I have been busy dehydrating peaches and watermelon. It is a new experiment and one I am enjoying.
I wanted a food dehydrator for a long time, but the ones I have seen were prohibitively expensive. Last week’s email flyer from Canadian Tire advertised this Salton food dehydrator for an economical $64.99. We picked one up and so far I am pleased with its performance.
Dehydrating retains nearly 100 percent of nutritional value of fresh food. You can avoid preservatives such as sulfites often used in commercial dried fruits, not to mention the sugar or vinegar required for canning. Dried foods take up much less space in the pantry or freezer. Preparation and processing are relatively quick and easy to do.
A little work beforehand will make for better quality of the finished product. Some fruits and vegetables benefit from blanching to destroy decomposing enzymes. Fruits that bruise will retain their colour better if pretreated with lemon juice or ascorbic acid, though this is optional. The foods must be thinly sliced to about 6 mm, so the do-it-yourself method will not produce whole dried peaches or apricots like ones from the store.
On the other hand, so far I have been surprised at how well the fruit retained its colour and flavour. The product is definitely superior to what I am used to from the bulk food store. I sliced the peaches directly into a bowl of lemon juice then dried them on damp paper towels. However, the melon required no preservative. These chewy, dried wedges are far more delicious than the imported melons that turn up in supermarkets during the winter.
The instruction manual suggests dried foods will keep their nutritional value longer if stored in the freezer. So that is what we will do. However, dried food takes up far less space than wet frozen. Three-quarters of a big watermelon dried down to about 100g.
Unfortunately I have not used a dehydrator before and cannot provide a comparison to other (mostly more expensive) products available. However, it has several features I like.
The adjustable temperature control makes it versatile. Fruit needs to be dried at a relatively high temperature, about 50° to 60° C, whereas so much heat will quickly vaporize the aromatic oils in herbs.
This model has five stacking trays to accommodate a nice quantity of fruit. It will take up a lot of space in a small kitchen, but fits on top of our fridge for storage. The rigid plastic trays feel fragile to me, so I will not go playing Frisbee.
The instruction booklet provides good information about how to prepare and dry a range of foods. This PDF seems not to be complete; for example, it is missing the useful temperature chart in version that came with the product. But it gives the idea.
Theoretically it is best to circulate the trays, because food on the bottom level dries faster. But despite what reviews on the Canadian Tire website suggest, the machine has done a uniform job. I have not had to move anything, just turn on the dehydrator and keep an eye on it until the job is finished. The watermelon dried in about 12 hours; the peaches took longer.
So now my imagination is running with all kinds of other things to dry next.
I am especially excited about drying some herbs from the garden. Last year they had to hang around for weeks to dry thoroughly. This instruction manual promises less than eight hours. I feel more optimistic about the prospect for drying delicately-flavoured herbs such as tarragon and lemon verbena.
Then of course there are all the possibilities for how to use these products. Dehydrated vegetables will be excellent to add to winter soups, but some experimentation is in store. I can hardly wait to try adding a peach wedge to my pot of morning tea.