Dehydrating is one of the easiest methods I’ve ever found to prepare foods. I like how I can leave something in the dehydrator for hours and not worry about for awhile…and then when I come back to open it up, there is something delicious to eat awaiting me inside.
People have been drying food since the beginning of time – and for most of that time, out of necessity. Throughout history, the sun, wind, and salt were three main elements used to preserve food. In ancient times, some of the first stable civilizations in places Mesopotamia and Egypt preserved many different types of foods – salt preserved fish and meats, dried grains and fruits. The discovery of the processes were a large part of what enabled the success of civilizations to flourish and grow.
In modern times, we now have technology on our side which has given us the ability to create devices capable of producing the same results, right in your own kitchen. Drying food is ideal for taking on trips, sending in lunches, or going anywhere away from home. You can also store dried foods for months in your freezer, or if you buy a food vacuum sealer, you can package food and ensure it will last longer.
So far, we’ve made granola, dried fruit and vegetables, and jerky with our dehydrator. The Excalibur dehydrator we bought over a year ago has never let us down, and it’s one of the appliance purchases I’ve made from which I feel I’ve gotten the most use for my money (and they did not pay me to say that). In fact, at $209.95 (from now until February 23rd, 2011), the 5-tray Excalibur dehydrator is a great price.
Here are 8 reasons to dehydrate foods:
- Make crispy crackers, nuts, granola, and chips – after soaking grains or nuts overnight, you can then dehydrate them according to the drying times specified for each type of food in the recipe guide of your dehydrator.
- Cost saving – use up food that you might otherwise have to throw away – when you dehydrate foods, it actually causes the foods to shrink in size and decreases the amount of space needed to store the food, enabling you to save money by keeping for later what you can’t use now. Then you can use dried foods in recipes or just eat out of the container. You can freeze foods that you dehydrate if you can’t eat them all right away, and stretch out your food dollars more. And, frozen dried foods can be used any time of the year – especially when foods are not in season.
- Preserve nutrients – according to Dr. Edward Howell, author of “Enzyme Nutrition”, the actual temperature of the food in the dehydrator is 20 – 25 degrees cooler than the setting on the device itself. So if your temperature is set at 145 degrees fahrenheit, the temperature of the food is actually 120 to 125 degrees. Then, after the first several hours you should turn the temperature down to a lower setting – anywhere from 20 degrees lower or more for the remaining drying time. Using this method decreases total drying time and decreases potential for the development of bacteria and mold on the food. It also helps to ensure the preservation of critical nutrients in the food.
- Dehydrating is green – it costs less to run the dehydrator than the oven in your house, preserves nutrients, and the Excalibur Dehydrator is free of dangerous chemicals like BPA in its trays and housing components which could leach into the food during the drying process.
- Make jerky – this is one of my favorite reasons. We’ve made jerky several times and I love that it’s ready whenever I want to eat it. There are many variations on preparing jerky.
- Ensures that you know how the food is prepared and what’s in it - unlike store bought foods where you really don’t know where the food comes from and usually has questionable ingredients, dehydrating your own food allows you to have complete control over what goes in the food, and you can tailor it to your own tastes and health needs.
- Make dried fruits and vegetables for snacks, in pancakes or hot cereals, use in many recipes such as home-made desserts, soups, and casseroles. Dried fruits and vegetables are easily reconstituted by adding a bit of water in foods you are preparing, or eat them as is for a snack.
- A good alternative to canning – even if you preserve your own foods at home in glass jars to save time and money, canning is labor-intensive. Additionally, the lids used in canning usually contain BPA in the lining. For this reason, dehydrating is better and also takes less effort and time on your part. And again, dehydrating preserves nutrients better than any other form of preserving done at home or in the store.
Here is our jerky recipe that we’ve used several times with great results:
- Slice 1 – 2 pounds of your favorite meat (you can also use goose, bison, chicken, salmon, and game meats) into thin strips – about 3/16″ with the grain of the meat, and place in a casserole dish. Alternatively, you can use a plastic bag. You can leave the fat on, but we have tried it both ways and we prefer to cut the fat off and save it for other cooking uses. We have found that when we leave the fat on, not only does it have an undesirable texture for eating later when the jerky is finished, the fat will cause the meat to spoil faster (unless you freeze it). We typically use sirloin, flank, skirt, tenderloin, round steak, or some other cut without bones and a lot of fat.
- These are the marinading ingredients we’ve used: organic fermented soy sauce (1/3 cup), organic Worcestershire sauce (1/3 cup), minced onions and/or garlic (1/4 cup) or onion powder (1 tsp), black pepper (1 tsp), sea salt (1 tsp), raw honey, gently melted (1/4 cup, optional). Mix together and add to your casserole dish or plastic bag which contains the meat and mix up or spread around to make certain all your meat pieces are coated with the marinade.
- Place the meat, covered, in the casserole dish in the refrigerator for 8-10 hours. We have left ours longer – up to 2 days, and it turned out delicious. When you are ready to dehydrate, take meat out of dish or bag and soak up extra moisture thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.
- Line your dehydrator trays with parchment paper.
- Place the meat on the paper and close the dehydrator.
- Set the temperature to about 150 degrees. If you are going to turn your temperature down, do so after 2-3 hours. You will then have to check periodically to see if it is done, otherwise you can end up with over-dried, brittle meat. Most meat shouldn’t take longer than 8 hours to dry, but it is a good idea to check every few hours to be sure.
The picture at the top of this post shows our meat marinading in the casserole dish on top of our dehydrator. While marinading, we store it in the refrigerator for at least overnight and sometimes up to a day or more.
The first few times we made jerky, our meat was done usually within 8 from when we started it. We used the “turn temperature down” method today to make a new batch of jerky, so I would advise checking every 2 hours to see how far along your meat is after turning down the temperature. Meat will be done when it is no longer moist, but if you leave it too long it will become very dry and will crack when you try bending it.
Important : My husband thought our first several batches of jerky were too bland and uninspiring. My son and I, on the other hand, thought they were delicious. If you prefer a stronger taste, use the Worcestershire sauce in your recipe. It will be extremely lively and tangy – in my opinion, too much. If you prefer a milder, less tangy taste, don’t use the Worcestershire. The same goes for garlic or onion (powder or minced). All of these ingredients will add to the liveliness of your jerky. My husband thinks our latest batch is superb….my son and I, not so much. So it really depends on what flavors you prefer.
Also, my husband prefers jerky to be more on the “jerk” side of done, which means, more dry and chewy. My son and I, not so much. So if you like your jerky to be a little more moist and less dry, watch the time on the dehydrator. If your jerky turns out more moist, you should definitely store it in the refrigerator or freezer if you don’t plan to eat it right away. More dry, you can keep it out for a couple of days and it should be fine.