Dehydrating Food: The Art of Food Preservation
Drying food is one of the oldest ways of preserving food in many cultures. The use of sunlight and salt to prevent food from decaying has always been used as the principle behind this ancient method of food preservation. Techniques have been handed down to many generations and the art has improved over the years.
Sun drying is convenient in places where sunny, arid climates exist, with temperatures of 85° F or more and humidity of less than 60 percent. However, drying can also be done on stove tops, ovens or open rooms. It was not till the 18th century when the first dehydrator was introduced in France; now the process can be done in more sophisticated means which has even become a multimillion dollar industry. However, dehydrating food can also be done at home with the use of an oven or an electric food dehydrator.
Benefits of Dry Food
The benefits of dehydrating food are many:
- It is a simple and economical way of preserving foods in bulk. Local seasonal foods like fruits and vegetables can be preserved and stored for future use. These dried products will then be available even when they are not in season, when they are not available locally or when they are more expensive in the market. In some cultures, fish and meat are dried, stored and consumed as part of meals.
- When foods are dried, microorganisms are inhibited from growing. Therefore, molds, bacteria and yeast are deprived of water which is their medium for growth, hence the preservation of food. Dried foods that are kept at room temperature may be safely used for around one year, after which their quality (taste and nutritional value) may deteriorate. It is recommended, therefore, to consume dried foods within a year.
- Dried foods are a favorite with campers and hikers. They are light in weight, easy to prepare and can last for long trips. A variety of foods can be taken for camping trips like died meat, fish, fruits and vegetables.
- Fruits can be made into fruit leathers and can be eaten as snacks. Examples of these fruits are mangoes, apples, cherries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, pears, and strawberries. This method of fruit preservation is also a great way to eat raw foods that taste like they have been cooked.
- Dehydrating vegetables for future use in cooking as ingredients and for snacks is also a good way of preserving them. Dried herbs will always be available when needed. Leafy vegetables like spinach, carrots and zucchini can be used directly in making soups and stews.
- One can also make cookies and crackers from fruit and vegetable pulps coming from the juicer and then dehydrated. These can also be made into granola bars and soup mixes that can be eaten as snacks or a quick meal.
- The question on nutritional value and caloric content of dehydrated food is worth mentioning. Although drying does not diminish the fiber and sugar content of food, some nutrients are reduced by the process of blanching, heating and air drying. For instance, a fraction of vitamins like A, B and C may be destroyed, and some minerals are lost. However, dried foods are a concentrated source of fiber, energy and iron.
Dehydrating food can be a simple and convenient way of preserving and storing foods that can someday come in handy as a delicious and healthy snack, an ingredient for cooking, a source of energy for campers and hikers and possibly a gift idea for friends and family.
University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, "Drying Food at Home" accessed 2/7/11
University of Missouri Extension, “Quality for Keeps: Drying Foods" accessed 2/7/11