Most foods can be dried indoors using modern food dehydrators, counter-top convection ovens or conventional ovens. Microwave ovens are recommended only for drying herbs, because there is no way to create enough air flow in them.
A food dehydrator is a small electrical appliance for drying foods indoors. A food dehydrator has an electric element for heat and a fan and vents for air circulation. Dehydrators are efficiently designed to dry foods fast at 140°F.
An oven is ideal for occasional drying of meat, fruit leathers, banana chips or for preserving excess produce like celery or mushrooms. Because the oven may also be needed for everyday cooking, it may not be satisfactory for preserving abundant garden produce.
Oven drying is slower than dehydrators because it does not have a built-in fan for the air movement. It takes two times longer to dry food in an oven than in a dehydrator. Thus, the oven is not as efficient as a dehydrator and uses more energy.
To Use Your Oven
First, check your dial and see if it has a reading as low as 140°F. If your oven does not go this low, then your food will cook instead of dry. For air circulation, leave the oven door propped open 2 to 6 inches. Circulation can be improved by placing a fan outside the oven near the door.
Because the door is left open, the temperature will vary. An oven thermometer placed near the food gives an accurate reading. Adjust the temperature dial to achieve the needed 140°F.
Trays should be narrow enough to clear the sides of the oven and should be 3 to 4 inches shorter than the oven from front to back. Cake cooling racks placed on top of cookie sheets work well for some foods. The oven racks, holding the trays, should be 2 to 3 inches apart for air circulation.
This method of drying differs from sun drying since it takes place indoors in a well-ventilated attic, room or car. Herbs, hot peppers, nuts in the shell and partially dried, sun dried fruits are the most common air-dried items.
Herbs and peppers can be strung on a string or tied in bundles and suspended from overhead racks in the air until dry. Enclosing them in paper bags, with openings for air circulation, protects them from dust, loose insulation and other pollutants. Nuts are spread on papers, a single layer thick. Partially sun-dried fruits should be left on their drying trays.
Dehydro-freezing is a new method of food preservation that combines the techniques of drying and freezing.
Fruits dried at home normally have had 80 percent of their moisture removed; vegetables, 90 percent. However, by removing only 70 percent of the moisture and storing the fruit or vegetable in the freezer, a tastier product result. The low temperature of the freezer inhibits microbial growth. Also, the food takes up less room in the freezer. Dehydro-frozen fruits and vegetables have good flavor and color. They reconstitute in about one-half the time it takes for traditionally dried foods.
Dehydro-freezing is not freeze-drying. Freeze drying is a commercial technique that forms a vacuum while the food is freezing. Freeze drying is a costly process which can’t be done in the home.
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