This is the first year I have tried drying food, other than herbs. Drying food is an old technique used for thousands of years. Dried foods contain more nutrients that canned food and are delicious when reconstituted. Drying is a simple technique that involves very little equipment.
Dry food is less likely spoil due to the removal of moisture. When the moisture is gone, bacteria, mold, and yeasts can not grow and spoil the food. Properly dried food have about 80%- 90% of the water removed. Dried food can be stored for about 6 months to two years, depending on the the storage temperature.
Prepping food for drying
- Select unblemished fruits and vegetables.
- Cut the produce around the same size for even drying.
- Some produce require blanching before drying. Blanching heats the produce without actually cooking it. This is a necessary step to help stop the enzymes that break down food. For a list of foods that require blanching before drying, check out the UGA Extension booklet. For more information on blanching techniques, see our other post about Freezing.
- To improve color retention of fruits, you can dip the fruit in ascorbic acid (lemon juice, vitamin C) before drying.
There are 4 methods of Drying
This method is done my letting dry air circulate around the food to absorb moisture and carry it away. For air drying, you’ll want to keep the produce away from direct sun to help preserve color. Tie up herbs or string up peppers and hang them in a cool, well ventilated area of your house. If you hang the produce outside, bring them in in the evening to prevent dew from collecting on them. Depending on the conditions, your produce will be dry enough in a few days.
Drying your produce in the sun is little more tricky and requires some equipment and prep work. First of all let’s talk about weather conditions. The ideal air temp is 85-100 degrees with low humidity. If you live in the muggy south like me, sun drying is not a easy method. To dry outdoors you’ll need a drying screen/rack and cheesecloth. The “screen” needs be food safe (not galvanized metal). The screen also needs to be elevated to help with air flow. For more information and suggested guidelines on sun drying, check out the National Center for Home Preservation.
There are commercial dehydrators available for home use. I personally have a Nesco Dehydrator. This is the first year I have used it and so far I am pleased with the results. Using a dehydrator is simple: fill the trays with prepped produces, turn on the dehydrator, and go about your business. There are two cons I have found with my dehydrator. First, the model I have has no timer. Most of the time this not an issue, but if you have a million things going at once, it’s easy for forget that the dehydrator ran all day and all night 🙁 This resulted in some very, well dried out tomato slices. Second the dehydrator puts of heat…enough to warm up a room. So remedied this problem by putting the dehydrator on my porch; another reason I could use a timer.
You can use your oven to dry food. I have tried this method with making beef jerky once. This process is effective, but I think it’s the most expensive over all. With this method, you place the prepped food directly on the oven racks and cover with cheesecloth in a 120-145 degree oven. You’ll need to dry your food for about 4-12 hours, periodically checking the oven temp to ensure that it’s in the correct temperature range. Personally, I think if you going to run your oven for that long and spend the money of gas or electric, you are better off getting a dehydrator (with a timer).
Post Drying Processing and Packaging
Since the various methods of drying food is not precise, it is recommended that you pasteurize your dried foods. You can do so by heating or freezing. For pasteurizing by heat, spread your dried produce on trays in a thin layer and leave in a 175 degree oven for 10-15 mins. For the freezing method (which I use) place dried produce in a 0 degree freezer for 2 to 4 days. A deep/chest freezer is recommended for this method because it gets much colder than a standard freezer in a refrigerator. The freezing method destroys less vitamins as well.
Pack dried produce in an air tight resealable bag or glass jar. Store in a cool, dark, and dry place. If light is an issue, place the packaged, dried produce in a paper bag on you pantry floor. Happy preserving!