Have you ever seen your grand-ma sun drying fruits, lemons, mangos or even cooked food? I have. I am used to eating sun-dried mangoes, lemons, tomatoes and other vegetables.
Do you have a plum tree that produces thousands of fruits in a 3-week span and you don’t know what to do with all the excessive fruits? Dehydrate them for a on-the-go snack.
Dehydration, is an ancient method of food preservation. Basically water is extracted out of the food by sun drying or machine drying them. This method reduces the food down in size, requiring less storage space. Dehydrated food preserves well for longer period of time making it ideal for emergency food storage. It’s one of the top go to food among hikers and backpackers alike.
What can be dehydrated?
Just about anything can be dehydrated. Yes, you head that right. There are hundreds of tested recipes for dehydrated food.
Here are some of the food items I have personally dehydrated and tested for taste. I am writing this post from California, while chewing away dried jackfruit for a snack. How cool is that?
- Fruits: We are lucky to live at a home with over 10 mature fruit trees that produce abundantly during the peak season. Besides sharing the fruits with friends and neighbors, I always find more that I can dehydrate. These are my personal list of fruits for dehydration, because I get them in abundance. However, several other fruits can be dehydrated. Think Mango!
- Plums (pitted)
- Vegetables: Generally my vegetable garden doesn’t yield beyond meeting every-day cooking needs. However, just for hiking and backpacking purposes, I do dehydrate vegetables.
- Cooked Pulses and lentils
- Cooked Rice
- Cooked Pasta
Food I have not personally dehydrated but others have:
- Cooked Fish
- Cooked poultry
- Cooked Red meat
What are the different ways of dehydrating food at home?
How to dehydrate food with a dehydrator?
Sun drying: This is the most self-explanatory method. Spread out the sliced fruits or vegetables on clean trey, cover with a thin net or cloth to prevent thing falling into the trey. Expose to hot sun full day until it gets to the level of chewy, leathery texture.
Air drying: I have seen low moisture herbs, corn being air dried. Personally I have only air dried herbs such as mint, cilantro, rosemary and parsley.
Hot-air / electric drier: This is my go-to method for dehydrating food. Especially for cooked food, this method works really well and electric hot-air drier are affordable usually. Just to give an idea, cooked rice takes around 6-8 hours to dehydrate if I fill all 5 of my racks.
Oven drying: It is entirely possible to dry food using oven at a low consistent temperature. However, I consider this as an expensive option. Most ovens are running on electricity and energy is usually very expensive. This method takes a bit longer than electric-drier that blows hot air at the food directly to dry them u;.
Spray drying: According to Wikipedia, “Spray drying is a method of producing a dry powder from a liquid or slurry by rapidly drying with a hot gas. ”
Freeze drying: Again, according to Wikipedia, “is a low temperature dehydration process which involves freezing the product, lowering pressure, then removing the ice by sublimation.”
These two methods are generally used on industrial scale. However, Freeze drying machines are available in the market these days for home use. They tend to be significantly more expensive than dehydrating machines.
Also, Freeze drying has been proven to retain more nutritional value of the food than dehydration process.
What are the advantages of dehydrating food?
First at foremost, it’s a food preservation method. Here are some of the advantages:
- Stores smaller. Since water is pretty much fully extracted out, the food side reduced tremendously and less storage space is required.
- Lasts longer: We are talking about years here.
For hikes and travels:
- For hikes and backpacking trips, dehydrated food is the best option because they weigh less and occupy less space.
- Since the food is concentrated, dehydrated food packs a good amount of calories for weight-to-weight.
- For Vegans, vegetarians, those with allergies, home cooked dehydrated food will make the trip more enjoyable.
- If traveling in an expensive country, dehydrated meal can save $$ on eating out without compromising on tasty food.
- Most food are easy to rehydrate for a warm meal on cold camping night.
What are the disadvantages of dehydrating food?
- Well, it doesn’t taste like the fresh food for sure.
- Since there is really no liquid in dehydrated fruits and veggies, you have compensate with drinking water that you would have otherwise gotten from eating fresh fruit/vegetable.
- There is certainly some loss in the nutritive value such as Vitamin C and A.
What is the shelf life?
Dehydrated food stored properly can last varying number of years depending on the food dehydrated. I have personally experimented with storing Dhal/Rice and vegetables stored in ziplock cover left in the back of the fridge for over a year and it still tastes great upon re-hydration.
According to National Center for Home Food Preservation, “Dried foods should be stored in cool, dry, dark areas. Recommended storage times for dried foods range from 4 months to 1 year. Because food quality is affected by heat, the storage temperature helps determine the length of storage; the higher the temperature, the shorter the storage time. Most dried fruits can be stored for 1 year at 60ºF, 6 months at 80ºF. Vegetables have about half the shelf-life of fruits.”
How to store dehydrated food ?
Personally, I have just stored them in ziplock bags or air-tight containers and kept them in the fridge.
Vacuum sealing is another way to store dehydrated food and commonly used at kitchens that dehydrate lot of food. I have never found the need for vacuum sealing yet.
I mostly prepare the dehydrated food for an upcoming trip and Ziplock covers do wonders for me.
How do you rehydrate food?
- Cook them in a pot with boiling water
- Use Mylar bags. Put the dry food in the mylar bag and will will boiling water. Set it aside for several minutes and food will dehydrate. Mylar bags on a cold night might need some insulation.
- I have saved up some bags from old store bought dehydrated food and I re-use them.
How to use dehydrated food in regular cooking?
- Dehydrated fruit are a great snacks as is.
- Dried fruits make a great topping on ice-creams and breakfast cereals.
- Some dehydrated vegetables can be eat directly such as tomatoes, cucumber, Zucchini etc., and a great replacement for chips.
- Cook with dehydrated vegetables in stews, curries, soups and with rice. This will rehydrate them while cooking.
- Pizza toppings
Where to buy dehydrated food ?
If you don’t want to go through the process of dehydrating and storing the food yourself, you can get them at stores or online.
Most super markets do carry the dehydrated vegetables and and some fruits.
Sports equipment stores like REI and Sports Basement sell backpacker friendly full-meal options.
How does the rehydrated food taste compared to fresh food?
Moment of truth: I am not going to lie. It’s not a fresh food, period! However, when you have excessive food that would need to be stored for later or you are hiking a tough trail, rehydrated food tastes heavenly to say the least.
I personally don’t eat dehydrated food at home, ever. These are only for hiking, camping and travels.
Have you ever dehydrated food? What has been your experience?