Enjoying benefits of a food dehydrator

 Salton food dehydrator

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.

Dried peaches and watermelon

8 thoughts on “Enjoying benefits of a food dehydrator

  1. Must try peaches! I dry a ton of apples in the fall, saving a bunch for myself and giving a bunch to my nieces, who love them. (From what my brother tells me, the girls are prone to eating too many in a short period of time with…um…”issues” afterwards, but hey, that’s their bathroom not mine!) 😉 I use the dried apples all winter, usually torn up and added to the other dry ingredients as I’m prepping a bowl of oatmeal to make in the microwave. I usually add just a tiny bit extra water/milk to ensure enough liquid to rehydrate the apples.

    Oh, and our dogs LOVE the dehydrated apples as well. And if you have dogs, you can drop whole sweet potatoes into boiling water for maybe 5-10 min, remove from the water and let them cool a short bit, and then peel them. (The skins might slip off even easier if you score around the sweet potato with a knife first) Then slice on a mandolin and dehydrate. I use both the “potato chip thin” and the thicker (1/4″?) blades, resulting in different thicknesses, which just mean different drying times. The thicker pieces need more chewing by our dogs, and the thing ones get more crispy.

    1. We picked a bunch of apples from a friend’s tree on the weekend, so we’re planning to dry a bunch of them. Do you peel them or leave the peels on? Thanks for the tip about sweet potatoes. We don’t have dogs, but they would be good for us people.

      1. I have a gadget that does the coring, peeling and slicing all at once – you crank the apple through and get a spiral. The peeling is optional, but I’m not super fond of the peels anyhow, so I take them off. You could certainly leave them on!

        I don’t know that people will LOVE the sweet potato chips as-is…. I’ve tried them, and they’re SERIOUSLY tough when I’m done making them, and remember, they’re not fully “cooked” (tender or sweet) when they go into the dehydrator.

  2. Oh, and as for drying times and temps – my dehydrator suggests 135F for fruits and veggies I think? And times is all dependent on how done you want them…more chewy or more crispy? If more chewy, I do often store them in the freezer, but if I go REALLY dry and crisp, they can stay in a plastic or glass container for a year (we don’t usually have them last anywhere near that long)

  3. I love doing bananas, apples, and pineapple in my dehydrator. I’ve found that the squirrels in my neighborhood are very fond of banana chips, so those tend to disappear quickly. I’m adding fresh, local watermelon dehydrating to my to-do list this weekend! Thank you for the idea!

  4. The peach slice to your tea is a great idea as is the herb-drying hint. I have a dehydrator sitting in the basement along with a Yogotherm for making home-made yogurt. I used to really get into stuff like this but it fell by the wayside although I still make my own pickles and kraut. We have a lot of blueberries that need to be eaten up, so it may be worthwhile to dry them for adding to muffins etc.

  5. I like the idea of the peach slice in your morning tea and I never would have thought of doing watermelon. Our dog loves sweet potatoes so I might try Jeph’s method for drying them. We’re doing garlic and peppers and possibly beets, if there are some leftover from canning.

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