Dehydration

Rhonda Matthews,
Regional Senior Food Safety and Nutrition Agent,
Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service

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Drying Foods: Minimum Effort, Maximum Flavor

People have been drying food for long term storage for centuries. Current day food dehydrators remove much of the guess work from drying, but many South Carolinians still use the tried and true method of sun drying. Food dehydration creates safe food by removing most of the moisture—moisture is one of the essential components for microbe growth. Less moisture typically indicates less chance of microbes and, therefore, less chance of food related illness. One true advantage of dehydrated food is the small amount of storage space required. Dehydrated foods are a favorite of hikers and campers who prize lightweight, easily portable, good tasting food that fits into a backpack.

Apples that are being prepared for drying.
Apples being prepared for drying.
Reid Latham, ©2015 Extension Volunteer

Electric Food Dehydrators

For drying small batches of food, electric food dehydrators are an excellent choice. Fruits and vegetables as well as jerky can be successfully dried in less than 1 day. Simply slice food thin, space evenly in a single layer on trays, and dry at the recommended temperature until the food is pliable but not brittle. The major drawback to entry level electric food dehydrators is the limited amount of food that can be dried in one batch. For those who wish to dry larger batches of food, additional drying trays may be purchased for electric dehydrators. Larger tabletop and cabinet style electric dehydrators are also available.

Sun Drying Fruits

For larger batches of fruits (apples and peaches are popular choices) consider drying on elevated screens outside on breezy, sunny days with low humidity (60% or less.)  This generations old method is slower than using an electric dehydrator, but still very effective. Place food grade screens on cinderblocks to elevate off the ground. It is also helpful to place a sheet of tin or metal on the ground underneath—this reflects the sun and increases the drying temperature. It is also recommended to place a second screen on top of the food to prevent birds or other creatures from enjoying the food before you do. It will be necessary to cover the food or bring it under shelter at night to prevent air moisture from being absorbed as night temperatures fall. Sun dried fruits should be pasteurized to destroy any insects or their eggs. To pasteurize dried fruits, seal the food in a freezer proof bag and freeze at 0 oF for 2 days.

Apples drying on elevated screens outside on breezy, sunny day.
Apples drying on elevated screens outside on breezy, sunny day.
Reid Latham, ©2015 Extension Volunteer

Indoor Herb Drying

Herbs are perhaps the easiest food to dry. Bundle together a few fresh, clean sprigs, then hang in an area with good air circulation. Inside herb drying retains color and flavor better than other drying methods. The absolute best flavor comes from herbs harvested just prior to bud burst.

Storage

All dried food can be stored at room temperature in a moisture proof container. Storage times vary—jerky will last up to 2 weeks, and fruits and vegetables can last 4-12 months.

Cooking with Dried Fruits and Vegetables

Dried chips of fruits and vegetables are excellent on their own for snacking or dipping. Or, re-hydrate by soaking in juice or water, then simmering lightly to desired consistency. If making soup, dried food can be added straight to broth or vegetable juice, where it will rehydrate and cook in a single step.

Try this helpful hint: dry vegetables in the electric dehydrator until brittle. Pulverize the chips in a food processor. Use the resulting powder to thicken and season soups, stews and casseroles—a great use for overabundance of squash or zucchini!

For more information on any type of food preservation or safe food storage, contact your county’s Clemson University Extension Office.  Or, visit Clemson University’s Home and Garden Information Center website for:

HGIC 3080 Drying Foods
HGIC 3084 Drying Fruits
HGIC 3085 Drying Vegetables
HGIC 3086 Dryer Herbs, Seeds & Nuts

Page maintained by: Home & Garden Information Center

This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.