find a suitable one on your first try don’t overspend, just keep looking.
Cooking devices are complex machines that get a lot of use. You want a product that comes with a considerable warranty so you can get it repaired if it breaks down. Find out if the company offers replacement parts and whether the service charges are covered. Certain brands even offer up to 10 year warranties.
Getting a dehydrator isn’t just about how much use you can get out of it. A bigger model may have more tray space but it also needs more storage. When you’re surveying the market and looking at kitchen appliances it’s easy to get distracted by all the options and features. However, if there’s one thing you need to remind yourself over and over again it’s this, “how much space does your kitchen have?”
Make sure you’ve allocated shelf space before you start looking at your option. Also, consider that a square design is easy to place next to a wall, but that fancy ground model you like will cause problems in your kitchen. If you have ample space and have already allocated an area then by all means get the round model, just as long as you’re considering all the long-term needs.
Overall, food dehydrator use depends on a few key factors. The basic idea is to remove water from the raw ingredients without reducing their nutritional value. Dehydrators are designed to maintain the alkalinity of your produce and preserve the food without using preservatives. As such you want a machine that controls and manages both temperature and airflow efficiently.
When it comes to specific models you should consider questions like:
- How much shelf space do you need?
- Will an expandable tray option add value for you?
- Do you want the stacking option that lets you add more trays or the shelving model which lets you check on the progress of your food?
- Does the model cover essential factors like an adjustable thermostat, clear door, BPA free material and warranty?
- Will the size and shape of the device make it easy to store in your home?
If a food dehydrator fulfills your needs and fits your budget do not hesitate to purchase it right away because this product will change your life.