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Are you looking for a way to help save food and save money? A great way to do this is to take the time to learn how to preserve food with dehydration. Dehydrating is a great way to use excess produce from the garden!
Why do we need to preserve food?
Dehydrating food removes the water that facilitates the breakdown of food. Dehydrated food takes up less space than the same amount of unprocessed food because a large percentage of the food is water.
Dehydrated food that is sealed in mylar can last up to 25 years allowing you to feed your family for the long term with food that you grew yourself or found on sale, effectively reducing food waste.
How to preserve food without a fridge
This can be done in a few simple ways. For most food, you will simply need to slice the food into thin slices ranging from 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch. These are thin and will dehydrate well.
For things like blueberries, you will need to poke holes in the outer skins to ensure that air can flow into the berries and moisture can flow out.
Some foods like potatoes will need to be blanched before drying to prevent them from changing color as they dry. Blanching your potatoes and then rinsing them well will keep them looking great when they dehydrate.
After preparing your food for dehydrating place it in single layers on your dehydrator trays leaving a bit of space between them for airflow. This does not have to be perfect; the space will increase as items dry out.
For stacked dehydrator models, you will want to rotate the trays to get an even dry. It is best to dehydrate at the lowest setting that is appropriate for the food you are working with to help keep them from changing color more than intended.
For items like tomatoes that may stick and be difficult to remove you should flip each one after the first hour or two so that the drier side is down before the entire thing dries out. To dry liquids you can use silicone trays or parchment paper in your dehydrator.
When most foods are done they will snap or crumble when you crush or try to bend them. This means that your food is ready to condition.
Storing dehydrated food
After your food is dried there is a chance that some moisture will remain. If this moisture is left and your food is sealed it may cause the food to rot or mold to grow. The best way to prevent this issue is to take the time to condition your food to catch and retain moisture.
Place your dried foods into jars leaving some air space. Every day shake the jar for about two weeks. If any moisture appears on the sides of the jars, place the food back in the dehydrator for a couple of hours then repeat the conditioning process. This way you won’t lose any produce to mold or spoilage. It would be disappointing to lose it after you worked to process it.
How long does dehydrated food last
If after two weeks your food is not showing any moisture issues you can store your food. For short-term storage, you can seal it in a jar and use it as is. For longer-term storage of up to a year you can place a silica packet into your jar to help catch any moisture that gets in. For longer storage use a vacuum attachment to seal your jars.
For long-term storage, you must protect your food from oxygen, moisture, and pests making a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber the ideal container. Dehydrated food stored this way will last 5 to 25 years in storage depending on the food.
Choosing a dehydrator is easy. There are several styles including round stackable trays to large models with big racks. The round stackable models are good for beginner budgets. Because of the shape of these trays and a hole that is often in the center of the trays for airflow, these can be a bit limited for things like fruit rolls but still make a wonderful option for a budget-friendly dehydrator.
A model with flat square trays that fit into a larger machine is a great option for those that have a larger budget. Dehydrators like the Excalibur are more expensive than the stacking models but have a wider variety of uses and tend to have meal trays that last much longer.
Using what you have on hand is also an option if you are just getting started and not ready to make an investment. If you are looking to get started without investing you can use your oven on the lowest setting and prop it open to allow for air to flow out. Your air fryer is a great open for dehydration and simply needs to be set on the lowest possible setting to allow air to heat your food without overheating it.
You can also dehydrate some things, especially greens and herbs, just in the open air. In some climates, everything can be dried this way, but if you live in a humid place like Oklahoma, you are more likely to get moldy food with anything but a leafy food.
One of my favorite things to dry is cherry tomatoes. They make the most wonderful little candy type nuggets of tomato yum. You should definitely try it!
For more on how to perserve food with dehdyration, check this out.
And for how to dehydrate meat, check this out.
For more ideas on how to use your excess produce, check these out: