1. What exactly is dehydrating? Plainly and simply, dehydrating is a method of food preservation in which moisture is removed from the food. It is the presence of moisture in fresh food that provides such an ideal medium for the growth of microorganisms and decay. As a result, dehydrating can dramatically increase the storage life of all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and meats.
2. Is there a difference between dried food and dehydrated food? Yes, there is, although today many people use these terms interchangeably. Actually, a dehydrated food is a dried food, but with a greater percentage of the moisture having been removed. You can see the difference in the dried fruits which are commonly available in supermarkets and grocery stores. Enough moisture remains in these products that flexibility remains. The fruit continues to be soft and pliable. Something such as a dehydrated banana chip, on the other hand, emerges from the dehydrator both crisp and tasty. It will store much better than will its grocery store cousins.
3. What about freeze dried? A freeze dried food is a food that has first been been taken to close to freezing in a vacuum chamber. From there moisture is removed through a process of sublimation rather than through heating. In effect, liquids are vacuumed from the food, leaving behind something that has indeed been dehydrated, but with a difference. It is common to find that the fresh food taste will return upon rehydration. However, this is a commercial process and not economically done in the home. Many people will purchase the commercially prepared product for long term and emergency storage purposes, or for trail foods. It is quite common to see entire entrees freeze dried. Once opened, though, storage becomes a bit of a problem since such produce tends to rehydrate or reabsorb moisture with great rapidity. Humidity in the home can then create real difficulties.
4. How do dehydrated foods taste? That is a very difficult question to answer. Some feel that they no longer taste quite like the fresh product, although some would disagree with that assessment. After all, dehydrated foods haven't really been processed other than to have the moisture removed. When used in cooking, many feel that dehydrated foods are almost indistinguishable from the fresh product. Even if you do find a bit of a taste difference that is not necessarily a bad thing. Canned foods don’t quite taste like the fresh product either, but most people find them quite palatable. In general, people who use dehydrated foods tend to swear by them rather than swear at them. Many will tell you that there is nothing more delicious that sauces and soups made with your own dehydrated vegetables and seasoned with your own dehydrated herbs and spices.
5. Are there recipes available? There certainly are. All dehydrators sold by Store-It Foods come with recipes and instructions. Beyond that, there are many recipes available on-line and increasingly through book stores.
6. What kinds of foods can you dehydrate? Virtually all fruits and vegetables can be dehydrated as well as many meats. Follow the directions provided and you can produce everything from beef jerky to fruit leathers. Dried fruits and some vegetables make for great natural snacks. You can cook with dehydrated fruits and vegetables much as you would with fresh foods.
7. How long does it take? Most foods dehydrate within four to twelve hours, although there are certainly some exceptions. Time is dependant upon the types of food, quantities, capabilities of the dehydrator, and temperatures required for the various products. No matter what the time involved, this is still a labor saving endeavor. Very little preparation time is required, and minimal supervision is needed.
8. Does dehydrating destroy nutrients? The heating of the food will cause some loss of nutrients, but, if properly done, that loss is amazingly small. You will be retaining about 90% of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients – as long as you are patient enough to follow instructions. Use higher heats, and the foods will dehydrate faster, but that will also accelerate nutrient loss. As well, you may find that you have begun to cook the outer layers of your fruits and vegetables rather than dry them.
9. What additives do I have to use? Really, there are no additives that you “have to” use. That is one of the nice things about dehydrating. Preservatives such as sugar and salt are not required. Some will make use of various flavorings in producing their jerky, or add something such as sodium bisulfite to preserve coloring and prevent browning in fruits and vegetables, but these are all optional additions.
10. I’ve heard that you cannot safely dehydrate meat. Is that true? It is true that fats in meats can present some problems, but once again we refer you to the instructions and recipes that come with your dehydrator. Safe and effective ways of dehydrating meat will be outlined.
11. What extra equipment might I need? Dehydrating is one of the most economical ways there is to preserve food. Boiling water baths, precooking, jars, lids, and bottles are some of the many things that are NOT NEEDED to successfully dehydrate. You can save money by not buying extra equipment. As a bonus, you’ll even use less energy.
12. How do I store the finished product? We recommend the same vacuum sealers that we suggest be used for frozen foods, but any airtight container will do. The better you can avoid contact with humidity, the better the storage will be. You’ll be pleased to know, too, that besides saving on weight, you’ll also be saving on space. You will likely find that dehydrated foods require only about one tenth the storage space needed for canned foods.
13. Are dehydrated foods recommended for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities? You bet they are. Make your own trail mix. Prepackage meals using dehydrated foods. Dehydrated ingredients speed preparation time, and since the food is so lightweight and compact, it’s ideal for backpackers and campers.
14. Are dehydrated foods good for long term storage? Yes, they are. You are not talking days, weeks or even months when you are talking of the shelf life of dehydrated foods. You are often talking years. Of course, there is quite a degree of variation between various types of food, and this is assuming proper storage away from possible insect infestation or contact with moisture, but, in general, they are wonderful for long term storage. They also eliminate the worries relating to heating failures or electrical outages, so they are safe options when considering emergencies as well.
15. You carry several brands, and several models. Is one dehydrator recommended over another? We tend not to make those kinds of recommendations. What is best for one person may not be best for the next. We do try to provide you with as much information as we can so that you can make an informed decision yourself, but in the end it really is you who has to determine which one is the right one.