Sun-drying is the oldest known method for dehydrating food. This historical seal of approval means there’s an array of nutritional and culinary benefits.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to properly sun-dry everything from fruits to vegetables to meats. We’ll also discuss some other methods of dehydration that may be useful.
What is Sun-drying?
Sun drying, also known as solar drying, is the process of using the sun’s heat energy and surrounding air movement to extract moisture from your food. And while that may sound complex, it’s actually quite simple.
Before we get into the specifics of sun drying, it’s a great idea to first talk about why sun drying is a good idea. As you know, there are various dehydration techniques, yet sun-drying continues to remain a first choice for many.
Benefits of Sun-drying Food
1. Sun-dried foods retain large amounts of nutrients
Minerals, vitamins, and fiber: they’re all there. Because the process is slow and free of any unnecessary radiation, only the moisture makes its way out of your food, keeping your food as healthy and pure as possible.
2. Sun-drying is economical
Food dehydrators can cost upwards of 300 dollars, not to mention electricity costs and maintenance costs. And while these expenditures seem relatively harmless, they quickly add up to more than sun drying ever would cost.
3. Your food retains most of its original flavor
If you’re looking for authentic and original flavors, sun drying is your best bet. The process is slow, steady, and gentle, gradually drawing moisture from your food. As a result, you can expect most of the origins and unique flavors in the food to remain intact.
Cons of Sun-drying your Food
Sun-drying isn’t exactly a perfect approach. There are drawbacks as well, and these are crucial to understanding if sun drying is right for you.
1. It’s not always available
This is where using a dehydrator trumps sun drying. It’s easy to hook up the appliance and stick food in there any time of the day.
Sun drying, on the other hand, is completely weather-dependent. You can’t sun-dry in rainy or cold weather, and you only have a few hours of sunlight in the day. Plus, if the sun doesn't hit the minimum temperature required, nothing gets done.
2. It can be stressful
Sun drying is a labor-intensive technique that involves spreading the food out in a way that maximizes solar exposure. You also have to pay close attention because some foods dry out easier, and flavor will be lost. Plus, if the weather shifts suddenly, you have to quickly move your food indoors.
3. It can take a while
Depending on the humidity and the kind of food you’re drying you may have to wait up to 4 days to get the best results. Sun heat - even in warmer climates - is slow and won’t evaporate the moisture as quickly as a machine could. Food may even get moldy before it dries.
What Kinds of Foods Can You Sun-Dry?
You can dehydrate almost any kind of fresh food. Some will fare better than others, but if it has moisture, you can sun-dry it. Here’s a list of some of the best foods to sun-dry:
How to Prepare your Food for Sun-drying
The most important thing to remember when sun drying food is the thickness. You need to maintain an even thickness, so everything dries at the same rate. Remember that solar heat is only available during certain hours of the day. If some pieces are thicker than others, it can cause rot during storage.
It’s also important to sun-dry only the best fruits. If you dry a subpar fruit or seed, you're going to end up with subpar products. Pick out the freshest foods you can find, and make sure to dry them before they spoil.
How to Sun-Dry Food
Step 1: Preparation
Make sure that the fruits are clean and fresh. Wash them to remove any dirt or pesticides. Next, cut the fruit in half and remove any seeds or core areas. Cut into slices of even thickness, as discussed earlier. This ensures that they are sun-dried evenly.
For fruits like apples, you can use a slicing device. These have been around for a long time, and are great for slicing and peeling simultaneously.
Step 2: Blanch
Blanching refers to the process of preheating your fruits before dehydrating them in order to neutralize the enzymes in them. Blanching can also be used for vegetables. Avoiding this step may make the final product have a poor flavor and color.
To blanch, you’ll need to place the fruits or vegetables in a steamer and heat the water beneath to boiling. Exposure between 2 and 5 minutes is optimal. You can also blanch by dipping the fruits in hot water. Although one problem with this approach is that you may lose some coloring and nutrients to the water.
Step 3: Pretreat
Pretreating isn’t a necessary step, but it can keep light-colored fruits from darkening during the drying and storage phase. It also speeds up the drying process for fruits that have tough skins.
To prepare the pretreatment solution, you’ll need ½ teaspoon of ascorbic acid per one quart of cold water. Dip the fruit slices in the ascorbic acid solution for a full minute, then drain them.
Step 4: Sun-Dry
As you know, drying time varies between foods. For example, tomatoes will dry much faster than nuts. Be sure to turn your food about once a day to ensure even drying. You’ll know your fruits are dehydrated when they are wrinkled, dry, and have a kind of leathery or pliable texture.
How Do You Store Sun-dried Foods?
If you don’t already know, sun-dried foods don’t need refrigeration. The lack of moisture increases their shelf life by a significant margin. Here are simple but effective techniques you can use to store your sun-dried fruits and vegetables.
Keep away from air and moisture
The best way to do this is by using an air-tight container. You want to pack the food into clean, dry containers that are insect-proof. Keep the packing tight without crushing the dried foods. If you have the right equipment, you can also use vacuum packaging.
Pack recipe-sized portions together
Every time you open a package to retrieve some food, you expose the rest to air and moisture. This can lower the quality of your dried foods, especially if done frequently. To avoid this, only pack roughly enough food for one recipe in each package.
Use within 4 months to 1 year
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, dried foods should be consumed within a year of storage. Some may last longer than others, depending on a variety of factors, but keeping it under a year is always the safest option.
It’s also best to keep the storage temperature cool because higher temperatures can shorten the storage time and cause food spoilage.
What other food-drying techniques are there?
As you know, sun drying is an ancient technique used to dehydrate and preserve foods. Even though it’s quite effective, there are other ways to dehydrate food as well. Here are two popular ones
As the name suggests, you’ll be using your oven for this technique. The oven needs to stay on for a long time, so you have to pay extra attention to avoid accidents. With oven drying, you’ll be following many of the steps associated with sun drying.
The difference begins at step 4 where you’ll need to lay the food in the oven. Ensure that the pieces are completely separated before turning on the oven. It also helps to lay out the slices on wire racks that have been placed on a cookie sheet. Next, set the oven temperature and get to drying.
Pros of oven-drying
Cons of oven-drying
Using a Food Dehydrator
An electric dehydrator is specifically designed to dry fruits and vegetables, and they are a favorite for many pros. Beginners, on the other hand, may have some initial trouble with them.
Dehydrators often come with dehydrator trays where you can lay out your evenly-cut pieces of food. Each manufacturer tends to design their products fairly differently, so be sure to read the owner’s manual for instructions.
Pros of using an electric dehydrator
Cons of using a dehydrator
Sun-drying is an excellent way to dehydrate your food. It preserves the original nutrients and taste of the food while also saving a considerable amount of money.
The process of sun-drying isn’t complicated either. Anyone can learn how to do it, and hopefully, this article is the only resource one interested in dehydration may need.
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