Do-It-Yourself Food Dehydration

Do-It-Yourself Food Dehydration
Do-it-yourself drying is a fun way to preserve food at its peak for later enjoyment. Stock up in peak season when fruits and vegetables are cheap and plentiful, and stash them away to be savored in the depths of winter---an instant blast of summer everyone will welcome. Dried foods are great for backpacking, too.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • food dryer
  • screens
  • storage containers and labels
  • storage location
Step 1
Obtain a food dryer. Electric dryers are commercially available in many models and sizes. You can build a solar-powered dryer yourself or have a handy friend or contractor do it for you.
Step 2
Storage containers are easy to find at hardware or cooking supply stores. Vacuum-sealing devices and bags and airtight glass jars and lids work best. If you plan to give dried treats as gifts, decorative jars and lids are a nice touch. A purchased dryer should come with screens. If making your own solar dryer, you'll need to make screens as well. Avoid metal screen cloth as this may react with acids in foods.
Step 3
Choose food carefully. You want produce that is ripe but not overly so, and free of significant bruises or other blemishes. Think about how you will slice or otherwise prepare each type of food for drying, and how you'll use the finished product. Consider too whether drying certain foods yourself makes sense. For example, prepping and drying grapes yourself is time-consuming, while raisins are inexpensive and readily available.
Step 4
Prepare food for drying. Wash and dry produce. Most foods need to be sliced. Even, one-quarter inch thick slices are best for uniform drying. Small berries can be dried whole; larger berries should be sliced. Some fruits take on a brownish color when exposed to air. This won't affect flavor or nutritional content but can be avoided by sprinkling citric or ascorbic acid on cut surfaces.
Step 5
Dry the food. Lay food on screens, distributing evenly and making sure to allow some space between pieces---this is needed for proper airflow, which promotes drying. If using an electric dryer, follow the manufacturer's recommended settings and times. Solar dryers need to be checked frequently to maintain correct orientation to the sun. Ideal temperature for drying is 140 degrees; higher temperatures can result in cooking of the food as well as drying. Turn the screens 180 degrees about halfway through. If food in a solar dryer isn't done at day's end, bring it inside for the night and finish drying the next day. Leaving it out will set you back due to moisture absorption and you run the risk of ants or other pests ruining your harvest.
Step 6
Pack, label and store your bounty. Pack in containers sized for how you'll use them later. Label each with contents (e.g., "bananas, one pound") and date (e.g., "July 2018"). Store in a cool, dry, dark place such as a pantry or closet. You can also store vacuum-sealed bags in a freezer. Wine cellars may be too damp.
Step 7
Enjoy! Since dried foods don't have an unlimited shelf life, use older foods first. Many dried foods are great right out of the package, as a snack, garnish or special treat. Others are more useful if rehydrated first.

Tips & Warnings

Food is dry when leathery but pliable, not brittle.
Let dried food cool completely before packaging to avoid risk of mold.
If making jerky or drying meat, follow the recipe precisely.
Check stored food periodically and discard if spoiled.


Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

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