How to Use a Food Dehydrator: Easy Ways to Preserve Nutrition

Do you run a homestead, love experimenting with food, or simply have a freezer with a small storage space? A dehydrator can be a great asset in your kitchen. 

Not only is it as easy as cutting up food evenly and placing it on the tray, but it also saves hundreds on the energy bill. Furthermore, it extends the shelf-life of your fresh foods.

Here's a complete rundown of how to use a food dehydrator effectively.

How to Use a Food Dehydrator?

A food dehydrator removes moisture and dries out food slowly using very little heat. This low-and-slow plan ensures the nutritional content of the food is preserved and the shelf-life is extended well beyond years. Here's how to use a food dehydrator:

  • Take your choice of food. Make sure it is fresh, clean, and dry.
  • Cut it into equal-sized pieces.
  • Read the manual for the dehydrator and set the temperature as listed for the food you're drying.
  • Preheat the dehydrator while you're preparing the food.
  • Once the food is hard and breakable, take out the tray and let it come to room temperature.
  • Store it in an airtight bag in a dry, dark, and cool area.
  • When it's time to rehydrate the food, place it in an equal amount of water for at least four hours and cook as usual.

How to Preserve Fresh Fruits in a Food Dehydrator?

dehydration machine with orange slices on kitchen table

A food dehydrator helps avoid the browning of fruits and maximizes their shelf life. Crispy fruit chips make great snacks to have on hand — especially if you eat breakfast on the go. Here's how you can preserve fresh fruits in bulk using a food dehydrator:

  • Wear kitchen gloves to protect the food from skin oils while preparing it.
  • Spray the surface with an anti-bacterial spray and wipe away any excess.
  • Peel and slice the fruit into equal portions. It's better to use a mandolin when you can to ensure all cuts are of uniform thickness.
  • Make a citrus bath using one part lemon (or pineapple) and four parts water. Soak all fruits for five minutes.
  • Pit cherries, freeze and boil cranberries, peel oranges, and cut strawberries in half before placing them in the food dehydrator.
  • Place the dehydrated fruit on the trays evenly and set the temperature as listed in the manual.
  • Once the fruit is crunchy, store it in a food saver, a Ziploc bag, or an airtight container in a dry area.

How to Preserve Vegetables in a Food Dehydrator?

Like fruits, vegetables spoil easily. A food dehydrator preserves the natural flavors, colors, and nutritional value of veggies just by blowing hot air consistently. Here's how to process vegetables for the food dehydrator:

  • Wear food-safe gloves, spray the surface with an anti-bacterial spray, and rinse the vegetables with cold water. Leave them out to dry.
  • Cut the produce into even slices. Use a mandolin, for the best measure.
  • Before placing them on the tray, steam all vegetables that can brown easily (eggplant, broccoli, etc). Place carrots, potatoes, and squash into boiling water, then submerge them in ice to process them. Spray carrots with lemon juice if you'd like to preserve the color.
  • Place the vegetables evenly on the dehydrator trays, set the temperature as listed, and check consistently.
  • Store them in an airtight jar or freeze them if you'd like the vegetables to have a bit of a chew.

How to Preserve Herbs in a Food Dehydrator?

Preserving herbs in a food dehydrator is the easiest way to test out the appliance. It takes the least amount of time to dry and less to prepare. Here's how you can do it:

  • Put on food-safe gloves, clean the surface with an anti-bacterial spray, and wash the herbs thoroughly.
  • Run them through a salad spinner to make sure they're completely dry.
  • Then, pick away the thick stems and cut the herbs to the desired size.
  • Place on the dehydrator tray evenly and set the temperature as instructed in the manual.
  • Store in an airtight spice jar and keep it in a cool, dry area.

How to Preserve Meat in a Food Dehydrator?

Although meat preserves well when frozen, it does even better when dehydrated. It takes up less space, is easier to handle, and is at a lesser risk of contamination. Here's how you can preserve meat in a food dehydrator and get the most bang for your buck:

  • Make sure to wear food-safe gloves to avoid contamination.
  • Slice the raw meat of choice into thin strips.
  • Mix ‌marinade and coat the meat generously.
  • Store in a lidded glass dish for 12 hours or overnight.
  • Take out the marinated meat and place it on the dehydrator rack. Make sure the slices are at an even distance and aren't overlapping.
  • Set the temperature as listed on the instruction label and check back regularly.
  • If you're drying meat jerky, take it out if it cracks when bent. It shouldn't be dried to the point of being brittle.
  • Store in an airtight bag and freeze to preserve longer.

Alternative Ways You Can Use a Food Dehydrator

A food dehydrator can be used to preserve just about anything, and raw food is just the tip of the iceberg. You can dehydrate cooked food like roasted peppers, eggs, seeds, etc. Here are some other ways you can maximize using the food dehydrator:

  • Slice peppers in half, broil them in the oven, and dehydrate them until crispy to enjoy roasted vegetables.
  • Soak nuts in salt water and dehydrate them until crunchy to enjoy tastier and more nutritious nuts.
  • Soak seeds in salt water overnight and dehydrate to enjoy crispy snacks.
  • Blend fruits with water. Lay down a nonstick sheet on the dehydrator tray, spread the liquid mixture, and dehydrate to make fruit leather.
  • Make a yogurt culture, place it in a canning jar inside the dehydrator, set the temperature as listed, and enjoy homemade yogurt.

Expert Tips to Make the Most of Your Food Dehydrator

electric food dehydrator on the kitchen table

A food dehydrator is fairly simple to use. Make sure to read the instruction manual before setting the temperature. Keep the following tips in mind and you'll be a pro in no time:

  • Make sure the dehydrator is placed away from windows and ACs. It should be placed in a cool and dry place.
  • Do not increase the internal temperature to dry food 'faster'. Dehydrators work on a low-and-slow plan. High temperatures will seal the skin but not the flesh, which will spoil the food.
  • Dehydrate onions and garlic separately. The smell can transfer onto other food substances. Wash the tray with distilled vinegar after it's done to remove the odor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I leave the trays that aren't being used inside the food dehydrator?

Yes, you can leave the trays that aren't being used inside a running food dehydrator. You'll just have to clean them out after it's done. It's better to keep the empty trays out.

How long does it take to dry food in a dehydrator?

It takes around 10 hours to dry food in a dehydrator. This depends upon the moisture content and size of the food. The temperature at which the dehydrator is running also affects the overall time required.

Final Thoughts

Despite being an old-school method of food preservation, a dehydrator continues to be relevant in every era. It's cost-effective and brings more depth of flavor using the low-and-slow method. Armed with the knowledge of how to use a food dehydrator, it's time to start experimenting.

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