Preparing dehydrated food is a skill easily mastered by every prepper.
One of the best ways to preserve food for long term storage is dehydration. Foods stored in preparation for emergencies typically include a good selection of dried fruits and vegetables as well as beef, ham or even venison.
Benefits of Dehydrating Food
Dehydration is a safe, affordable and effective way for preserving the flavor and value of foods. When moisture is removed from food, yeast, bacteria and mold cannot grow. The process has minimal effect on the nutritional content of foods.
Home dehydration systems only reduce the nutritional content of foods by 3 to 5%, compared to about 60 to 80% loss of nutritional value with home canning. Vitamins A and C, fiber, carbohydrates, magnesium, potassium, sodium and selenium are not changed or depleted by dehydration. The result of the drying process is food loaded in nutrients that can be stored for long periods.
Preppers also appreciate other benefits provided by dehydrated food:
- Dried foods are “super foods”, providing more nutrition and flavor per pound than fresh foods
- Dehydration is inexpensive
- Dehydrated foods are lightweight, long lasting and can be eaten without additional preparation
- Dried foods are easy to store, taking up little space
- No preservatives or added ingredients are required
There are various options from time-consuming solar dryers to costly conventional ovens. However, the most efficient investment is a home food dehydrator that can prepare larger volumes of dried food with consistent results. Follow these tips when making a purchase.
- A vertical dehydrator is best for just a few foods
- A horizontal dehumidifier is best for large amounts and different kinds of foods
- A fan on the unit promotes efficient and even drying
- Adjustable temperature settings are important for drying different foods
- Different trays and accessories are appropriate for different foods
- Additional supplies include a sharp knife, a spatula, heavy-bottomed saucepans, a blender and a strainer. Other helpful items to have on hand include a cherry pitter, an apple corer, a bean French, and a salad spinner. Specialty tools depend on the foods being processed.
Best Foods to Dehydrate
There is almost no limit to the foods that can be dehydrated. Fruits, vegetables, and meats are all good candidates. Apples and tomatoes are popular, with beef and venison being popular meats to dehydrate. Properly prepared and stored, dehydrated foods can last 5-15 years.
The easiest foods to dehydrate are green leafy vegetables and herbs. They dry quickly and provide flavor and important minerals to the diet. Fruits and vegetables will require more preparation and drying time. Most have to be sliced into small pieces for thorough dehydration. Meats and fish are challenging, requiring cooking before dehydration to kill harmful bacteria, as the temperature in dehydrators is not high enough to destroy them.
Plan how much food will be dehydrated remembering that 80% of moisture is removed from fruits and up to 90% removed from vegetables. This means that the dried weight of foods is much less than the fresh foods. For example, 20 pounds of fresh apples result in about 2 pounds of dried fruit, and 20 pounds of fresh carrots yields about 1 ¾ pounds of dried food.
How to Dehydrate Fruits and Vegetables
- Be sure to read all manufacturer instructions regarding the proper use of the dehydrator and the guidelines for food preparation
- Wash and dry fresh food to reduce bacteria
- Blanch crunchy foods to preserve taste and texture
- Peel and core as required, and slice into even slices
- Cut corn off the cob rather than drying the entire cob
- Lay sliced items in the tray in a single even layer; drying the same food makes it easier to control drying times
- Dry larger items at 130-135°F for 6-12 hours, and smaller items for 3-10 hours; smaller vegetables contain less water and will dry faster
- Check for texture during drying; different foods will feel different when sufficiently dried; for example, beets, peppers, pears, and pineapples will feel leathery, and apples, peaches, and strawberries will feel pliable; refer to dehydrator
- equipment instructions for specific information
- Store in airtight containers in dry, dark places
How to Dehydrate Meats
- To prevent food poisoning, precook all meats before dehydration to kill any potentially dangerous bacteria. Be sure to follow instructions provided with the dehumidifier to ensure safe processing.
- Cut meat into small uniform slices; ham should be cut in 1 inch wide slices like bacon; beef can be cut into long ¼ inch wide strips; chicken can be pulled apart
- Place meat strips evenly on a tray so they do not overlap
- Dry the meat at 145-155°F for about 6 hours
- During the drying process, use paper towels to remove oil and fat that rise to the surface of ham and beef slices
- Check the meat every few hours until it is completely dry; the process is not precise; pieces should snap but not crack when bent
- Store dried meats in airtight containers in a dry dark location at room temperature
Learning how to dehydrate foods will increase the prepper’s capacity to prepare nutritious and tasty foods. Being able to control the preserving process and the choice of foods provides the flexibility to create a cost effective food store.Dehydrated food offers a nutritious and durable option for sustenance in emergencies.