What are the various methods of drying food?
In the first part of our series, we talked about some expert methods of dehydrating food so that you will get consistent results when you fire up your dryer or oven.
In today’s post, which will wrap up our series on food preservation through dehydration, I am going to share with you some more excellent techniques so that you can get the most out of your oven or food drier.
How can you get great results with an oven?
Ovens are a logical choice for many people because they’re easy to use and an oven delivers consistent heat for many, many hours. To get the most of this method of drying food, keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t Overload – Overloading your oven will cause “hard case” issues with your food and will delay your success in completely dehydrating food for long-term storage.
Ideally, you should only dry 3 to 6 pounds of food at a time. Having an ideal amount of food in the oven will speed up the drying process and will ensure a continuous stream of adequately dehydrated food.
- Be Wary of Temperature Spikes – Ovens are designed to generate tremendous amounts of heat for roasting and baking food. An oven is designed to amplify and trap heat, too.
With these facts in mind you should be vigilant in monitoring the air temperature inside the oven while you are drying your food. Your target temperature range is 60-70 degrees Celsius only. Any more than this and your fruits/vegetables will begin to cook!
You need to check your dehydrating food once every hour to ensure that the inside of the oven isn’t getting too hot or too cool.
When preheating your oven, be sure to use only the lowest possible setting. It takes longer to reach your target temperature, but this is an ideal practice that will reduce the incidence of overheating your oven.
Most modern ovens are equipped with a broiler element, located on top. Do not use this feature as it will cause the top of your food to dry out too quickly, which would then result in “hard casing.”
If the outer layer of food is dried out too quickly, the moisture at the core will not be able to escape, leading to partially dried food that can spoil just as easily as fresh food.
- Arrange the Food Properly – Avoid overcrowding your trays as this will prevent the food from drying properly. There should sufficient space in between the pieces (at least half an inch) so that air can circulate properly.
To improve air circulation and prevent humidity issues in the oven, block the oven door with a piece of wood so that there will be a small gap. This small gap will help improve air circulation inside the oven as the food is drying up.
How can you become a rock star with commercial food dryers?
Commercial food dryers have a much higher capacity than ovens; you can load more than 10 pounds of fresh food at a time and still get great results.
If you have never used a commercial food dryer before, follow these simple tips to get you started on the right track:
- Be Patient – Food dryers are more economical but they do require more time to complete the task. Many commercial driers only operate at a maximal air temperature of 50 degrees Celsius.
This temperature can still dry food, but it’s going to take longer to fully dehydrate large batches of fruits or vegetables. The effort will definitely be worth it because you will be able to dehydrate large batches of food every time you decide to fire up your food dryer.
- Preheat for Best Results – Like ovens, commercial food dryers need to be preheated in order to generate sufficient heat to initiate the drying process. Set the food dryer to its highest possible setting (this varies from dryer to dryer) and measure the air temperature every few minutes.
When the air temperature reaches 50 degrees Celsius, slide the temperature control back 10-15 degrees and begin loading your food inside.
There are some heavy duty food dryers that can generate up to 65 degrees Celsius after preheating. Try to reach this temperature if you purchased an expensive dryer as your model is probably equipped with a larger and more powerful heating element.
The average time needed to completely dehydrate large batches of food is 10-12 hours. Don’t forget to shift the trays so that each one will be exposed to the heating element equally. If you are only dehydrating a small batch of fruits/vegetables, 4-5 hours should be sufficient.